When we polarize the worlds of education and business, we miss what we can learn from each other. For example, there are many ways to apply an entrepreneurial approach to become a more effective educator:
1. Don’t wait for “someone else” to solve a problem. We know the issues that need solving because we live and breathe them, which means educators are in the best position to articulate and perhaps even develop solutions. I continue to be surrounded by other educators who are true experts and have workable ideas. I value their expertise and experience as much if not more than researchers, and certainly more than most policy makers.
2. Develop an online professional learning community (PLC). Entrepreneurs recognize the importance of networking and finding out what others are learning and doing. You are not the first educator to encounter the problems you’re facing. We learn from the successes and failures of others. I rely heavily on my PLC to help me discover new resources and to keep current on ideas and policy changes, which makes me a better educator.
3. Develop relationships with mentors with different kinds of expertise. Entrepreneurs find mentors at different stages of their careers and in different fields. Too often educators only find mentors in their specific discipline. Though this makes sense on many levels, talking with others who have different perspectives can lead to more creative thinking. My high-school teachers who struggled with classroom management learned so much from observing elementary-school teachers because of their phenomenal ability to orchestrate their classrooms.
4. Test your “product” effectively and efficiently. I’ve begun thinking differently during discussions of pilots in schools, advocating for a more agile approach. It’s important to understand how the individual components of piloted programs are working. What aspect(s) of the program are what make the difference? For examples, is the new resource affecting the student outcomes or is it the collaboration built into the pilot? Discovering which components are more important allows us to focus our time and resources most effectively. When we attempt to implement too many new programs (“features” in the business world) at once, we lose clarity in knowing what’s led to a success or failure.
Instead of rolling out a program for the whole district with a single, final evaluation at the end of the pilot, advocate testing an idea in a handful of classrooms with frequent points of data collection. Make sure to know exactly what is being tested so that the results provide the most usable feedback.
5. Think about scalability. One of the first questions asked of an entrepreneur with a good idea is how does this scale. As a nation, we’re struggling to figure out how to scale effective education so that all students receive the education they deserve. What works in one classroom/school however may not work in all classes/schools. Before implementing a strategy that works in one classroom (or one school), make sure that it works in several others before implementing it district-wide. This extra step can save significant time, money and goodwill.
6. Perhaps most importantly, maintain a curiosity about the world and remain life-long learners. Entrepreneurs tend to be intrigued by a wide range of subjects, continually reading, investigating and asking: what if? As teachers we should be passionately engaged with the world around us because it makes us better educators, especially when our cross-disciplinary knowledge aids our students in making connections. We also can’t expect our students to be intellectually curious if we don’t model this curiosity for them.
Katrina Stevens (@KatrinaStevens1) has over 20 years experience as a district leader, professional developer, principal, adjunct professor, consultant, academic dean, department chair — and throughout all of these roles — a teacher. She has worked in public and independent schools, from elementary through higher education. Stevens publishes via her blog where she writes extensively about professional learning, educational technology and lean thinking.