Four Must-Knows for Every Education Entrepreneur & Intrapreneur

By Ivan Rahman

About a week ago, a handful of Education Pioneers Fellows and Alumni had the opportunity to participate in an “Agents of Change” dinner in New York’s Financial District. At these annual local events, Education Pioneers (EP) brings together leaders from across education organizations to share their perspectives, insights, and experiences from their work in the field.

As an EP Fellow and someone who is relatively new to education, I appreciated the opportunity to learn from seasoned change-catalysts about what helped them excel.

Currently, in my work as the Director of Data at Coney Island Prep, a Brooklyn K-12 charter school, I have been able to play a robust role in driving innovation at my school, such as rolling out a new teacher evaluation system that affects over 70 teachers.

However, as I yearn to ultimately spearhead macro-level changes that impact New York City’s 1,800 public schools, I was eager to listen to leaders who have already stirred massive waves in education.

I was fortunate to be seated at the same table as Scott Morgan, Founder & CEO of Education Pioneers. After we grabbed some food and introduced ourselves, Scott shared his story about what led him to found EP.

Undoubtedly, he faced many challenges to transform EP from idea to start-up to a premiere national pipeline of top management talent for education. Interested in the factors that sustained his commitment and contributed to his success, I asked him what they were. 

Here are my four key takeaways, which, I think, are applicable not only to entrepreneurs across the education landscape, but also to "intrapreneurs"—to those seeking to innovate within existing organizations to improve outcomes for kids:

Having an entrepreneurial spirit.

In other words, taking risks. Having an entrepreneurial spirit matters even for those not founding an organization (and perhaps just as much!). What comes to mind is the Wayne Gretzky quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

But it’s not only about taking more risks—it’s also about the timing of the risks. Taking the risk at the right time can make all the difference, and the process of determining the right time may be different for different people. For some, discussing the risk with a trusted and thoughtful friend might be the way, while for others, resorting to self-reflection might make more sense. Either way, being able to spot when you’re rationalizing yourself out of ever taking the leap of faith is also critical.

Maintaining a growth mindset.

Having taken numerous risks to launch EP—like pitching EP for its first big grant or expanding EP to Boston—Scott viewed any setbacks that arose along the way as learning opportunities, and as a chance to grow from the experience. Thus, he was able to keep moving forward more enlightened than before, despite challenges like struggling to recruit fellows for EP’s first cohort.

(On a side note, Scott developed the growth mindset before the concept became trendy; but once it did become commonplace in education, it was affirming for him.)

Keeping optimism alive.

It’s easy to feel defeated in the entrepreneurship realm; entrepreneurs take chances frequently and face rejections often. However, by capitalizing on EP’s early successes—however small—and by truly believing that EP could fill a prominent gap in education—namely, the scarcity of high-caliber individuals in education management—Scott was able to remain optimistic.

Having great mentors.

Typically, behind every major achievement, there is a village of people who helped to make that achievement possible. Luckily, Scott had a personal board of advisors who believed in him, guided him, and, thereby, helped him preserve his self-confidence throughout his journey in establishing EP.

If I had to condense these four factors even further, it would come down to two skills: self-confidence and initiative.

Having self-confidence and taking initiative are indeed skills—like learning a new sport—that one can cultivate over time. Both are crucial for those who aspire to drive radical change in education, especially since it's a field where innovation occurs at a dizzying pace and, consequently, it can feel as though any contribution you make will disappear into the ether.

Nonetheless, if you genuinely believe in your ability to add significant value to education (or to whichever industry you’re in, for that matter) and you’re actually passionate about making that contribution, then taking the initiative to add value will come more naturally—because it will come from the heart.

I believe that that was the case for Scott: He saw an opportunity to make a tremendous contribution, he believed in his ability to make that contribution, and he took the initiative to make it happen. As a result, we—current EP Fellows and alumni—now have a village of 3,000+ Education Pioneers who can support us as we make moves to add our own unique value to the education world.

As for me, I’m in the middle of a risk right now: I’m trying to normalize diversity dialogues at my school, starting with its central administration. Wish me luck, and if I fail at this endeavor, I’ll learn from it and move on.

 

Ivan Rahman is a 2015 Education Pioneers Fellow and currently serves at the Director of Data for Coney Island Prep in Brooklyn, New York. Born in the Bronx to Bangladeshi immigrants, Ivan witnessed his parents’ struggle to become citizens and make ends meet and, through that, he learned to value resilience and fortitude. Now, he works tirelessly to expand opportunities for working- and middle-class families. He is a lifelong student of what works and what doesn’t in the landscape of social innovation.

 

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