10 Tips from 10 Years in Financial Literacy

FacebookLinkedInTwitterby Brenda Campbell, President and CEO, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

This time 10 years ago we were realizing that we may be on to something. We were finishing our first trial runs of financial education lessons at a half-dozen MPS high schools. We learned so much as an organization in those first few months and I credit much of it to the input from educators, volunteers, supporters and, most importantly, teens.

With 10 days left in this calendar year – and in the spirit of sharing what we’ve received in our first 10 years – I reflect on 10 of the most important things I’ve learned to bring meaningful financial lessons to teens.

1) Stay relevant – From online banking to the Great Recession, today’s financial landscape is drastically different from 2006. This generation of teens really responds to the latest information and options for making the most of their financial futures. Don’t ignore emerging real-world examples or technological tools.

2) Use names – It may sound basic, but everyone responds when you use their name. One tip our volunteers use is to have students write their names on table tents propped on the front of their desks. Taking the time to learn and use someone’s name reinforces the fact that these volunteers care about each individual teen and want the lesson to be interactive.

3) Lean on the teacher – Teachers are active partners during our lessons and make it clear to their students that learning about money is time well spent.

4) Make sure it’s “just in time” – As opposed to “too late”… time and time again we’re reminded that the teenage years are the ideal age to establish good financial behaviors. That’s why our lessons come “just in time” for high school students, as they’re earning those first paychecks, managing their first bank accounts and preparing to live independently.

5) Interactivity – This has been a big development in our lessons since the start. We’ve evolved from lecture-style lessons to engaging activities. This could be something as immersive as developing a budget, to opening a savings account, to facilitating a mock loan application with their peers in the classroom. (You can see this tip in action in the above left picture, as Money Coach volunteer Que El Amin talks through a budgeting activity with Authentic, a senior at James Madison Academic Campus.)

6) Application – At the end of every lesson I teach, I always go around the room and ask each student how s/he will apply what they learned. I ask, “What will you do differently because of what you learned today?”

7) Measure! – If you know me or have read one of my blogs before, you’ll certainly hear my passion for verifiable outcomes. Suffice to say that the hard work of program data crunch pays off when you can provide evidence of success to supporters, volunteers and educators. We all want to make a difference!

8) Ask for feedback – Feedback is essential to improvement. In our surveys and at the end of lessons, we keep an ear open to ways to improve.

9) Be real – Teens have a great sense for when someone is being truthful with them. In that same way, they appreciate when a volunteer shares their mistakes with money. Honesty enables students to open up, particularly about a topic with which they aren’t always comfortable or confident.

10) Care – There isn’t a day when I dread coming to work. That’s because I care about our mission. It’s easy to care when you’re reminded of its value from every one of our supporters, volunteers, schools and teens.

Whether you’re an educator, nonprofit leader, financial literacy advocate or even a concerned parent, I’d love to hear some of the lessons you’ve found most important when teaching financial literacy. I especially want to hear from you if you think there’s a way we could work together on helping the teens in your life become money smart. Please share with me via email at brenda@makeadifferencewisconsin.org or on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We didn’t get to this point in empowering teens alone.