George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Teacherpreneurs: We’re Here to Inspire

Teacherpreneurs inspire their students in many ways, such as connection, appreciation, valuing feedback, expecting grit, and modeling good relationships, growth mindset, and ownership.

June 10, 2015
Photo Credit: Ethan Pines

This week, my ninth and tenth grade students had shark tank app presentations. As the culmination of a six-month effort that started with more than 30 ideas, the final seven apps were presented to a panel of "sharks." We initially had funding to put one app live on the Apple and Google Play stores. (Now we can afford two.) Each team had five minutes to present their apps, websites, and app trailers in a last-ditch effort for the rights to "go live."

Now, some would think that choosing only one was hurtful to the other teams. It wasn't. Each team was incredible in a unique way, and the feedback from real-world judges made the whole experience more meaningful than ever.

7 Ways to Inspire

As a teacherpreneur, I work to create unique experiences for students that supercharge learning and increase engagement. Let’s dive into what teacherpreneurship looks like in the classroom and how you can show the craftsmanship of teaching every day.

Tip #1: Foster Social Connections and Appreciation for Each Other's Unique Strengths

"Students don't learn from people they don't like,” says Rita Pierson in her TED Talk Every Kid Needs a Champion. The research agrees. Margaret Wang analyzed 50 years of educational research. Interestingly, the overwhelming results rank social interactions between students and teachers much higher than their academic interactions.

But a teacherpreneur's social interaction extends between students. Clear team structures help students relate and understand responsibilities. Titles such as Project Manager and Assistant Project Manager help them own their aspect of the project. Students need to see the structure and function of groups. Otherwise, someone else (their teacher) manages their teams.

As the teacher points out strengths, students start spotting them and become better leaders. Don't expect all students to know their strengths. Use a tool like YouScience (based on the Woodcock-Johnson test) or another strengths-finding method.

Great teacherpreneurs develop a strengths-finding mindset in their classroom that helps students engage and perform at high levels.

Tip #2: Model Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Great relationships in our business and personal lives are mutually beneficial. As humans, I think most of us are naturally selfish. As a teacherpreneur, we want students to see us respecting the needs of others.

For instance, many teachepreneurs with tight budgets forge win-win relationships. Companies get valuable feedback from a teacher and students in return for a discount or donations of software.

But can we model this with any connection? For example, earlier this year, my students connected with Andrew Cohen, CEO of Brainscape, who shared his story of creating a startup. Before we were done, we turned off the Google hangout recording, and my students presented feedback about his product.

Teacherpreneurs have an attitude of creating win-win experiences for students and those who interact with them.

Tip #3: Make Student Feedback Frequent and Valued

Teacher Matt Farber treats his classroom design like the user interface design in a video game. Matt is always asking his students questions to determine what is and isn't working. There are many ways of getting feedback from students, but you must also help them give feedback that is actionable.

Here's how I teach my students to give constructive feedback. I have them write three headings on a page:

  • What do I like?
  • What needs improvement?
  • How can it improve?

This constant feedback loop has propelled my in-flip classroom forward this year. Every few weeks, I'd ask for student feedback on movies, course layout, and how I was managing the learning environment. Every few weeks, they'd see me improve and level up.

Like successful entrepreneurs, teacherpreneurs know that "feedback is the breakfast of champions." (Ken Blanchard)

Tip #4: Model a Growth Mindset and Own Your Classroom Environment

Some say fail forward and fail faster. I’ve rethought this after reading an interesting finding in Shane Snow's Smartcuts. When heart surgeons were applying a new technique, those who failed at the procedure and killed the patient did not improve from their failure at all. Researchers found that those who performed the surgery and succeeded continued to improve. Interestingly, those who watched someone else fail improved the next time they performed the operation. The conclusion was that somehow those who failed made external excuses (such as the patient's condition) for why they failed.

You might think this odd, but if you relate this to Carol Dweck's findings in Mindset, you'll recall that those who adopt a fixed mindset think "failure," putting improvement beyond their control. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can learn how to improve, and therefore they do.

Interestingly, Todd Whitaker, in What Great Teachers Do Differently, found that teachers who accept responsibility for their classrooms improve and level up. There is also a profound difference between accepting responsibility and accepting blame. Accepting responsibility means that you will take action to improve your classroom.

Heart surgeons who frequently kill their patients and teachers who never improve have one thing in common: they do not accept the responsibility that their actions have a massive impact on their success. They lay blame and justify instead of learning and growing.

Teacherpreneurs understand and teach the growth mindset. In Wang's research (cited above), metacognition is one of the top ways of helping students improve. Therefore, this growth mindset approach is one of the most important things we can model and teach.

Tip #5: Set the Expectations for Struggle, Tenacity, and Grit

A recent Harvard Business Review article shared the importance of mentoring new CEOs, including the psychological boost of previous CEOs' "war stories." Perhaps this is why programs like Classroom Champions see such positive results among students.

I frequently tell my class, "We will live and learn on the leading bleeding edge. Sometimes we lead and sometimes we bleed, but either way, we learn." I let my students see me struggle with hard tasks. For example, while learning to program apps this year, I almost gave up at least three times. Each time, I'd be open with students about my struggles and where I needed help figuring something out. Each time, they'd come up with solutions that I hadn't seen.

You can't have grit when you always quit. Sure, there are times to abandon something because it didn't work. But as we look at the 8 Habits of Mind for Creativity (PDF), "engage and persist" is right up there. Way too many teachers and schools quit right before the breakthrough.

Teacherpreneurs know that the best way to help students develop grit is to help them persist at work worth doing. Teacherpreneurs live grit and don’t always quit.

Tip #6: Create a Haven for Creative Expression

Do things to help students feel comfortable experimenting. You can keep a costume box and use drama in the classroom. Keep excellent creations from past classes and share them as you start new projects.

When students brainstorm, require teams to come up with at least 50 ideas before deciding on one. (I've found that breakthroughs happen when groups go past 20 ideas.) Just remember that when students create, you enter subjective territory. Be careful not to interject your opinion as definitive fact.

As a teacherpreneur, you're the coach, not the commander. We are providers of resources, not the ultimate source of knowledge.

Tip #7: Allow Real-World Risk and Reward

This past week, my students presented their apps in front of more than 200 people. They were ready because they had leveled up with previous presentations.

A teacherpreneur uses the real world to teach, but levels up students gradually. Simply put, students flap their wings in the nest before they're pushed off a cliff and expected to soar. The real world isn't perfect, and my job isn't creating the real world every day in my classroom -- it's getting students ready for the real world. When they're finished with me, they're ready for college and the business world.

The Goal of Great Teacherpreneurship

As I sat in the back of the room last Tuesday, I watched in awe as my students just took over and did it. They presented, they made the room howl with laughter, and they even brought tears of emotion. As a teacherpreneur, I am a teacher-craftsman who shapes experiences using all of my tools and knowledge of this art of teaching. I am only afraid of the status quo -- complacency strikes fear in my heart. We grow. We ascend. We triumph. We learn. Our students become their own masterpiece.

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