Written for EDU446 – Entrepreneurial Skills for Educators at the Warner School of Education, Summer A, 2013
Entrepreneurship in Education
To many educators, the initial connotation of entrepreneurship is likely associated with a less-than-desirable practice for our schools and learning institutions. Seemingly representing market-based reforms and the corporatization of an essential public service, the perception of entrepreneurship threatens the foundation of public education and challenges the basis of equality of opportunity. It’s another uninformed technique decreed by another uninformed legislator.
I, too, was at first victim of that notion. Skeptical of applying a business framework to a public service, I greeted the concept of “entrepreneurship in education” as a dangerously unwelcome misnomer. However, the more I confronted the subject, the less incredulous the idea became. As it turns out, entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with privatizing the public school system or eliminating opportunities to learn. Put simply, entrepreneurship is the mindset that empowers leaders to think strategically about decision-making opportunities in order to achieve the optimum result. Successful entrepreneurs have both obvious and unapparent roles in our schools. Although K-12 administrators will certainly benefit from possessing entrepreneurial skills, the focus of this review will be on K-12 teachers.
As teachers, we must be entrepreneurial to effectively coach our students as learners in the twenty-first century classroom. An endless wealth of information and ever-increasing access to it has flipped education in the past decade. “Why can’t I just look this up on my phone,” is the mantra of the millennials. Simply telling students the information isn’t enough (and, really, never was). Highly effective educators must engage their students in the learning process, create new environments for learning, and evaluate opportunities to enhance student interaction. Let me show you how.
The following sections explain what it means to be entrepreneurial as educators. First, I will discuss the mindset entrepreneurs adopt. This involves embracing a specific outlook on learning as well as communicating a vision for learning expectations. Then I will explain how entrepreneurial educators deal with opportunities and risks. Too often, educators shy away from uncertain or ambiguous chances to adapt their styles and techniques. One key entrepreneurial value is to strategically reevaluate those risks. Third, I will analyze strategies for dealing with resources in the educational setting and gaining support for new initiatives. Next, I will review methods for initiating an innovation and will offer suggested approaches for dealing with growth. Finally, I will conclude by analyzing the instrumental benefits of embracing entrepreneurial skills in education.
Developing the Mindset
Successful entrepreneurial educators develop a strategic and analytical mindset. This mindset embodies every opportunity that they encounter and is projected throughout year-long instructional goals as well as daily learning activities. Each aspect of instruction is purposeful, is directed to ultimately advance long-term goals, and is clearly expressed to students through an accessible vision.
Entrepreneurial teaching necessitates that educators constantly recognize changes to the playing field that have arisen in the twenty-first century and analyze how those adaptations will impact learning. Developing a plan to capitalize on new challenges, teachers must act proactively to employ these modifications to their benefit and the benefit of their students. Realizing alterations in societal, economic, political, or technological forces, entrepreneurial educators must evaluate how former teaching techniques will be affected and inspect the environment for potential teaching opportunities to embrace. These teachers don’t do something because, “it’s always been done that way,” or because, “it’s the easiest way to get it done.” They choose their methods and resources based on what will immediately best-fit the intellectual, emotional, and creative needs of their students. These needs, as well as the available resources, change constantly over time. Entrepreneurial educators are prepared to respond to those changes before they happen.
Furthermore, teachers must not only craft exceptional learning activities that guide students through an engaging experience, but they must also communicate the vision to students in a manner that involves them in the process. Students must be invested in their learning, and this task is best completed by sharing a well-crafted vision with them. When a student asks an entrepreneurial teacher, “Why do we have to learn this?,” the teacher responds with clear and concise reasoning that explains how the activity at hand corresponds to greater learning goals. Moreover, entrepreneurial teacher hear that question far less-often because the activities they choose are designed to inspire students to learn rather than simply reveal a piece of information. Students are engaged in a metacognitive process that draws together their curiosity and motivates students to embark together on a carefully-designed learning experience.
Successful entrepreneurial continually create learning opportunities for their students. Pulling from a wide variety of resources, these teachers hunt and find the most engaging materials to use with their students and implement new techniques into their instruction that fit the needs of their classroom. Importantly, entrepreneurial educators review risks must differently than many other teachers might. Whereas some instructors are focused on the risks associated with adopting new practices or materials (i.e. student confusion, necessity of extra time to introduce methods, etc.), entrepreneurial educators also consider the risks of not adopting them. In other words, these teachers consider the risks posed if their students miss an opportunity to learn as well as the risks associated with taking the opportunity.
Often times, teachers elect to pass up on learning opportunities because they would be challenging to implement into the classroom, difficult to manage, or intellectually unseemly to some of the class. Entrepreneurial teachers may review the same new techniques or materials and justify implementing them because, although they may be difficult, they are simply opportunities that the students deserve to experience.
That is not to say however that entrepreneurial educators necessarily do more with their students. Contrarily, they conduct a more in-depth analysis of what opportunities are available to them and their students, they analyze the possible outcomes of those experiences, and they make a strategic analysis of what opportunities to implement into their instruction and which ones to bypass.
Likewise, these teachers are innovators. When assessing the value of a new opportunity to the learning environment they will consider any potential to adapt the idea so that it provides a better-fit for the need in the classroom. If a change in the environment produces a good opportunity to learn, entrepreneurial educators will carve a great opportunity out of it.
Teachers know all too well that schools have scarce resources. Purchasing instructional materials has become more difficult for districts in recent years and the availability of smart phones and tablets has introduced a whole new debate on how to best-spend money allocated for materials. To be successful, entrepreneurial educators must be aware of free resources available to them (often online) and implement those into their curriculum wherever appropriate. Sometimes the best materials aren’t free, but many times they are, and entrepreneurial educators recognize the importance of saving money on materials that could be better-spent on experiences such as field trips, equipment, or in-school learning events.
Not all resources are monetary though. Teachers must also have the support of many individuals within the district to successfully conduct entrepreneurial instruction. In many cases this involves gaining permission for specific activities from appropriate staff members, recruiting volunteers for out-of-class experiences, or seeking professionals from the community to share some insights with the class. In all of these circumstances, the entrepreneurial educator must be proactive in seeking challenges to any plans and must have an established goodwill in place to ensure the success of the opportunity. Sometimes, educators must act politically through a willingness to reciprocate help or compromise on certain issues in order to achieve the involvement of others, but these are issues entrepreneurial educators will evaluate to determine whether an opportunity is feasible.
Implementation & Growth
Feasible opportunities rarely present themselves as ready-to-go. Entrepreneurial educators must act strategically to implement them into practice and monitor their use for effectiveness. This process involves continually refining an idea or innovation, making changes when beneficial, and seeking feedback from students to gauge their perception of the activity. Any time a teacher implements a longer-term innovation into their classroom, it is essential to seek feedback from the students to ensure that the opportunity is fitting the needs of the students. Unforeseen consequences will often arise and must be taken into consideration when evaluating the effectiveness of a new innovation.
Furthermore, innovations must be implemented carefully. Whereas an activity might work well with one group of students, it might be totally inappropriate for another group. Likewise, teachers must act strategically when implementing new innovations into their instruction and classroom environments, conscious that spreading the idea to other classes will not necessarily always be successful. Growing innovations or sharing them to alternative environments must be done carefully and strategically in order to assess the value of a given innovation to each group of students. Entrepreneurial educators value an innovation within its current environment and must be willing to either stop it entirely or share it with other classes or teachers according to its level of success.
The Market for Entrepreneurship in Education
Benjamin Franklin once quipped that, “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” Entrepreneurial educators move. Making informed decisions based on a habitual observation of their environment and a strategic vision for guiding students, entrepreneurial educators facilitate learning experiences that inspire creativity, motivate further understanding, and empower future citizens. These professionals are capitalizing on new challenges to teaching and are changing the playing field of learning. Taking multiple levels of risk into consideration, they ensure their students the optimum learning experience. They work with those around them to gather resources to support new innovations. They fine-tune ideas to fit the needs of their students and they monitor the implementation of those ideas as they progress. No, entrepreneurship isn’t a misnomer to education; entrepreneurship is education.