I attended two conferences this week - one about education; the other about entrepreneurship in the MENA region. Surprisingly (or maybe not…), it was the entrepreneurship conference that proved more relevant to my work in school improvement. Here are three key take-aways from the STEP Conference and their links to strategic innovation in schools:
We need to focus on ecosystems.
I attended three talks at the STEP conference. Each one focused on or referenced ecosystems. This is the result of years of learning following the crash of 2008 and the subsequent heralding of entrepreneurship as the future. Accelerators and incubators have worked hand in hand with government agencies, investors, and others to make starting a business in the MENA region an easier and more transparent process.
When we talk about school reform, we often forget the role of ecosystems. The schools in Finland are not outstanding simply because they have better teachers. They are outstanding because of their supportive social, political, and academic habitat - which includes teacher training and professional development. When we look at effective schools, we need to look beyond curriculum and teaching practices. When we do, we can see that school improvement is focused and that all initiatives - from assessment to transportation - are aligned.
Schools in the region can leverage the MENA entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Government agencies, incubators, accelerators, and start-ups want to work with schools and with students. As Kamal Hassan from Innovation 360 shared, accelerators are approached by many people with business ideas, yet far fewer with working prototypes or actual pitches. Many of the prospective entrepreneurs lack the technical skills, 21st century skills, and business knowledge to get to that stage. Schools have a critical role in shaping the next generation of innovators and job creators and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is eager to get involved. They just need direction and pathways from us.
We'd get more done if we talked less.
Full disclosure: My 10 year old son crashed the STEP conference. He had no plans and I had no child care. When he walked in, my son’s first comment was, “I really don’t fit in here.”
The truth: He is closer in age to most of the entrepreneurs than I am.
As the day went on, he relaxed. He found a food truck with chicken and waffles and began to make some observations.
As I slowly made my way to a meeting, he noted, “You say you need to talk to this person over there and then you stop and talk to five people on the way. By the time you get to the place where the person was, he’s moved. You’re not doing the things you’re here to do because you get too distracted by your friends.”
In November, I heard a speaker from Google address entrepreneurs. Like my son, he said, “If you are spending more time going to events and hanging out with entrepreneurs than working on your product, you don’t really have a start-up.”
Similarly, if we are spending more time networking at conferences than working in schools, we can’t claim to be doing much for school reform.