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Embracing Entrepreneurship in Our Schools

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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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! (Please also join the discussion group Entrepreneurship Education.)

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Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jay Halverson's picture

The concept of entrepreneurship within the school should be encouraged and supported but it seems as though the idea of entepreneurship denotes a "for profit" motivation and not an intellectual spirit of innovation that I think you are intimating. What may have to be clarified is what position is going to be taken with teachers activities that benefit themselves outside of the classroom.
The recent NY Times article regarding teachers selling lesson plans and teaching aides for their own benefit raises the question of will the spirit of entreprnaural spirit be allowed in reality or just as an idea.

Stephen Hurley's picture
Stephen Hurley
Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Good point, Jay. Yes, I was definitely referring to something other than a "for profit" model of entrepreneurial thinking. I was thinking, instead, of a type of thinking that moves the entire institution further by fresh, edgy and, perhaps, risky thinking.

I think that the entrepreneurial spirit is one that can be fostered in all institutions within our society, but is most needed in institutions that are somewhat resistant to change--like schools.

Admittedly there are many that make huge profits from publicly funded schools these days. But, that is not what I was thinking about here.


Marianna's picture
Editor at Ooligan Press

I just came back from the NCTE convention, where Ooligan Press and Student Press Initiative hosted a workshop on classroom publishing (sharing student work with an audience, via the creation of traditional books and periodicals, or the myriad web 2.0 technologies).

The educators who presented at this workshop were definitely entrepreneurs in the best sense. They included a teacher who asked his summer school students to research local issues and present their findings and recommendations to the town officials, and two educators whose students responded to the books they were reading by creating podcast reviews or a magazine filled with their reflections on the themes they discussed.

The idea of publishing student work is not new, but it has become much easier with the availability of print-on-demand publishing (Lulu, and the like) and the accessibility of the internet. By crafting engaging classroom projects that satisfy the standards while taking student work to a wider audience, these educators are engaging their students in new ways, and creating a tangible product to showcase their students' success. Ooligan Press is hoping to encourage educators to converse about this topic on our blog:

We certainly need to have more conversation among educators about how to use both new and old tools to encourage literacy, and I think that the entrepreneur is a good model for us to consider.

Dwain DeVille's picture

I am an outsider-an entrepreneur and advisor to top CEOs. This topic caught my eye because I personally had a difficult time in school as its regimented structure didn't mesh with my energy level or range of interests.

Education is based on a system of grades that does not exist in the real world of entrepreneurship. Every day we face a pure win/lose equation. You either win the contract or you lose it. There is no B, C or D grade attached.

My suggestion is that you reach out to 6-10 entrepreneurs for a roundtable discussion where they can share their experiences in school and offer advice on change within the system.

It's important to understand that entrepreneurs do not flock meaning you will not find them in your local chapter of Junior Achievement or Chamber of Commerce. You will have to reach out to them individually. I know that if approached, they will gladly participate.

Stephen Hurley's picture
Stephen Hurley
Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Hi Dwain,

Thanks for your input, and for your valuable insights!

A couple of follow-up points. First, I love the idea of a roundtable discussion involving entrepreneurs. I think that the idea of having people look at schools from an "outside-in" perspective might provide us with ideas and inspirations that we may not be able to get on our own.

The second thought comes from a conversation with a friend of mine who is in the business of financing entrepreneurial ventures. His point to me this morning was important: Most of his "start-up" businesses are headed, not by university or college grads, but by those who have been involved in a trade, and are now ready to go out on their own. But, I grew up in an educational atmosphere that positioned those pursuing technical trades on a lower rung of the ladder than those going off to university!

I think that there is something inherently wrong about our take on how public education can prepare young people for the future in terms of economic participation in society (and I know that this is not the only purpose we assign to education).

I think that your suggestion for discussion is important for both of these reasons (and a few more as well). I'm wondering if this type of round-table can be fostered through the Edutopia infrastructure?


anju bhutani's picture

As a teacher i understand that education should be related to the real life situations of a student and arm him or her to meet the challenges of life- perhaps there is a greater need of education becoming more and more contemporary. One wonders whether there are grades in real life! Yes this topic calls for a lot of discussion.Yes there is no place for it stifles originality.

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