The key to understanding my approach to education reform is to focus on that symbol of American independence, innovation, and strength, the entrepreneur. Since our founding, entrepreneurs like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Steven Jobs have helped define "who we are" as a nation. Entrepreneurism is the great catalyst of America's economy, and it has always perplexed me why entrepreneurial spirit is so absent from our schools and the classroom. We hear teachers defined as many things, but never as entrepreneurs. I want to change that. I also believe that by defining teachers as entrepreneurs, we will attract a whole new breed of college educated specialists into the classroom, bringing greater knowledge, passion, and innovation into learning. In order to bring about this transformation, wholesale changes will need to be made, including changes to how teachers are paid, where we find our teachers, what we mandate to be taught, and how we reshape the culture of learning within the school.
If I were running a school, my first dictate would be that no future hire would have a degree in education. That is, frankly, the last place I want to find our next generation of teachers. Teaching is the ultimate "learn on the job, and learn by doing" occupation, and with proper, intense clinical supervision- every school should have at least one supervisor whose ONLY job is clinical supervision- I am convinced that we will not see the level of turnover we currently see among new teachers with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees for example. Teachers with specialized degrees, whether it is in economics, kinesiology, astronomy, or computer science, to cite but a few, will bring that aforementioned knowledge and passion into the classroom, qualities that to me are requisites for the innovation and risk taking we need among our faculties. Attracting these future college graduates will require some inducements, some financial and some "quality of life," and will invariably fall on our politicians and our administrators to provide.
I have studied the stories of dozens of entrepreneurs, and in doing so identified what I believe are the 5 characteristics of successful entrepreneurs: Passion, Organization, Knowledge, an Empowering nature, and mastery at Resource utilization. These characteristics make up what I call the POKER metrics for developing, evaluating, and rewarding teachers; these are the "lenses" in which we will observe our educators. (Time for a "plug:" The company I am trying to build, Entrepreneurial Educators, hopes to one day have these metrics detailed to where a school district can employ them to conduct the observations and evaluations recently mandated by Sen.Ruiz's legislation)
An entrepreneurial educator will demonstrate these metrics in their work, and should be rewarded with remuneration beyond that provided today with the asinine "years of service" model currently employed. I am tired of hearing this method called "the worst, except for all the rest." It is simply the worst. I am not saying that years of service should not be a component of pay, but to have it the exclusive method simply breeds mediocrity, contentment, risk aversion, and lethargy. Believe me when I tell you that my experience as a teacher made it clear that the better teachers at school loathe it. I'm not even saying that money for performance is the only alternative; there are many possible ways of rewarding teachers (having a scholarship created in their name, creating a performance ladder they can move up, giving them "gifts" provided by thankful stakeholders...) in addition to some type of merit pay. The important point is that it is incumbent on us to change, by doing so we may even prod those at the low end of the performance curve to move from the tail.
An entrepreneurial educator should be free to teach whatever they want, provided it meet some connection to the overall goals of school and the needs of future graduates. We simply have too many content requirements in public education, and it is time for those academics in charge of constructing them to stop being so parochial and "snotty" about what graduating students should know. I will go into this in more detail as well, but in short our core curriculum standards should be based solely on what graduates MUST know as a prerequisite for their diplomas, not what they should know or might know or would like to know.
Most adults remember little from the content they learned in high school; it is the skills that are important and the skills that should be the focus. Let the teachers inspire by teaching what they love and by empowering students to do the same. I am convinced that in this environment, with less onerous curriculum demands, that teachers can take the time to truly teach and assess, meaning that the students are actually learning content, not just "getting a taste" of this and that, which is what today passes for learning. Learning is a time consuming process, and by liberating teachers in the area of curriculum design we may find schools where a true culture of learning exists.
So there you have a basic overview of what it means to be an entrepreneurial educator. Think of our teachers as entrepreneurs, think of their course as their work product, and think of their students as future entrepreneurs being mentored by the "owner."
I can think of nothing more exhilarating for education than a school full of entrepreneurial educators. A really creative, thoughtful administrator might even find a way to instill a little healthy competition into the school's culture, maybe be utilizing a college registration type system that will create something akin to a "marketplace of ideas" in the building. I can already hear the complaints from those in love with "Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)" or with team teaching, but nothing I've outlined precludes their existence.
I'll admit to a little bias, but what I've introduced is a school I would love to attend. How about you?
Entrepreneurs have made our nation great, and have generated great wealth. Can't they also generate great learning?