What teachers could learn from startups

I was privileged recently to be invited by New Zealand Education innovator, Chris Clay to a Startup Weekend in Auckland. This was a very strange experience where I knew nothing about startups but my badge said VIP. I decided this stood for very ignorant person.  An opening statement by host Rowan Yeoman (@yeoro) was “realise everything is an assumption.” This was aimed at the participants to encourage them to question everything they held as fact. This might include such things as what they think customers will like, how much it might cost, who the business will need on staff, and what problem their ‘solution’ might solve. Rowen pointed out that a startup often fulfils it’s namesake and acts as a starting point that quickly morphs into a completely unforeseen type of business with a whole new customer base. So, like normal, this made me think of the classroom.

IMG_0459What teachers could learn from startups

The evening made me think about all the assumptions that education lives by. I thought I’d make myself a list of school modus operandi that rarely get questioned. As I pondered this, I realised that my examples came from all areas and aspects of education.

School administrations rarely question such things as:
  • Our results are good so our students are learning
  • Our community don’t want change
  • Our school vision impacts on who we are
  • Which ‘customers’ are catered for by their decisions
Teachers rarely question:
  • the need to organise students’ workload
  • the need to divide the day into manageable lessons
  • the priority of numeracy and literacy
  • if the relevance of their teaching has changed
Students are rarely encouraged to question:
  • the structure of their school day
  • the justifications for what they are offered to learn
  • the format of their assessment

IMG_0456

Let’s start-up questioning in schools

The issue for me is that ingrained assumptions have led the majority of the education sector to build an opposite environment to startups. They not only don’t question their own assumptions enough but many schools have such a prescribed day assigned that they don’t develop genuine questioning habits in their students. It was a little sad to see such an energised learning experience like this startup weekend being organised for adults, when the format of most lessons (assumption alarm) is relatively a closed deal before it starts.

The Startup Weekend was an agile experience where the process of problem finding and solving was allowed to develop naturally during the event. This is something that schools could learn from. To watch such an open-ended environment excite and drive learning was inspiring. I just hope a growing number of educators will realise that they can use such an approach to develop a new type of learner who expects to get teams organised so that goals, academic or practical, are achieved. I’ve done much experimenting with student empowerment in the last 5 years and I can confirm that people of almost any age are capable if teachers are willing to watch them work together to build their own learning successes, even if that’s not “the Uber for schools

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