So, you like the idea of teaching in an entrepreneurial way.  GREAT!  That’s the biggest hurdle.  What this tells me is that you, in some way, enjoy flexibility and fluidity in education, realizing, unlike most, that students will be more motivated, engaged to learn ANY content if presented in an entrepreneurial manner.

But, let’s back up a minute.  Before we can talk about you, as an entrepreneurial teacher, we need to decide what entrepreneurship education ACTUALLY means.

Over the past several decades the buzz of entrepreneurship education has flourished with enthusiasm, but the conversation generally only touches the surface or “big idea” of entrepreneurship.  These surface dwellers credit entrepreneurship education with job creation, economic growth, individual growth and increased engagement in school.  These are all true statements and great real outcomes of entrepreneurship education, but that doesn’t help you does it?  You can listen to the outcomes all day long, but if you don’t know the actual meaning of entrepreneurship education along with a real way to teach entrepreneurially, then you cannot reach those outcomes.

Views of Entrepreneurship

There are both wide and narrow views of “entrepreneurship education.”  The narrow view purports that it is designed to produce students ready to start their own companies or business ventures.  The wider view is that it’s not just starting new companies, but instead about making students more creative, opportunity oriented, proactive and innovative.  Adhering to the wider definition of entrepreneurship education is relevant to all walks of life.  In the wider meaning, starting a business is just one subset of the population.  Most students will likely go on to work for someone else at least for part of their careers, but even then, the workforce will surely benefit from the entrepreneurial mindsets and culture cultivated during students’ formative school years.

Ultimately, the common denominator and the essential component is honing students’ abilities to create value for others and themselves.  Value creation is the core tenet of entrepreneurship and a core competency that all of us require regardless of our occupational aspirations.

It seems evident that we should infuse entrepreneurship education into curriculum at an early age expounding on concepts as students mature.  However, the practice is easier said than done.

Explicit, authentic entrepreneurial activities at the primary levels are nearly unheard of.  On the secondary levels, experiences are typically narrowly focused, housed within business-type courses that engage only a select minority definitely not embedded across all content areas.

How do we make students more entrepreneurial?

This is probably the most difficult question.   The theory is that students must learn by doing to develop entrepreneurial mindsets.  This is true is some respects, but the question is WHAT are they going to be doing?  In Project or Problem-based learning, which is learning by doing, students are given a problem and develop a solution generally in the form of a product or prototype.  This is fine, but to be truly entrepreneurial, we must challenge students to uncover or discover the very problem they will later develop a solution for, which, brings in that “value to others” discussed earlier.

Additionally, students should have opportunities to communicate with the outside world, actual stakeholders, potential customers, and the community during their entrepreneurial process or journey.

PBL or STEM can be the first step, but Entrepreneurship is the next one…

Don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of the STEM and PBL movements and projects.  I simply believe there is more to the story.  The similarity between PBL or STEM and entrepreneurship is that the learning starts with an authentic problem, but the difference is that with entrepreneurship, students must uncover the authentic problem – not be handed it by the teacher or facilitator.  Another difference lies in the process.  STEM, PBL and entrepreneurship may all lead to the production of a prototype, the design process and the satisfaction of solving a challenging problem; but with entrepreneurship the thinking goes further.   Answers to questions like; “what do you do with the prototype?”  “How will you get it into people’s hands for testing and distribution?”  How will you let people know about it?” “How will you be able to maintain production over time?” “What costs are involved?” “What impact are you making?” “How are you creating value for others and yourself?”  along with a million others, are part of the next step after PBL or STEM and THE REASON entrepreneurship completely brings home learning in a BIG way!  Thinking through these questions and ideas in context goes down to the deepest depth of knowledge allowing students to internalize learning – in ANY content area.

What kind of teacher can do this?   What do I need to be comfortable with?

Entrepreneurial teachers have a passion for teaching and comfort level with mess.  They are okay with breaking rules from time to time and extremely flexible and responsive with students.  They are comfortable leveraging outside resources adding real-world economic impact aspects to what they teach, regardless of the subject area.  An entrepreneurial teacher tries to find ways to close the gap between school and reality relying on group processes and interactions accepting a diversity of opinions, answers and solutions.  They are coaches.

In short:

  • Entrepreneurship education is much more about mindsets, attitudes, skills and knowledge than it is about preparing youth for starting their own companies. It is about turning ideas into action.
  • Teachers must have an entrepreneurial mindset to teach in an entrepreneurial manner.
  • Entrepreneurship Education requires active learning allowing time and space for creativity and innovation through real-life learning situations.
  • Entrepreneurship can be taught or embedded across curriculums or used as the transdisciplinary theme to tie subjects together in a relevant way.
  • Entrepreneurship education will not be attained without support and understanding from school leadership, the community, business leaders and other stakeholders.

What supports do I need to make this happen?

So, if you have lived up to the criteria thus far, you may be ready to go “gung ho” into entrepreneurship with your students.  Super!  However, you may be faced with some or all of the following barriers:  lack of time and resources, fear of commercializing education, no support from leadership, assessment ambiguity and just general lack of clarity.  If so, here are the external supports you need to be successful:

  • Opportunities for continuing professional development – either as a course or independent study
  • A school/workplace that values entrepreneurial mindsets and an entrepreneurial culture with a clear vision for how entrepreneurship education fits into the broader curriculum.
  • Community support and partnerships for entrepreneurial education.
  • Entrepreneurial teacher networks. A network of teachers to lean on when looking to exchange ideas and experience, knowledge and materials.

There it is.  You now know the disposition you must have to teach entrepreneurially, the meaning of what it is to think entrepreneurially and the basic support system you will need around you to fully realize what you are working towards.   I sincerely hope this article helped you sort through your vision and identify those hurdles you may need to jump as you ready yourself for a more entrepreneurial version of your classroom.

One last piece of advice…it will NEVER be perfect and doing is better than over planning.  If you have an idea to try, just do it.  If you need some ideas, please check out our teacher resources on Entre-Ed.org.

Look for our next article about design thinking and how it can frame your lessons/units/curriculum so you can have fun teaching.

Toi is a Regional Coordinator for Entre-Ed and a regular contributor to the site.

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