More than ever, we're challenged to think deeply and create the right opportunities for students that can make a difference in their preparedness. Student Agency is an important factor, but what else can we do for students to get them ready for what's next? We have some ideas...
What Is Student Agency?
Agency means discovering what motivates them, striving for continuous improvement and rebounding from their “failures.” It’s not only the key to learning, but the cornerstone of a successful life.
~Dr. Johnnie Thomas, Superintendent, Rich Township High School D227, IL
Student agency is multifaceted and difficult to define. It is not simply project-based learning, student choice, or outstanding instruction. It is a combination of them all, and then some.
Most educators agree that student agency refers to learning that is self-directed, grounded in meaning, and takes place in an environment where students feel empowered. Student agency leads to high levels of engagement, mastery of soft skills, and the acquisition of hard skills needed for real life and careers. While definitions may vary, we can all agree that innovative teaching practices, support, and agency - together - can lead to student success.
According to Jennifer Davis Poon at Education Reimagined, student agency is “students' abilities to set advantageous goals, initiate action toward those goals, and reflect and redirect based on feedback, all the while internalizing the belief that they can have agency (or have the power to push forward).”
How Entrepreneurship Education Develops Student Agency
Remarkably, an immersive student entrepreneurship journey aligns very much with these stated elements of ‘student agency’. Strong entrepreneurship education starts with an authentic classroom experience, and creates opportunities to build the skills and mindset around those elements. Here’s how:
- Setting Goals — Building a startup isn’t guided by a specific roadmap. In INCubatoredu, students are given the tools and space to set goals of their own, create and build project plans as teams, and solve problems they’re passionate about. Course milestones and well-articulated student outcomes guide the teacher to support students on this journey, all year long.
- Initiating Action Toward Goals — INCubatoredu students are empowered and encouraged to step outside their comfort zone to find answers for themselves. A big surprise for most students? There are no answer keys! The role of the teacher is to steward this journey with guiding questions - and a safe environment to try and fail.
- Reflect & Revise — Students are guided through cycles of experimentation and learning to improve their business ideas. They iterate based on failure and get comfortable with not knowing all the answers right away.
- Self-Efficacy — Students are encouraged by the teaching team (teacher, coaches and mentors) to investigate answers on their own, and outside the classroom which develops important soft skills, like self-confidence and empowerment.
Why stop there for students?
This is what we asked ourselves, ‘Why stop at student agency?’. What if the bar was higher? What if we took student agency to the next level—aiming to provide students with more tools, connections and opportunities to drive their success? What about providing students (and educators) access to more?
What Does Student Access Look Like?
Giving students access should extend far beyond job opportunities (although that’s pretty awesome, too). It involves partnerships and opportunities with businesses, industry professionals, institutions, and the community. It involves seeking out ways to place a value on high school entrepreneurship education—value that extends well beyond high school and into college. It provides exposure for students to create networking connections, and ways to scale business ventures.
From touring a Google campus, connecting with global business leaders, solving problems within their community, and networking with professionals on LinkedIn - even in high school - we aim to provide INCubatoredu students greater student access through exposure, expanded points of view, enduring connectivity, tangible collegiate-level value, and a path to startup funding.
INCubatoredu student access starts with exposure to professionals, programs, and tools:
- Industry Professionals — Our relationship with CDW and with Allstate and our network of volunteers provide students with countless opportunities for mentorship, advice, and skill-building with successful, real-world entrepreneurs.
- College-Level Programming & Concepts — Miami University is a contributor to the INCubatoredu curriculum - giving students exposure and experience with collegiate-level material and learning.
- Professional Tools & Systems — Today’s students need proven experience and a robust understanding of the latest industry tools to be competitive in the industry. They also need to achieve a digital literacy to ensure agility to keep up as tech develops. Thanks to a partnership with Google Cloud for Start-Ups and the integration of industry tools like GitHub, Uncharted Learning offers students the opportunity to accomplish exactly that.
2. Expanded Points of View
Our entrepreneurship classrooms are filled with teachers and students eager to explore challenges, push boundaries, and expand their horizons. Students are encouraged to think outside-of-the-box and past traditional boundaries of school, district, or even region. Here’s how:
- Student Entrepreneurship Pitch Competitions — Student participation in organizations like DECA and startup pitch competitions across the nation are frequent and encouraged. INCubatoredu students have competed (and secured funding!) at the SXSWedu Student Pitch competition, Baylor University Student Entrepreneurship Competition, Innovation DuPage Student Pitch Competition, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater Midwest High School Pitch Competition, The Texas High School Ideas Challenge - McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, and more
- Real-Life Business Scenarios — After learning how to code an app, students in the MobileMakersEdu program often submit apps to the App Store! Check out 'Dialog', a MobileMakersEdu student app developed to support those with diabetes.
- Venture Groups — Once students get a taste of the startup world, they may seek out ways to be a part of startup venture groups focused on themes that are meaningful to them.
3. Enduring Connectivity
Whatever college or career path a student chooses, the ability to establish connections with others is vital. In this case, this means learning and practicing the behavior of networking with industry professionals aligned with the Program:
- INCubatoredu Alumna Network — Students are encouraged to stay connected with the volunteer and business community they engage with during the course. These professionals serve in a variety of industries and roles and are an amazing resource for students seeking internships, job opportunities, or simply mentoring.
- iOS Developers & Mentors — Connections with working iOS developers serve as lifelong, high-value networking possibilities from which student careers often evolve.
4. Tangible Value Extending All the Way to College
Colleges and universities are taking note of the strong student outcomes the INCubatoredu program delivers. Several (and counting!) are offering INCubatoredu students significant value in recognition of this learning.
Also, INCubatoredu Member Schools are working directly with local colleges and universities to streamline pathways to higher learning, resulting in dual and recognized credit arrangements.
- Expanded Partnerships with Schools - Credit or other incentives (Read more here.)
- Regional College Credit Course Recognition
5. Startup Funding
Good ideas are easy to come by, but executing on those ideas is much harder. That’s why students (and entrepreneurs of all ages) need seed funding to get started and to scale.
- Entrepreneurship Network This Program attracts entrepreneurs in member school communities. Students often tap into and connect with entrepreneurs who are eager to evaluate their businesses, support growth with advice and counsel, and in some cases, grant funding.
- Startup Business Pitch Opportunities — Uncharted Learning students are encouraged to participate in real-world pitch competitions to secure funding for their businesses.
Student Agency + Student Access is a Winning Combination
Student agency, more than ever, is a hot-button topic in education, but there's power in thinking beyond just agency. Students need access, and teachers need support in this effort. In today’s world of education, student success is influenced by access—exposing them to industry professionals, expanded points of view, enduring connectivity, tangible value extending toward college, startup funding, and more.
Read more about the power of student agency and the role of student entrepreneurship in this recent report.