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Teachers: Should you use business tactics for happier classrooms?

Applying 7 actions gleaned from successful business practices could help students and teachers excel in the classroom.

In recent years, school leaders have debated what, if anything, schools can glean from the way businesses are run. Should schools be managed like business organizations? And to what extent?

Now, three educator-researchers are sharing their findings on the topic as they wonder if classroom teachers can use successful, proven business strategies to run their classrooms better and increase both student happiness and engagement.

Kelly Kosuga at Alpha Public Schools, Rebecca Weissman and Linda Rogers at Redwood Heights Elementary School, and the advisory team at Khan Lab School, identified highly-regarded business organizations and identified strategies that successful managers in those organizations use to create positive cultures and productivity.

Three common strategies emerged: empowering teams and avoiding micromanagement, being great coaches, and emphasizing accountability.

The educators set out during the spring 2016 semester to figure out how those three strategies translate to the classroom. Each educator used different approaches in their research.

(Next page: Putting principles into practice)

“If empowering teams, serving as good coaches, and emphasizing accountability are top principles for successful managers in ‘best places to work’ environments, then similar principles could work for teachers tasked with motivating and guiding students,” said Heather Staker, an adjunct researcher for the Clayton Christensen Institute, in a playbook illustrating the educators’ findings. “Furthermore, many students will one day look for jobs in workplaces that embrace these management principles. Classrooms would do well to prepare students by resembling future workplaces more intentionally.”

Turning theory into practice isn’t always easy. Each teacher used different approaches to simulate successful business practices in classrooms, but despite those different approaches, the educators were able to identify seven common actions to turn those principles into practice:

1. Teach mindsets around agency, creativity, growth, and passion for learning
2. Release control and offer content and resources that students are free to use without direct instruction
3. Encourage teaming, including peer-to-peer learning and team-based collaboration
4. Give feedback so students receive personal and actionable responses
5. Build relationships of trust and show interest and concern in students as individuals
6. Help students hold themselves accountable
7. Hold yourself, as an educator, accountable

For each of the seven steps, the playbook offers highly-detailed descriptions of what these mindsets and goals look like in action, along with examples and best practices from respected educators and those in the business sector.

After the pilots, the educators all noted that one-on-one interaction between teachers and students served as one of the most effective ways for teachers to apply the new business management principles in the classroom.

Weekly 30-minute one-on-one sessions “Are powerful structures to build relationships between students and advisers, keep students focused on and accountable for reaching goals, and give academic, project, and mindset feedback,” according to the playbook.

This, the playbook notes, has important implications for personalized learning. It also offers an opportunity for school leaders to invest in technology that frees up teachers’ time so they can focus more on personalization for students.

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