To say it's been a strange couple of months might be an understatement. But with all of the changes and challenges, facemasks and social distancing, I feel very fortunate. With the extra home time, I’ve picked up a few hobbies. I acquired an old smoker my neighbor wasn’t using, managed to get a leaky sailboat and some old moldy sails to function as a team again, I picked up my tennis racket again and discovered that my lateral movement needed some improvement (and Ibuprofen). I brewed some beer and embarked on an epic Lego journey with my sons. But yes, as cliche as it is, the first step down this hobby exploration hole was a trip to sourdough breadville.
Shifts and Connecting in Uncertain Times
In between these new found explorations, I have had the opportunity to connect with the Uncharted Learning community of educators in new ways. Our team has worked to support our member teachers with instructional materials and strategies as they quickly (and impressively) pivoted to distance learning and bravely faced how to teach entrepreneurship and other subjects remotely.
In an effort to connect, we held INCubatoredu weekly meet-ups via Zoom to listen and share ideas around instruction, student engagement and motivation around teaching high school entrepreneurship. In those first few weeks of distance learning, the struggle was apparent. But as the weeks continued, new practices emerged, educators shared ‘wins’ and ideas with one another. Momentum!
In the INCubatoredu course, the year culminates in a ‘Final Pitch’ competition, where each student team has the opportunity to pitch their business to a panel of judges from their community. The event represents a year’s worth of work (and failures and pivoting). Students bring their A-game presentation to bear against their classmates to compete for funding and a chance to continue to grow their business. Typically, this event takes place in a school auditorium in front of a large audience, or even 'off site' in an innovative community workspace. But now what? Could this be pulled off virtually with the same impact? The notion of producing the experience digitally, in a Zoom meeting, was intimidating. How could this be executed? Logistics, timing, technology, student privacy? So many details…
Entrepreneurial Mindset in Action
What did not surprise me was the attitude and resilience of so many of our INCubatoredu teachers. They leaned in, ‘exposed their ignorance’, reached out for support and tackled the challenge of this head on. They gave it their best shot, they were not afraid of ‘failing.’
I had the opportunity to attend a handful of these Final Pitch events held by INCubatoredu schools nationwide. Mostly, they were absolutely amazing. But while some were a little bumpy, I realized all these teachers (and students) were practicing the entrepreneurial mindset and methods of what is taught in the INCubatoredu entrepreneurship course. The teachers embraced a key tenet of the Lean Startup Methodology, which is central to the curriculum, 'failing forward'.
Tom Leonard, Superintendent of Eanes ISD in Westlake, Texas along with an INCubatoredu alum bring this theme to life in a recent webinar - here’s a five-minute excerpt. A key message is the great benefit and skill building that comes from trying things, breaking things, learning from that and moving forward. The failures that come in that process build resiliency and the opportunity for students (and teachers) to grow. These practices cannot be taught with standards or a textbook, but can only be learned through experience. So, what drives students to challenge themselves?
The Connection to a Growth Mindset
All teachers and administrators have had at least some exposure to the concepts in Carol Dweck’s research on the Growth Mindset - The notion that our abilities and skills are not fixed, but instead can grow and evolve through hard work and challenging ourselves to try new things. Inherent in this is that at some point you will fail. More recent experiments and research explored HOW students embrace the growth mindset. The study involved over 12,000 students, who were give two, 1/2-hour online experiences during the school year. The online instruction was focused on teaching students about how their brains work, and the flexibility of their brains to grow and strengthen through practice and learning. Essentially, they students were made aware that they could learn new skills and abilities if they flexed their brain ‘muscle’ more.
The results of the research showed that students who participated in this experience embarked on more challenge-seeking behaviors. They enrolled in classes that were more challenging, they tried new things and essentially sought to put themselves in positions, potentially, to be frustrated and fail. The simple understanding of how their brains worked drove them to seek their own personal growth.
Entrepreneurship is More Important Than Ever
One of our core values at Uncharted Learning is that our Programs give students an authentic learning experience, one that prepares students for life beyond the classroom. Learning to fail, problem-solve and think creatively are part of the Uncharted Learning student journey. The importance of teaching entrepreneurship in schools is super-clear. The ‘real world’ is uncertain right now, but the upside is that it will most certainly be dynamic and will require innovators who aren’t afraid to fail.
I’ll say the past months have certainly not looked like the real world I’ve been accustomed to. I will be the first to admit that I’ve endured some epic failures over the past few months—I turned a beautiful brisket into shoe leather, threw out many loaves of bread, tossed 5 gallons of moldy beer…but each time, I’ve learned a bit from that failure and pushed on.
In the moment, a failure doesn’t feel real great, but without failure we don’t grow and without growth, who are we as teachers and leaders? Overall, I feel as if I’ve been embracing the growth mindset during these past few months, in more than one way. Check out this beard I’ve grown!