At In The Deep we want to win the hearts, minds and smiles of every child we teach. We want to tell cute jokes and be so beautifully silly it makes little kids giggle. We want to put a smile on all faces, and bring the whole school together to have fun. We want to be completely uplifting and light people up, even if they’re having a really terrible day.
And we can't help but crack a silly joke, right now... What do you call a bear with no teeth?
A gummy bear ?
I have a confession to make. I'm a swimming teacher who ended up running a swim school. It's taken me a while to realise that owning a small business is so much more than the services or products you offer to the world. It also reflects me, and it hasn't always been the best parts of me. It's shown me who I am and has made me realise how crucial it is for me to understand who I am.
In the past year I've been on a mission to evolve In The Deep into a business that honours and reflects me, my passions and strengths, and my vision for our community. The early years of running my business were spent copying everything and everyone around me, doing ALL of the things business owners are told we need to do in order to be successful, yet I was still struggling with all sorts of biz issues. It turns out, looking around for answers, wasn't the answer.
An adventure into discovering our identity.
I began instead to look inward to my values following some guidance and an encounter with a helpful values-finding exercise. It turns out that fun is a key ingredient in my world and what I want other people to experience at In The Deep. And because fun is part of who I am, it's only natural that it should be part of the business I lead. I guess this is where leaders do really influence – if fun wasn't a value of mine, we'd be an entirely different kind of swim school.
From being one of those people who can't sit still, to being the silliest teacher in the pool sharing jokes and funny voices with everyone, to being a kid who'd go a little cray-cray if she couldn't go outside and play, fun is in my DNA! Fun is different for everyone, but for me, it's about being active, tuning into my inner-child and not taking life so seriously. It's connecting to kids with their language and the way they see the world through play, creativity and imagination.
This self-discovering journey to define our values has illuminated the fun, at the heart of our business. Defining it has given us permission to be fun, to seek it out and celebrate it, to colour it in, to understand what makes us different, to ask where we can make the experience more fun, and be much more deliberate when it comes to making decisions in the business. The best part is, it's made it important for us to have fun! And now if I see an aspect where we're not having a good time, I'm able to better understand and diagnose where we're going wrong.
So, how does fun show up in our swim school?
Firstly, it's in our approach to teaching. Kids need a play-based environment to connect to and learn new ideas. Working with children has shown me that as adults, we lose our sense of awe and play. If they've been to the park and seen something that morning, a butterfly, then that's all they're thinking about all day.
Kids don't see things the way we do – they're living in the moment. So to be a great teacher, that kind of forces us to have to be fun, to have to play and to be creative in the way that we communicate with them so we capture their imaginations and attention helping them learn along the way.
I came across this quote recently from Uri Hasson – “A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.”
By comparison, kids have limited, simple experiences in their short lives. Really they're all about food and play. And oh, sleep. Gosh, food, play and sleep. Sounds lovely doesn't it?! Kids are the best, aren't they?!
So, we need to bring stories into the learning environment they can relate and connect with.
Experiences like playing with friends, making some art, watching a film or food – all the fun things! So, when they don't put their head in the right position in the water, instead of forcing them to think in a technical way, we'll use the idea of glue – they have to glue their ear, and they understand that glue sticks. Instead of a potentially boring, two-dimensional experience, we're inviting kids into some magical, adventurous place where they're not thinking about being bored by repetition because they're having fun through play.
We use lots of analogies and props. When we're teaching kids to float, we'll ask them to be an airplane in the clouds; and they're made of marshmallow! To help them understand water is a substance, we'll tell them it's like a big bowl of jelly. If their head position isn't right, we'll invite them to pretend their holding a lolly under their chin; and no-one wants to let go!
My favourite is when we're teaching high elbows. They're arms are the plane, and they're fingers are the passengers. They've got to check to make sure their passengers have their seat-belts on, so you can actually get their hand past their face, which feels unnatural at first. Then it's on to our underwater airplane landing, because it's an underwater plane, like the one in The Incredibles. We then get to celebrate because they're obviously great pilots. We're creating a picture of a story that they understand.
Our teachers also now know it's ok to be fun and silly with the kids, that in fact, it's highly valued.
The biggest change we've made at In The Deep after defining our values is in the way we recruit new teachers. We're looking for those fun individuals who're bubbly and bright, and bring their good vibes and sparkly selves to the water.
Kids want to play and have fun, and gravitate towards adults who can connect with them in their language, so we're purposefully seeking out those who do it well. If you're at your best pretending you're a seal flapping about on the side of the pool, love dress-up parties or can belt out a Mary Poppins-style-sing-along, there's a good chance you'll fit right in!
Where else can we have fun?
There's so much more we could do to ensure everyone who interacts with us has their day brightened, so we're working away on that. From the way we present ourselves to the world, and how we communicate, to social gatherings for our team and dress-up days, to simplifying our programs to make it more fun, stay tuna-ed!
Oh, and we're also thinking about bringing back the best-belly-flop competition at the end of this term. Maybe we all need to revisit our inner child and run a 'big kids' category award too? Who's in?!
Sea you in the water? Sasha x