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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Good business

Social media applications like Twitter provide us with a positive example of how outside business can impact education. As finely attuned to education’s needs as Edmodo is, we don’t go there for #edchat or to advertise our latest blog posts. While in many ways it’s right for us educators to resist running our schools like industrial-era businesses, we have to be careful not to dismiss out of hand what information-age companies offer us: useful products and a vision of the present and future that we can use to design relevant learning opportunities for our students. There is good leadership and vision for learning out there in the business world that is not the same thing as leadership for the further standardization of schools. Indeed, if we want our schools to be more relevant to students and more responsive to their inquiries, we need to better distinguish for ourselves what makes a business good or bad for our people – all of us – and our planet. If we don’t examine our disdain for business, we’ll nourish it to the point that we cut off lines of student learning because of adult prejudice. We can see where such adult control has gotten us – let’s not participate in it more fully by refusing to consider how business and education can learn from one another. How would we respond if Twitter – or any other privately held business – limited teachers’ participation in democracy or said, “We don’t serve educators here?”

At this point, I think we begin with a lop-sided relationship between business and education. I think we have a lot more to learn from business than business has to learn from us right now. When I look at an app like Gowalla, I see more benefit for education in adopting a similar model than I see for Gowalla in becoming more school-like. When I see an information-age workplace, I see more benefit for schools and class rooms in creating similar spaces than I see for those campuses in becoming more school- or classroom-like. When I look at programs like the Google Teaching Academy, I see companies that know more about educational technology (especially regarding inquiry and feedback) than educators know about those companies.

I think our contributions to business right now will have to be more abstract. I think progressive educators should engage with business people to help them see that there are educators, students, parents, schools, and classrooms out there pursuing teaching and learning that are completely different from those portrayed in pop media and on the nightly news, as well as from those kinds of teaching and learning currently privileged by the fed. If we could better educate information age businesses about how we progressives see education, perhaps they could more thoughtfully innovate communications and learning applications with us and our students in mind.

Eventually, I would love to see a proliferation of partnerships between progressive education and businesses looking to do some good and to commingle and gift innovations in teaching and learning with one another and the world. I would love to see a Google Labs school rather than more Kaplan centers or Bigbox schools. I’m convinced that as the privatization of school becomes more profitable, we’ll see corporate schools run by some mix of assessment, curriculum, and venture capital partners, in addition to the public schools we now see coöpted by the same groups. I hope we’ll see just as many entrepreneurial schools founded by progressive educators and corporate visionaries who know that they’re next generation of leaders will come from schools that foster innovation and motivating discontent, rather than from those that demand compliance and blithe consumerism. I know there are leaders in both business and education who see public schooling as something far greater and more important than an opportunity to profit. We have to connect the progressives on both sides to one another to do more than reshuffle the deck.

I don’t know how to make this happen from inside public education, let alone from inside a classroom. I don’t think public education has created or even acknowledged the need for positions like those I envision as necessary for creating the partnerships and schools I see and want. To be fair, who has the FTEs or political capital to justify a new producer/programmer/teacher/coaching/community engagement hybrid position in charge of undoing school? I can hear school boards’ media- and government-fed incredulity now: our schools don’t even work and you want to do what?!

I want to slink around in a classroom and see what I can do to graduate students with a bigger idea of what school and business can be than I had both when I graduated and when I started teaching. It sucks that I think of this as slinking, but I really don’t want to spend more time justifying what is right to people who remain staunchly convinced that what we know about learning, motivation, innovation, and the future is wrong.

So here’s my plan:

  1. Learn more about how businesses that do good and about how they work.
  2. Teach the economics portion of our civics & economics class with more real-world examples and hands-on business development work than the curriculum suggests.
  3. Learn how to write a business plan.
  4. Come up with a useful progressive idea, product, and/or service and business plan to gift to educators.
  5. Do some kind of case-study on the Coöp and examine how it can broaden its impact in transforming education without becoming primarily concerned with itself as a brand.
  6. Invite a business mentor to critique my classroom set-up, work-flow, and communications against best practice in information age workplaces and share the feedback.

I’m up for collaboration. Let me know what you see. It would be awesome for business and education to become one another’s NASAs of the information-age.

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


16 thoughts on “Good business

  1. Hi Chad,

    I’m going to go back and re-read your post, complete with links, but I had a couple of initial reactions.

    I recall in the very early days of school-based internet use (such as it was) here in Canada, I had a technology-resource position at my elementary school. It gave me some space to work with teachers on the new technology, and explore some initial business partnerships. I remember meeting with the VP of a publishing company, some network nerds (their description, not mine) and some business leaders in the community. It was a heady time, characterized by the sense that this was all new frontier, and we were kind of like the courier de bois in this new wilderness. Exciting.

    And then something happened. Don’t really know what it was, but business and education began retreating to their neutral corners, save for a couple of formal business/education roundtables mainly filled by CEO’s and directors of education.

    But, characteristic of those early days, was a genuine spirit of partnership (perhaps I was naive), and it was energetic and life-giving.

    For me, your post is a call to action in terms of getting back to that sense of trust, that place of respect and mutual vision. Instead of teachers subtly and not-so-subtly bemoaning the power of the evil corporation in their classrooms (and there may be a place for this at times!), lets recognize the possibilities that may exist.

    As I say, I will comment more when I re-read your post, but I would like to add something to your list. I would like to see business and education get together to discuss a set of criteria that would make the partnerships of which you speak workable. Some guiding principles that could form the basis for project assessment and accountability (Here’s a place where the use of the term accountability might be very appropriate!)

    More later,


    Posted by Stephen Hurley | December 30, 2010, 7:38 am
    • Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Stephen – I’d like to see more cross-embedding of schools and businesses to rebuild the camaraderie you recall and situate students’ learning opportunities in the life and work communities. I think your call for some kind of criteria or framework for partnership is crucial – thanks for suggesting it. As with any lesson, teachers and learners in schools and businesses should begin with the end in mind and plan and collaborate accordingly.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | December 30, 2010, 10:02 am
  2. As Stephen describes, it seems that there is an inherent mistrust of business by many teachers (I am guilty as charged) while some teachers embrace relationships with businesses (imagine those teachers who do the demo sessions at the vendor booths). As someone who is wary of mixing products with pedagogy and is always thinking of ulterior motives I think that we need to stick to, as you describe, Chad, what works in the model.

    Many educators hold up Dan Pink’s Drive as a great book for educators, yet most of his examples come from the business world (specifically Google), so maybe we do have something to learn from the corporate sector. One thing that businesses need to learn, though, is how to treat teachers as partners (like Google, Edmodo and Wikispaces do) rather than clients.

    That said, I still fear treating students and parents as clients as many who embrace running schools as businesses do. This reinforces the idea that teachers and schools are responsible for raising children rather than parents and families.

    I think you focus on positive aspects of what makes a good business work well in your plan. Oddly, most ‘edreformers’ have not mentioned much of these goals.

    Posted by marybethhertz | December 30, 2010, 11:55 am
    • I think that there are probably better ways to manage schools so that more authentic learning takes place – I don’t think that, for example, Charter Management Organizations, promote such management, but I’m sure that other business leaders who have built more unique, collaborative cultures could help us out in developing better schools for both kids and adults – and that in time we could cross-pollinate best practices in teaching and learning. Even if businesses like Google helped lobby for schools that were allowed to develop their own cultures, that would be a start.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, MB – who will be your business mentor this year? 😉


      Posted by Chad Sansing | December 30, 2010, 12:47 pm
  3. i love this Chad.
    for the last two years i’ve immersed myself in the insight of business people and organizations.. Seth Godin, Saul Kaplan, Chris Brogan, Jacqueline Novogratz, Simon Sinek, Jason Fried, Hagel & Brown, Roger Martin, Kes Sampanthar, Lisa Gansky, Google, IDEO, Fast Company, Acumen Fund,… just to name a few.
    i think we have much to learn, and much to share.
    of course i think that about any culture (not just ed and business). Ethan Zuckerman’s global voices has impacted me these last two years as much as anybody.
    if we listened more deeply, trusted more, shared more, we would all need less and be doing more things that mattered to us and to our communities.

    Mary Beth – that whole idea of a business model making our students customers has always kept me on edge as well. but businesses that get relationships, bring on a whole new definition of customer. one that any student/parent would embrace. this series from IDEO has great examples.. check out this one in particular on embracing individuality: and this one on building relationships:
    again.. we have so much to learn. so much to share.

    this one is especially encouraging in regard to what we value in ed.
    our biggest roadblocks seem to converge on college admission, and career opportunities. i think business (to me that says getting us out into the real world) can help us see and believe – we really can do/be whatever we want. in fact, that’s what the world is waiting for. and with just a little confidence in that thought, i think many will realize they too can start questioning all assumptions (of success is etc) gracefully.

    we are venturing into a mesh situation in my community, a huge collab of all sorts. Lisa’s book (the mesh) in a nutshell is that the future of business (and i insert school/learning/life) is sharing. read this if you like, just to see how we’re doing it. please help us edit if you are so inclined.
    this two posts from IDEO really speak to the mantra of what we are trying to do: – on disruption
    and – on ever morphing spaces

    this is all very cool Chad. i believe the very thing you are suggesting, and the very thing we all need, is to break down barriers/labels/assumptions and simply live/work/share. together.

    Posted by monika hardy | December 30, 2010, 1:15 pm
    • I am going to make myself a book of such links and your work, or some kind of doc I can mark-up on my iPad. Thanks for such a wealth of ideas to consider, Monika –

      I envision gift economies and prosumerism offering us ethical ways to partner with good businesses so our students can study such good businesses, emulate them, and then surpass them in the students’ own endeavors and service back to the students behind them.

      Your work and comments here really help me see that future –

      Do you have any kind of early development process post-mortem that others could use in finding or constructing the policy framework for pursuing work like yours?

      Best regards,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | December 30, 2010, 4:22 pm
  4. My immediate mentor is the co-operative model itself. I blogged about it here: <The Rochdale Principles. After that, I’d have to look to businesses like Wikispaces, Storybird and Schoology who are in the serious business of helping teachers.

    Posted by marybethhertz | December 30, 2010, 1:16 pm
  5. Love your thoughts. I think what is most important in reforming K-12 education is creating environments for learning that foster creativity, risk-taking, curiosity, and reflective thinking. Put the joy back in learning that is natural to the pre-school age child. That doesn’t mean make learning easy. It simply means making it rigorous but with relevancy to the real world. Your ideas are a good start.

    Posted by David Britten | December 31, 2010, 6:58 am
    • Thank you, David – I think you’re absolutely right to distinguish between joy and ease. Engagement isn’t entertainment – it’s an enthusiastic willingness to grapple with significant problems in pursuit of meaning and solutions.

      How would you preserve creativity, risk-taking, curiosity, and reflection from elementary to secondary school?

      Best regards,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | December 31, 2010, 7:32 pm
  6. Chad, I’m just seeing this. It’s great. I’m actually holding very similar goals for 2011; let’s talk about it in Philly. (I’ve begun. Want me to bring my books?) I especially like the idea of gifting some Progressive idea to educators. You’re on it. I can’t wait to share (Monika!) and support around this.


    Posted by Kirsten | January 4, 2011, 5:20 pm
    • Definitely bring the titles, Kirsten – I’ll download or order them. I’ve been reading about consultancies, cultures, and servant leadership. I’m trying to imagine what kind of culture changes, teaching, learning, and classrooms it would take to make kids, parents, school systems, and 3rd unions say, “Get me _________ (teacher name) for __________ (desired school change),” instead of, “I need a __________ (subject area) teacher next year.” I’m also wondering how to value “teacher” work that is more like a organizational/student learning consultant than traditional teaching, and where the market is for that, and how to create that market in public schools. I think that tacitly, educators have a word of mouth referral systems like businesses do, but I don’t think school systems have nimble enough protocols, traditions, and ownership of philosophical issues to realign themselves at the school level for change with any kind of publicly-stated intent.

      I will send out a few invites to business folk to observe and comment on class before Educon as a way to push the work and keep myself honest.

      Best regards,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | January 5, 2011, 10:12 am
  7. Chad, Have you read this?

    What Good Is Wall Street?

    Posted by Kirsten | January 5, 2011, 9:06 am


  1. Pingback: Blog 4 Real Education Reform – The Sequel « Cooperative Catalyst - December 30, 2010

  2. Pingback: The Adjacent Possible and School Transformation « Cooperative Catalyst - January 2, 2011

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