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Is your classroom the next Uber?

If I say the word startup, what image springs to mind?

You probably picture an open-air office full of twentysomething hipsters in sandals huddled around a whiteboard or laptops.

It’s easy to stereotype the startup “look.” But startup culture is about more than funky offices and millennial-era perks.

Startups pride themselves on risk-taking, innovation and adaptation, as well as the ability to respond quickly to customer and market demands.

The mindset has captivated the business world with the meteoric rise of companies such as Uber and Airbnb.

But business leaders aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from the startup vibe. Schools would do well to adopt some of these traits as well, says startup and education advocate Jeff Hemmett.

In a talk at last year’s TedxWestVancouverED, Hemmett outlined why a strong startup culture could benefit schools, and help educators and students succeed in a world of perpetual change.

‘Classroom, Inc.’
Comparing America’s traditional education system to a tiny startup might seem impractical. But if you start to view each classroom as its own entity, you begin to realize that our schools are more nimble than we like to think.

Hemmett dubs this way of thinking, “Classroom, Inc.”

Instead of producing the next great social network, streaming platform, or online retailer, America’s classrooms create an even more valuable commodity: opportunity.

“Now, the kids in your classroom, they might not know what they want to be when they grow up,” Hemmett told a group of educators during his talk. “It could be a rockstar, could be a CEO, could be an activist. It doesn’t matter. Their opportunity to become any or all of these things comes from you.”

In the face of rapid, unpredictable change, it’s up to schools to provide new opportunities and avenues for students.

Staying lean and responsive
Large, blue-chip corporations are averse to change, says Hemmett. That’s because they’re not built to react quickly to disruption.

Startups, on the other hand, are lean and responsive. They challenge each employee to cultivate that elusive entrepreneurial spirit and they give people the freedom to learn and build on their own, or in collaboration with others.

This is why startups attract the best talent in the world, Hemmett says.

Attracting great talent is a challenge education faces every day, along with developing leadership, creating a unified vision, and navigating a complex maze of human emotion and interaction.

Talk the talk
Speed and adaptability are great, but they don’t mean a thing absent the ability to forecast and react to reliable data. That’s why startups put so much effort into gathering feedback from customers and users.

Take Uber for example. A large part of the company’s business model is based on one simple, but effective premise: riders provide feedback on drivers, drivers provide feedback on riders. The company uses this feedback to hone and perfect its services, and to keep customers coming back.

In an era of increased competition, where students and families can choose to ditch traditional public schools for alternative options on a whim, the power of feedback and the importance of listening to parents’ and students’ concerns is more important than ever.

For more on the startup culture in schools, check out Hemmett’s full Tedx talk below:

What ways might your school or district consider adopting a startup culture to stay ahead of changes in learning culture? Tell us in the comments.

Want to encourage greater collaboration in your schools? Here’s one way to get students and parents engaged in a conversation about real change.