Maybe it was my first copy of Entrepreneur Magazine. Maybe it was listening to the Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford University. Perhaps it was the first time I listened to This Week in Startups. Somewhere I had a fundamental change in how I approached teaching.
As a middle school math teacher I have sat through my share of professional development.The result was very little developing as a professional. In almost every situation I left feeling like I just wasted a day of my life.One year we were pulled out of the classroom for 8 days which resulted in a binder that I tossed in my desk – never to be used. (I did actually throw out the papers and use the binder for other things so I guess it wasn’t a total loss).
As I began to discover the entrepreneurial world my teaching mindset began to dramatically change. In the world of the entrepreneur was exciting, fast paced and constant change.The world of education was generally boring and slow to evolve.I wanted my educational and entrepreneurial world’s to collide.
Below are some of the different lessons I have adapted from entrepreneur world to the educational
world.Many are not Earth shaking, but it is amazing how little of this is done in education.
Beginwith the end user in mind
A successful entrepreneur will focus on the needs and wants of their customer.What is their pain? A business must actively acquire their customers. If you don’t provide a useful product or service they will go elsewhere.Public schools usually don’t have this problem.We have customers trapped in
our classrooms. As a result this allows teachers to take the customer for granted. After all, the customer is stuck with us.We are sort of a monopoly.
Teachers don’t have that feeling of urgency. What teachers don’t understand is that we can loss them mentally. If your students find your product useless they are not buying what you are selling.
You can Pivot (aka Don’t fear failure)
If an entrepreneur is afraid to make mistakes it’s the kiss of death to any possible business. It is not uncommon for a business to change direction (pivot) after an initial idea bombed. Teachers need to take chances and try new things. Many teachers suffer from paralysis by analysis. They are afraid to try something until everything is just perfect. Even then they are hesitant to change.
It is always amusing when teachers tell students not to worry about making mistakes, yet they are afraid to go out on a limb themselves. Many of our best lessons were the result of tweaking a disastrous lesson.
Be a Shark not a Holstein (Innovate and Evolve)
A successful entrepreneur is always on the attack. If you are in the business world there is always competition just around the corner.If you become soft you will be history. The education world is more like a heard of Holstein dairy cows – happy and content to graze.
Businesses are always looking for new markets and to strengthen existing markets. The second a business stops innovating and evolving is the moment when they become irrelevant.
One thing we pride ourselves on as teachers is not being content with any lesson. We do a lot of self-reflection.Every lesson we teach could be better – what could we have done better? This mind set allows us to be on the attack.
Another thing we do is study other great teachers.What are they doing and how can we adopt elements of their teaching. One thing we focus on is evolution not revolution.Many school districts try to scrap everything they have been doing in favor of the lasted and greatest program.We try to grab
bits of different programs and make them fit our situation.
High octane work environment
One thing that has always been appealing about startup businesses community is the incredible energy level. Work hard. Play hard. Have fun. That is the environment that I want to be part of and I believe students, in general, do too.
When you look at companies in Silicon Valley they are active and creative.Sitting at a desk in silence is not a high energy work environment (there are times for this – but it should be the exception not the rule).
Just like an entrepreneur needs to be able to “tell a good story about the company” teachers need to be able to sell their product.
Embrace the Data
One of the greatest changes in the last decade is the incredible availability and use of data. Businesses use data to drive many of their business decisions. You can never have enough data in the business world.Teachers are also surrounded by data.The key is use and analyze this data. Teachers can use data to find individual and class weaknesses.Teachers can chart student progress, guide instruction or just evaluate the success of different lesson.
Bringing it all together
By changing how I view my job I have been able to improve as a teacher. By focusing on your customers, not fearing failure, being innovative, and creating a high energy environment you can
create a classroom that is fun and productive for you and your students.