Can you teach students to think more like entrepreneurs?

Teaching students the skills they need to become leaders and innovators is more important than ever

When you think of imparting entrepreneurship skills to students, most educators will likely go the obvious route — how can we teach students to build successful businesses that will help them in their post-graduation careers. But there are also a host of skills that successful business leaders use every day that can help students no matter what path they choose.

“Most schools that are working with this topic are teaching students to conceptualize new ideas and build business plans around those ideas—or to actually go out and create a company,” said Cheryl Lemke, who is president of the Metiri Group, an education technology research firm. “We think that’s a great idea for a subset of kids, but you’re probably not going to reach every child by doing that.”

In her many years of studying 21st century skills, researcher Lemke has identified five key skills that are essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur. She describes these skills as tolerance of ambiguity, calculated risk-taking, persistence, evidence-based reasoning, and self-direction.

In January 2015, Lemke’s firm received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a personalized professional learning platform for teachers to take online courses on how to foster those skills among students.

In one of several sessions that will focus on student entrepreneurship during the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Denver later this month, Lemke will be discussing the result of this project, as well as practical strategies that teachers can use to ensure success.

“We believe there are foundational skills that will prepare students to be entrepreneur-ready by the time they graduate from high school. These skills should be developed among children starting as early as kindergarten and first grade, building toward a deep understanding of those skills as students get older.”

Entrepreneurs are adept at taking ideas from different sectors and combining them in new ways that nobody has thought of before, Lemke said. To do that, they must be able to see connections between ideas and make new meaning from them. And that’s what learning is about as well. By teaching students the skills they’ll need to become effective leaders and innovators, educators are preparing them to be better learners, too—which is why these skills are important for all students to develop.

“We want out kids to be entrepreneurial inside the classroom,” she said. “We want them to think new thoughts and put ideas together in interesting ways.”

Take tolerance of ambiguity, for instance, which Lemke described as “extremely important.”

“We want students to stay with a question long enough so they develop a full, comprehensive view of all of the issues around that topic, and they keep asking further questions until they get deeper and deeper into the subject. We don’t want them to take a first shot at answering the question and then say, ‘OK, I’ve got it,’” she said.

Next page: Students who are making a difference

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