Manifesto

A teaching narrative and manifesto (subject to change):

The difference between good and bad teachers comes down to one thing: entrepreneurship. Well, more precisely, I would say that good teachers must be entrepreneurial. This is a strange juxtaposition for many educators, but the myriad parallels between the two occupations are staggering. Many of the same characteristics that make a good entrepreneur make a good teacher: being resilient, adding value, seeking opportunity, planning ahead, adapting to change, and understanding one’s client.

Before returning to the classroom in 2008, I worked for The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). While working at NFTE, I consulted with over 30 teachers from the poorest school districts in the Washington, DC region. As I visited different classrooms, I unconsciously collected a wide body of evidence as to what makes a good teacher. Early on, I noticed a trend among the stronger teachers: many teachers were actually entrepreneurs – and not just those that teach Entrepreneurship. The teachers I met owned everything from a small IT business to a small chain of barber shops. Others simply did photography or tutoring, but they all saw themselves as entrepreneurs. This surprised me at first and I chalked up the trend to the most obvious factors: summers off and low pay (not to mention the fact that by pitching an entrepreneurship curriculum I was bound to run into a few entrepreneurs). As I spent increasing time with these educators, however, I learned one thing: these people were entrepreneurs because it is what they were good at, not just in the business world but in the classroom.

As I tried to make sense of this correlated evidence, I began to realize that it wasn’t important whether or not a teacher owned a business, but whether or not that teacher was entrepreneurial. In fact, for many teachers their classroom was their business. They saw their curriculum like entrepreneurs see business plans and their students like entrepreneurs see customers. Some entrepreneurial ideas that good teachers are already thinking about: How is my lesson adding value? How do the objectives fit into my future plans? Can I review the plan and adapt to unforeseen change? Does my plan take into account the student perspective? What opportunities exist to extend this plan in the future?

In many ways, teachers are the ultimate ‘serial entrepreneurs’ because they are doing this every day. And just like small businesses fail, so do teachers’ lesson plans. In fact, sometimes they fail miserably. Good teachers are inherently resilient to this failure, because this process must take place all over again … tomorrow.

All teachers should be trained to think entrepreneurially. While traditional wisdom says entrepreneurship cannot be taught, I object to that notion. I prefer to think the entrepreneurial faculty exists in us all. While some are born with the entrepreneurial mindset ‘turned on’, others are born with the switch ‘turned off’ and it takes someone to come along and flip the switch. This is why all school administrators should not only look to hire entrepreneurial teachers, but also should be working to ‘flip’ on the entrepreneurial mindset of their current faculty. In fact, if being entrepreneurial means all of the great behaviors above, would any existing professional development be better than imparting the entrepreneurial mindset on teachers? If educators begin thinking about curriculum and lesson plans like entrepreneurs think about business plans it will only enhance the student experience and improve the American educational experience.

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