Why Startup Culture is Coming to a Classroom Near You

To prepare entrepreneurial innovative future-ready students, we must make a shift.

GUEST COLUMN | by Becky Shiring

Standardized tests do not prepare our students for the realities of the future.

Students build skills in environments that replicate the real world.

Unfortunately, many schools and classrooms more closely resemble the assembly line, factory-style workplace of the past.

These spaces are defined by hierarchical procedures, fixed mindsets and closed doors.

To prepare entrepreneurial, innovative, future-ready students, we must shift classroom culture.

Designing for innovation in the classroom doesn’t require a lofty budget, just a little creativity and furniture shifting.

“Designing for innovation in the classroom doesn’t require a lofty budget, just a little creativity and furniture shifting.” 

Tech startups have been defining innovative workplace culture for years.

The technology industry is characterized by fast change and unpredictability.

To be successful and attract and retain top talent, it’s necessary for these companies to discard traditional workplace culture and embrace a more innovative approach.

Let’s look at the three cultural pillars of innovative tech startups—and some ways you can adapt these practices for your classroom:

1. Design for collaboration, flexibility and fun

Innovative office spaces are designed with people and flexibility in mind.

Creative ideas come to life when the environment is designed to support collaboration and communication.

Modern work environments now include open floor plans and meeting spaces equipped with flexible furniture and interactive displays.

Design should remain simple yet functional with elements of fun sprinkled throughout.  

In our office, you can find Lego creations, magnet collections and unique art.

These fun elements create a lighthearted environment that makes our office space comfortable and enjoyable.

Designing for innovation in the classroom doesn’t require a lofty budget, just a little creativity and furniture shifting.

Inexpensive items like ottomans, floor pillows and yoga balls can serve as flexible seating options.

Tall countertops can be converted into workspaces where students have the option to stand.

A moveable, physical divider can be easily created using a garment rack and allows you to create physical barriers for individual work and collaborative projects.

2. Promote autonomy, creativity, and learning

Innovation occurs when people are provided the autonomy to pursue ideas, master new concepts and create with a purpose.

Some of the most innovative companies provide time and resources for employees to pursue interests and passions. The Post-it Note was developed because 3M allows employees unstructured time to pursue ideas.

At my company, employees used “10% time” to build a super computer that verified the largest prime number ever discovered!

In my classroom, students worked on passion projects once a week and it forever changed my approach to teaching.

I saw more motivation, confidence and collaboration than I had ever seen in a classroom before.

As students worked on their projects, they also improved valuable technology, time management and entrepreneurial skills.

Try devoting time and resources each week to allow students to work on a project that interests them.

Make sure to model what this type of learning looks like and most importantly, how to recover from missteps and failures along the way.

3. Focus on relationships, communication and shared values

In the business world it is not uncommon to see a focus on numbers and profits, but the real foundation of a great company is its people. This is why successful startups have a people-first mentality.

Taking time to develop friendships and remaining open and transparent with communication goes a long way.

We take time at our workplace to cultivate friendships in and out of work.

We have game nights, a kickball team and an annual chili cook-off.

Getting to know each other in non- work related contexts allows us to communicate and collaborate better during working hours.

We also believe in open and honest communication.

Our leadership team is approachable and has an open-door policy. In fact, our COO doesn’t even have a door! He sits in an open office surrounded by his team, making communication and collaboration simple.

In your classroom, try starting each class with “small talk”.

Have conversations with students about movies, music, or hobbies to build community and strengthen communication. You’ll be surprised how these small conversations have a big impact on classroom relationships.

Transparency and openness are crucial factors to building trusting relationships.

Try conducting a “State of the Classroom” address to communicate instructional goals and priorities and update the class on their progress.

Allow students to voice their own goals, priorities and opinions.  

Ready to get started?

Culture doesn’t transform overnight.

Start small and choose one area to focus on first.

Build on the strengths you already have and make changes incrementally.

Before you know it, your classroom will be innovating like a startup!

And one final tip:

Reference my Pizza, Projects, People infographic to help you keep these key points in mind.

Becky Shiring is Director of Professional Development and Continued Learning at Squirrels LLC, where she empowers teachers to feel comfortable using technology in the classroom through workshops, coaching and other PD opportunities. With 10+ years of classroom experience, she’s worked with adults, ELLs and young children. Her experience in both ed and tech has given her a unique perspective on the realities of today’s workforce and skills students need for success.


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