Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Entrepreneurial Classroom

There's been an idea kickin' around in my head for over a month about organizing my classroom like a start-up company. The thought started after I attended a professional development seminar on using data to drive instruction. (See my previous post Data-Driven or Data-Informed) One of the presenters, a middle school principal, talked about student ownership of data. And how ownership lead to greater achievement. I'm all for student ownership. And achievement. Now the question is how to create a structure that creates ownership of learning, data and provides an intrinsic incentive?

My Entrepreneurial Classroom Logo
So here's what I'm going to try.

I've created the entrepreneurial classroom. I'll be the CLO - Chief Learning Officer - and the kids will apply for jobs in 5 teams: Technology, Logistics, Development, Creative, and Audit. My job as CLO is to engage in strategic planning, vision, and manage the environment - big picture stuff. I will also serve as coach and mentor and set performance goals and objectives.

The teams will be responsible for the day-to-day operations. Technology team will manage the iPad cart, wireless keyboards, headsets, conduct app research and troubleshoot. Logistics team will manage supplies, resources and schedule. Development team is tasked with project planning to meet standards and creating assessments. Creative team will develop presentations for stakeholders, promote the brand, and provide communications support. Finally, the audit team will be in charge of reviewing assessments, quality control and maintaining standards and practices. Students will be tasked with running the company to meet the objectives developed collaboratively. Sounds crazy, I know.

What about parents?

Here's the description I'm sending to parents.

Over the summer, I conducted research on creating a “start-up” mindset in a classroom. This mindset is centered on three ideas. First, the environment should be conducive to risk-taking, innovation and creativity. It should promote problem – solving and not focus on being first with the correct answer. In fact, it should embrace the wrong answer as the jumping off point for discussion, collaboration and learning. An entrepreneurial classroom is a safe place to make mistakes and learn from them.

The second idea involves ownership. In an entrepreneurial classroom, students take ownership for not only classroom supplies, behavior and consequences, but also for the creation of consequences, assessments, scheduling (to the extent possible), learning opportunities, content, and assessment data. They will be directly involved in the operation of the classroom and held accountable for decisions. There won’t be any surprises; students will know what is expected of them because they created the expectations.

Finally, the third idea revolves around non-academic skills necessary for success. Research shows that grit, perseverance, resiliency, empathy, curiosity and character affect student success to a large degree. Students who have learned to be optimistic and conscientious care more about how they are doing, are better able to accept criticism, and overcome real or perceived obstacles more easily. In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough compiles research from a variety of sources to argue that non-academic skills benefit children across the socio-economic spectrum. In an entrepreneurial classroom, "soft skills" are an essential part of the curriculum. 

Company Stock Certificate


Just giving the kids jobs doesn't promote ownership to the extent I'm trying to achieve. I want "buy-in", "what-ever-it-takes", "skin-in-the-game" ownership. To do this I've created shares of stock in the company. The value of each child's shares is equal to their scaled score on a standard assessment. Each child will know the number of shares they own. The only public number will be the number of shares in aggregate.

This was the most difficult aspect for me, since I'm not a big fan of standardized tests. But I do like data when it's meaningful, consistent and used to inform. To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, standardized assessments have a purpose. When you want to compare something on an objective measure, then some form of standardized comparison tool is necessary. I needed an objective valuation model to make this work.

I will hold a bi-weekly performance review with each child on Friday to review their work, data and set goals for the next period. These meetings will also be a time for the child to reflect on how and what they are doing, and for me to get in some quality one-on-one time with each student, perform authentic assessments, and connect. In keeping with the entrepreneural spirit, Friday will also be 20% Time/Genius Hour all day long. Due to the success of  Genius Hour last year, I'm going all in and committing 20% of the week to student exploration of their own passions. 

That's the plan. I feel pretty good about it. I'll let you know how it works.

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