George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Embracing Entrepreneurship in Our Schools

December 9, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point, suggests that our public schools would benefit from a spirit of innovation rather than one of regimentation.Those of us who have been hanging around public education for more than, say, 15 years may remember a time when words like creativity and imagination were an important part of our conversations about curriculum design, teaching, learning, and lesson planning.

And, while the artistic language that once surrounded school-based practice has not been totally eliminated, mainstream educational discourse is now driven by words and phrases like accountability, achievement, school success, and recovery.

Gladwell's call to innovation and experimentation in our schools got me thinking about the idea of educational entrepreneurship and how supporting a spirit of adventure and risk within the boundaries of our public school system may allow us to realize more of the gains that we were hoping for rather than more of the same like the past two decades of tight control and, as Gladwell suggests, regimentation.

For me, there are two words that define the spirit of entrepreneurship: initiative and risk. The entrepreneur has an idea that she believes will work, and is willing to risk the time, the financial and intellectual capital, and her personal reputation in order to bring that idea to life.

You have probably run across folks like this in your teaching life. Perhaps it's the teacher who never does anything quite the same two years in a row. Maybe it's the principal who implements a new program before the school district administration has even heard about it. You, in fact, may be the one who proposes -- and, of course, applies for -- jobs and roles that have never existed before.

I know that entrepreneurs are living among us, but I'm not sure that we have the formal or informal infrastructure in place to encourage or support that spirit of adventure that is so badly needed in our public schools. At the same time, however, I really believe that unless we embrace a strong spirit of possibility through innovation and entrepreneurship, it is safe to say that our schools are about as good as they're going to get.

I would like to spend a few blog posts thinking aloud about the case for educational entrepreneurs, but before I make any more sweeping generalizations, it'd be great to hear from you:

Do you have a story of bringing a new idea into the public forum? What has been your experience of bringing forward new ideas in teaching and learning? How are the innovators in your school or district supported? Is a sense of risk taking encouraged in your own classroom practice? As an educational leader, how do you support the risk taking and initiative of those you supervise?

Tell us your story!

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