By Megan Dolan
Is it harder to succeed as a female entrepreneur? If it truly is, to quote James Brown, A Man’s Man’s Man’s World out there in Entreprenerushipville, what does that mean for those of us who teach young men and women to start their own businesses?
According to a recent article by Lydia Dishman, “Practical Advice From Female Entrepreneurs Who Stand Out in a Sea of Dudes,” male entrepreneurs outnumber their female counterparts 3.5 to 1 and the women featured in her story claim it feels like an even more disparate ratio. Issues raised include being relegated to a “mom” role within a heavily male venture, not being taken as seriously as men in the same positions, feeling less able to speak up, and the uncomfortable feeling of being the only woman in a room full of men. This isn’t the familiar career versus family dilemma that is so often the focus of discussions about women in business (which judging by Google- over 26 million hits in .41 seconds- continues to be a hot issue and a very important one). No, the difficulties cited by Ms. Dishman are all inherently related to the femaleness of being female, which would affect an entrepreneur whether she is 11 or 91.
How then to tackle these issues as an educator? We are not interested, nor should we be, in teaching our young female entrepreneurs to be somehow less female. Neither, though, do we have control over the current state and demographics of the world of entrepreneurship. What do we do to make it easier for those of our students who decide to enter that arena? Perhaps it can best be achieved by normalization- preparing all of our students, regardless of gender, to pitch to friendly and unfriendly panels, to be in rooms surrounded by peers and by strangers, to always be completely prepared and ready to speak up, and to be always aware that entrepreneurs come in all types. For example, here at The Possible Project, a youth entrepreneurship center that teaches high school students to start and run their own businesses, we work hard to create a diverse environment, including diversity of gender. Our students come to us through a nomination process and our education team (which is co-ed) works with the schools to find students of both genders. We regularly bring in entrepreneurs and local business owners to interact with students and care is taken to ensure that equal numbers of male and female speakers, advisors, and guests are engaged.
Additionally, The Possible Project, and all of those who are involved in teaching and mentoring young people in entrepreneurship, can take lessons from how we talk to students about using the issue and diversity of their youth. Ms. Dishman’s article featured five female entrepreneurs sharing their advice on how to succeed in a male-dominated field. Similarly, as all of our students start to run their ventures, we talk about how to succeed as a teen entrepreneur in a world full of adults. Many of the tools and strategies we discuss mirror those used by the women cited by Ms. Dishman: be as prepared as possible because you may be underestimated, use your diversity to stand out when appropriate, gain exposure to a wide variety of people and places so that you aren’t freaked out when you’re the only person who looks like you in a room, and don’t go it alone- collaborate and form partnerships so that you always have backup and support.
And all entrepreneurs- male, female, young, and not-so-young- should remember that good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere, so never be afraid to stand up and say, “I have a great idea.” And don’t be afraid to use that restroom labeled "Entrepreneurs."
Megan's career has focused on helping to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. A graduate of Boston College and Georgetown University Law Center, Megan spent eight years working as an attorney before spending several years in a non-legal capacity in the housing and homelessness field. Working with youth has always been a priority for Megan and she has worked as a teacher, tutor, and mentor. Megan also writes literature for children and lives with her husband and two superhero dogs.
By Jenny LaVigne
At WriteBoston, we were intrigued by an article in the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, which details the experience of one school, New Dorp High School, on Staten Island, as it grappled with the (arguably universal) problem of American high school students who struggle to express themselves in writing.
The substance of that dilemma is how to help kids move forward in their writing in a way that encourages them, simultaneously, to become better thinkers. Good writing shows, the theory goes, good thinking. At WriteBoston we believe that, in fact, writing is thinking, that good writing leads to good thinking. We assert that the rise in reading comprehension and achievement scores at New Dorp is attributable to students being given the tools (via scaffolded language prompts/templates, in this instance) to be successful writers, and therefore better thinkers. Their thinking is, in turn, informed by their writing. The New Dorp experience reinforces our belief that writing instruction and thinking instruction are inseparable.
Worth noting is that the leaders of the New Dorp revolution relied heavily on one of the basics of good instruction--scaffolding--and used it in a thoughtful and effective way to nudge their kids closer to where they needed to be. It’s worth noting that an incorrectly executed scaffolding or formula can have deleterious effects on student writing and thinking. The New Dorp approach involves giving students a formula that offers them some ways to use language effectively, and invites them to rely on these until they develop more confidence. For example, because students were explicitly taught how to use words like although and despite, their writing contained complex sentences; having access to the structure of dependent clauses empowers students to express ideas that are, in turn, more complex. (As we know, traditional instruction in grammar does not yield such transformative effects on writing.) This technique reminded us of the sentence stems in They Say/I Say (by Graff and Birkenstein), which advocates a similar approach to help students set up and manage arguments in essays. Because of the renewed emphasis on argument writing (because of its central place in the Common Core), WriteBoston is paying a lot of attention to successful innovative efforts like this one, and we hope that everyone else is too.
You can read the article at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/30909.
Jenny LaVigne is the WriteBoston Writing Coach at Boston International High School. She previously taught writing, literature, and ESL for sixteen years at Chelsea High School while also acting as a mentor teacher and coach. She has also worked at various schools and social services throughout the Boston and Cambridge areas. She received an MEd from Suffolk University.
By Vicky Schubert
Why does Peter Senge—perhaps the most recognizable proponent of “systems thinking” as a leadership competency—spend as much time thinking about the classroom as he does the boardroom? It’s not that he has lost focus on his corporate friends; he still believes that business leaders have an indispensable role to play as agents of positive change. But it seems that Senge’s perennial interest in education has been accelerating lately, perhaps as he becomes more convinced that an upstream intervention is the best way to influence organizational outcomes well into the future.
Rather than restore the systems awareness of adults who have had it drummed out of them by the time they become managers, why not reinforce the natural systems awareness of children who can grow up to run companies sensitive to the complexity and interconnectedness of their operating environment?
Senge contends that humans are born systems thinkers but that our schools, with their preference for breaking knowledge down into its component parts, tend to diminish our innate ability to see and understand the dynamic relationships of whole systems. Over the years, Senge’s organization, the Society for Organizational Learning (SoL), has partnered with like-minded groups such as Waters Foundation and the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, who have made real strides in bringing systems thinking into our schools, both through the curriculum and in staff development efforts. Most recently, SoL’s Education Partnership has been a sponsor of Camp Snowball, an exuberant convening of teachers and students who are defining the leading edge of systems education.
One of the most eloquent and committed voices connected with this work is Linda Booth Sweeney, a systems educator out of the Harvard Ed School. Booth Sweeney has an exceptional gift for demystifying systems principles for adults who have forgotten them and cultivating systems skills in children. Her recent article, Connecting the Dots: Developing Children’s Systems Literacy, is a must-read for everyone frustrated by the fragmented nature of our prevailing approach to teaching and learning.
In this richly-resourced piece, Booth Sweeney asserts that systems literacy matters because “Children today are growing up in a world in which oil spills, global warming, economic breakdowns, food insecurity, institutional malfeasance, biodiversity loss, and escalating conflict are commonly at the top of the news. For children to make sense of these trends, they must become aware of the causes and consequences in a slew of interconnected systems, including families, local economies, the environment, and more.”
In helping children make sense of these trends, Booth Sweeney suggests, we have an “intriguing opportunity” to re-learn alongside them. This is a reminder that is particularly resonant during presidential campaign season, when the woeful state of our collective systems literacy is so painfully apparent. If we want leaders who value multiple perspectives and voters who aren’t fooled by the delusion of “silver bullet” solutions, what better place to start than with young people who haven’t yet learned to reduce the world to the miserable limitations of only Red and Blue?
Vicky Schubert is an associate of Systems Perspectives, LLC, a coaching and consulting practice that helps leaders achieve new behaviors and better results through greater understanding of the relationships and interdependencies that drive their success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Emily Mann
In a recent piece on NPR’s Marketplace, the Oyler School was profiled for its innovative education model. Rather than rely on the historic prototype of what a school should be, the Oyler School is carving out its own image of 21st century school success: and it looks wonderful. Rather than focus on 6 hours of educational time, the school has opened its doors and expanded its educational philosophy to children as young as 6 weeks and as old as 22. Focusing on the whole child, this school as community learning center, brings community supports from social welfare agencies and other non-profits directly onto the school campus. The school becomes a central service provider that forms the foundations for educational success—rooted in child and family health and wellness. This wrap-around education model, similar to other examples, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone or the Citizen School, supports the premise that children need more than academics to really succeed in life, and that these basic needs are best met early in the life course.
Like many other schools, in many other communities, the Oyler School aims to educate children who are coming into school with accumulated ecological risk. And while the negative effects from early trauma in childhood have been well established, there is less clarity about the methods and models to prevent such trauma in the first place. While the school seems like the natural place to develop a comprehensive focus on health and wellness, I have concerns about a systematic or scaled-up approach to the community school, without the proper resources to support this ideal mission. A shift to identify schools as holistic service providers within the community may create additional burdens on already understaffed and under-resourced schools.
While the goals and ideals of the community learning center acknowledge the impacts of environmental risk, there should be clear supports to ensure that the focus of change extends from developing children ready for school, to include communities ready for uplift. To me, this means that schools and communities need to work together to promote change from the bottom-up and the top-down. It is a reminder that social justice is embedded within educational justice, and that to promote great students, they must return from their school day to great communities.
Emily Mann is an Associate Academic Specialist in the Human Services Program at Northeastern University. She received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a Master’s of Science in Social Work, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied the effects of early intervention on delinquency prevention. Dr. Mann spent two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mann's teaching and research focuses on educational interventions and academic and social functioning.
Welcome to … the new BLOG space of the Aspire Institute at Wheelock College. This BLOG provides updates and reflections on key developments in social and education policy and practice. We’ll discuss everything from the latest in teacher education, online learning and social media, brain development research, to health care reform. We’ll profile promising models, social innovators, and inspiring leaders, and hear from Wheelock faculty and Aspire staff on the frontlines of social and education change. So grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and join the conversation!
In this first posting, we are excited to share Wheelock’s current efforts to improve elementary STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. In today’s professional world, STEM content knowledge and skills have become the ‘coin of the realm.’ The STEM learners of today will spur tomorrow’s innovations in healthcare and medicine, environmental science, education and other fields that will stimulate new economic growth, counter negative effects of climate change and pollution, and improve our overall quality of life.
There is growing consensus that STEM learning—and igniting a passion for STEM subjects—should begin in preschool and elementary school. However, improving early STEM learning will mean confronting a significant human resource challenge: too many PreK-6 educators are not well prepared for this task, lacking both strong math and science content knowledge and instructional skills. A large number of these educators are, in fact ‘math-phobic’ or ‘science-phobic,’ and do whatever they can to avoid taking coursework in these areas.
With funding from NASA, Wheelock has responded to this challenge by developing a sequence of accessible online professional development courses in STEM education for elementary school teachers that balance instruction in both content knowledge and teaching methods.
This is one answer – but is it enough? Are school systems ready to devote significant time to STEM instruction and require high STEM content knowledge? Are schools of education ready to require more STEM education coursework as part of their PreK-and elementary education teacher degree programs?
And will these changes help the math-phobic and science-phobic educators confront their fears head on?
To read more on these topics, check out this New York Times article entitled, "Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)"
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as a program leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.