Pedagogical Entrepreneurialism

We talk a lot about entrepreneurship in my district. We cultivate entrepreneurial experiences for students in formal ways and informal ways. We have entrepreneurial teachers making lockers universally accessible and a teacher saving the world. And we’ve made a commitment to the White House — the only K12 signatory — to democratize access to entrepreneurial opportunities and the tools of creative production. But, perhaps most importantly, we also talk about pedagogical entrepreneurialism. I described the pedagogical entrepreneur in a 2010 interview this way:

Some entrepreneurs are interested in making money, others are interested in making a social impact, and still others are interested in both. At its core, though, entrepreneurship is the art of seeing problems as opportunities and putting ideas into practice to address them.

Entrepreneurs are willing to be held accountable for the inherent risks and outcomes of idea implementation.

The risks could be financial, personal, or professional.

For example, in schools the entrepreneurial teacher risks instructional time, test scores, and his or her own evaluation for every innovative strategy they try to implement. These risks broaden and become increasingly financial in nature all the way to the superintendent and school board. The current educational model is not well designed for innovation. Risk soars as room for error decreases, and the one-two punch of high-stakes testing and hyper-accountability are exacerbating this problem. I’m all for accountability, but we need to re-examine what we should be holding educators accountable for. Let’s identify the innovators, finance them, and let them run. It’s naïve to assume educational entrepreneurs must come from outside the system. I talk to educational entrepreneurs daily, but most don’t even realize that’s what they are.

When an idea emerges that aligns with the values of the organization, I work to secure resources, connections, energy — and, most importantly, protect — the pedagogical risk-taker.  The dynamic is simple: my job is to hold the umbrella so the shit from above doesn’t hit them. Their job is to keep me from using it.  As subversive as it sometimes may be , the risk is worth it.

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