Steve Mariotti recently asked in Time Magazine: “Why Aren’t We Teaching Entrepreneurship in Our Schools?” (1 June, 2012). As a long-time educator and founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), Mariotti explained that he has witnessed thousands of at-risk youth finish school and start their own businesses with the entrepreneurial support offered by approaches such as that of the NFTE (1 June, 2012).
Mariotti stated that the following should be the four main goals when infusing entrepreneurship into education:
1. Engage young people in school by teaching math, reading, writing, and communication within the motivating context of starting and operating a small business.
2. Teach young people about the market economy and how ownership leads to wealth creation.
3. Encourage an entrepreneurial mindset so our youth will succeed whether they pursue higher education, enter the workforce, or become entrepreneurs.
4. Make young people financially literate so they can save and invest to achieve goals like home ownership and retirement. (1 June, 2012)
What seems to be key within these four goals is not so much the more concrete skills, such as communicating the mission of a business or how to invest for home ownership and retirement. Those concepts have been taught for some time. The hurdle appears to be more about how educators can “encourage an entrepreneurial mindset” that will foster a sense of excitement and relevance to lifelong learning and its connection to building an individualized career path.
This mindset may be instilled in learners with three simple initial steps in the classroom: 1) understanding ‘entrepreneurship’; 2) self-discovery; and 3) global awareness.
1) Understanding ‘Entrepreneurship
Often the term ‘entrepreneurship’ is narrowly focused within the boundaries of business; however, the reality is that it is something larger. It’s really more characteristic of a certain type of person.
Sarah Pierce provided several key personality traits along with an example for each in a post for Entrepreneur.com (28 February, 2008). Pierce stated that entrepreneurs have the following characteristics:
• Passion, meaning they have a “zest for life” that stands out from the rest. They have a vision, an adventurous streak and energy that few other people can match.
• Positivity, meaning they see “every challenge as opportunity,” and they keep moving forward in new directions no matter what the circumstances.
• Adaptability, meaning they are constantly looking for ways to advance, and they never settle into being comfortably numb with their current success.
• Leadership, meaning entrepreneurs are people who inspire, lead by example, and teach in a way that is ethical. They conduct themselves in a way that is admirable, that makes others want to follow their lead.
• Ambition, meaning they have a lofty goal that may even be ridiculed by others, but entrepreneurs refuse to back down in the pursuit of their dream. (28 February, 2008)
Clearly, these are also characteristics that educators would love to spark in their own students. Likewise, the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ goes well beyond the parameters of the business world and into a way of life.
But how do educators evoke such an entrepreneurial spirit from their students?
The first step is to create an opportunity for self-discovery. Mariotti wrote that: “Our students [must] discover that, like every individual, they already own five powerful assets: time, talent, attitude, energy and unique knowledge of one’s local market” (1 June, 2012). Note the terms like “discover,” “energy,” and “unique [ness]” that he used. Whatever subject is taught, there must be time for students to explore, to really dig into the topic in their own personal way. Students must be given a chance to find out who they are as well as what talents and knowledge they may possess that perhaps few others have.
One example is that when teaching students to write, we often start with personal expression. These are the sorts of compositions in which students learn to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and experiences. They offer to readers an introduction to who they are as a person. These sorts of activities are where educators should hope students begin to express themselves as Pierce’s entrepreneurial examples did when they were young. We hope students would share enough of themselves to express a vision like Jeff Bezos of starting an online bookstore (Amazon) or a 20-year-old Debbi Fields who dreamed of starting a cookie business (Mrs. Fields) (28 February, 2008).
No matter what the subject may be, courses and programs need to include the opportunity for students to explore and share their unique vision. However, sharing within the classroom is not enough.
3) Global Awareness
How extraordinary it would be if a student came up with an idea for how to achieve world peace. How tragic it would be if that sentiment were never shared globally. Therefore, it is vital that once the entrepreneurial spirit is awakened in students, their vision be concretely connected to their communities. Mariotti says that students must “learn to use [their] assets to create businesses and jobs, and build wealth in their communities” (1 June, 2012). The students I recently wrote about who are taking what they’ve learned in the classroom and “paying it forward” started successful businesses that have become profitable locally and in some cases, internationally.
Additionally, those businesses may be non-profits and “wealth” may not necessarily refer to money. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills offers some excellent examples of how the entrepreneurial spirit sparked within the classroom can spread into a community, locally as well as internationally (2011). This video shows how local student groups have come together with a vision to connect globally to improve the quality of life for all involved.
While it is sometimes difficult for educators to connect their curricula to local needs or organizations, with the benefits of life in the Information Age, these entrepreneurial start-ups can also quickly spread around the world.
By starting with the three tips shared in this post, maybe the next Mary Kay Ash, or Mark Zuckerberg, two of the greatest entrepreneurs in U.S. history, will begin their journey in your classroom.
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