Amy Peach

Director of Instructional Technology, Fontbonne University, St Louis, MO USA


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What does it take to become an educational entrepreneur?

In the rapidly changing world of education, it is important (as I've recently heard a wise man say) not to think outside the box, but to create a whole new box. How do we encourage (or even perhaps teach) recent high school or college graduates to become the kinds of educational entrepreneurs we need to bring our students the education they truly deserve?

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    Jun 28 2012: You nailed it, Michael. I was discussing this with a friend in non-profit management who is in touch with several young tech entrepreneurs in St. Louis. He told me in his conversations with them, he often wished I had been in the room. I'm an educator with interest in technology and they're technologists with interest in education. We need to find a way to get together. Good luck in your journey to teaching. You're right, it's not an easy one, but I think you'll find that "model of helping out" is a rewarding one.
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    Jun 26 2012: Students who seek careers in education or more temporary forays into education through a Teach for America or Peace Corps program do so in the hope of using their hearts, skills, imagination, and content knowledge to teach students. All these aspiring educators, i think, have that sort of entrepreneurial image in mind! No one goes into education out of enthusiasm for delivering heavily scripted lesson plans.
    Teaching programs such as Teach for America but also others draw huge number of applicants. In my observation, teacher training programs focus on preparing students to do what it takes, with imagination and ingenuity, to reach students, even if the jobs teaching students later get turn out to be more regimented because of school district or administrative preferences.In my experience, teachers are trained to be more innovative and resourceful than administration welcomes or permits
    On a broader level, each student must be prepared in his schooling to be an entrepreneur in designing his own continuing education. I would call this entrepreneurial because for each of us who wants to learn through our lifetimes, planning our own continuing education is a design problem for us and by its original, client-tailored aspect entrepreneurial.
    Moving to a third category of what students might prepare to do, they might choose to become designers of educational tools outside the system. Normally I would see some value in becoming an actual teacher before becoming such a designer, but everyone who has been a student has some ideas for what methods and tools might be more effective for students like they are or were. This, it seems, remains a great interest for large numbers of people regardless of primary field once they become parents.
    Are you seeing a shortage of people interested in becoming educational entrepreneurs, or are you raising the question of whether those drawn to the field are appropriately prepared for generating, developing, evaluating, and implementing?
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      Jun 27 2012: These are great reflections. Thanks, Fritzie. To answer your question, I really don't see a shortage...I see an abundance (of the spirit, anyway). As you noted, most teachers are trained to be innovative but that does eventually die out in them if the administration is heavy-handed.

      My observations of late, though, are showing a group of young professionals far more likely to use the many tools of our digital age to make the job work well for themselves and their students than ask their administrators what they should do. At my institution, we're looking for a way to support this spirit in a unique way. We're at an interesting point in our history in St. Louis. More groups are looking to support entrepreneurial endeavors in general, but there's not a consolidated effort to encourage pre-service teachers to either use these skills in their classrooms or find a new way to support education.

      I recently read about a huge spike in funding for education start-ups and, when I look at my recent graduates struggling to find work, I wonder "why not"? We have way more teachers than jobs in this town and when you grow up here, you're less likely to leave as an adult. Is there a way to keep these incredibly talented and well educated students in the area and encourage them to push our thinking as a society about what it means to educate our public?

      I think we're on the edge of a changing model for K12 education, but I'm not sure what it is :) I want to support this independent, innovative spirit through either specific events, community outreach, educational programs on campus...who knows? That's essentially what I'm asking.
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        Jun 27 2012: I understand. Where I live it isn't that teachers ask the administration for guidance. It is that standardization of approach is in some districts strictly enforced. Things have become very top down, to the displeasure typically of teachers.

        My experience is that there is expressed support for innovation and entrepreneurial gambits but in fact administrations often want to be the ones to choose pedagogies and train teachers in the technologies and approaches the district favors.
        Technology is, of course, the rage in terms of educational innovation, and technology-specific levies guarantee that technology is a big tool districts favor.
        So the issue here is not that pre-service teachers lack opportunities for training in new technologies. In fact, I fear that teachers are courted all the time (for example, through school district email by educational entrepreneurs who want to show them new technologies. As a department chair I used to be approached frequently with offers to support piloting things and so forth. There are so many of these offers, teachers come to shut them out.

        This may be different in different parts of the country.
  • Jun 27 2012: Amy,
    It's a great question and deserves attention. I'm a former entrepreneur who is now learning to teach. I think that is another model for helping out, but I am also realizing just how hard it is to become a good educator. So maybe a cross fertilization of entrepreneurs and educators would be in order?
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    Jun 27 2012: Buenos tardes, Claudia Patricia Rios! Congratulations on your group's recognition as economic and social counsel to the U.N. I would love to know more about what you do and how educational entrepreneurship is employed (or could be employed)
  • Jun 27 2012: Hello, my name is Claudia Patricia Rios. I am working in the International Fe y Alegria, a Popular Education International oganización, we present in Latin America and Central America, Europe and Africa, I am interested in contact with you to discuss topics comune. I live in Colombia.
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    Jun 27 2012: Entrepreneur - one who builds capital through risk / initiative. We are, as you say, on the edge of change in k - 12. Sec of Ed Arne Duncan has stated he wants the federal government to write and print all textbook, develop curriculum, and write and administer tests. The first step is Common Core Curriculum (incorporate or lose funding). The second "fact" that we must face is that the textbook writers today dictate what is taught and tested. State and federal government control all funding. It almost seems that the only people not involved in the educational process are the educators. Todays "entrepeneurs" are the on-line schools that are also called dipolma mills because of the lack of control and questionable criteria. These and other factors are contributing to the demise of brick and mortar schools.

    If entrepreneurs drive "public education" out of business then what happens when there is no profit margin.

    The answer is not for profit education. My answer is grassroots movements to re-shape education into student oriented programs that apply 21st century tools and methodology.

    Starting this year teachers evaluations will be based on students scores and grades. Since their careers are based on these results the incentive to cheat or just teach to the test is present. Ironically the administrators have cleaverly left themselves out of this student based evaluation. It is now possible to lose good teachers and maintain lousy administrators with no effective means of firing "bad" leaders.

    We have big educational problems and it is time to take an indepth look and work for change.

    The question is, "are you part of the problem OR do you want to be part of the solution" either way get involved.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jun 27 2012: You're right. The problem isn't exposure. It's application. I hear so often from my friends in the field about how they're overworked and while they'd love to spend more time exploring the technology, they can't fit it into their schedule. Then I watch with sadness when they grade paper and pencil quizzes and tests knowing that I haven't done that in six years and I know how much time I've saved.

    I also think you're right about many administrators, but (around here anyway) I see that changing. I'm wondering if just by us having this conversation we're demonstrating a need for collaboration and innovation :)
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      Jun 27 2012: You are right that collaboration has been a big part of what school districts (at least big urban ones) have been talking about and trying to encourage now for a very long time! The most common form in which I have seen it over the last decade is in institutionalizing planning teams at the school level focused on teachers' reviewing student work and student performance data on a weekly basis but also bringing teachers together periodically at a district level for cross school collaboration. These formats for collaboration go by lots of names.
      Of course schools and teachers also have collaborations with agencies that serve their same students, but even beyond that. For example, a local museum has commited to helping a district develop curriculum materials about the science of glass. I don't know whether the large grants a firm like Microsoft or a foundation gives to schools who are willing to implement particular educational experiments counts or collaboration, but one might think of it that way. These are interesting for the fact that many firms and agencies offer services pro bono or even offer schools grants to pursue certain innovations without any intention to follow up with the sale of products or services on a continuing basis. It is in part an interest in investing in community or an educated work force.
      So the virtues of collaboration and innovation seem to be very well recognized across the field by now and many organizations are very interested and active in collaborating with schools. And schools appreciate it most of the time!
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    Jun 27 2012: Keep the learner at the centre of importance.

    Focus on skills and attitudes for aptitude and content and knowledge for interest and motivation.

    Constantly reflect and revise.
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      Jun 27 2012: Thanks for the reminders, Scott. My mentor once told me that there are three things an educator can concentrate on: the content, the students, and himself. Of course, we need to focus on all 3 at various points to do our jobs effectively. He told me, though, that if I remembered to start with the student first, I won't fail. I can look back over my career and every time I failed was when I lost sight of that. Although we're really coming into new territory here, we can't forget this fundamental truth.