Welcome to SmartBrief Education’s original content series about the unique stories of teacherpreneurs. These are the innovative individuals confronting challenges, creating solutions and bringing them to market. In this post, Todd Brekhus, president of myON™ shares advice to help educators embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.
After working as a teacher’s aide in high school, I fell in love with education and its power to improve young lives. While I’m no longer in front of the classroom or behind an administrator’s desk, I still think of myself as a teacher as I guide a new cadre of educators in my role as entrepreneur and industry advocate. Being an educator today can take many different forms, and there’s more opportunities than ever for ambitious practitioners to continue to follow their passion in education while embracing innovation, whether they’re in the classroom or in the boardroom.
What I’ve learned along my journey from English teacher to executive is that not everyone is ready or able to make the transition, but anyone can embrace the entrepreneurial spirit to foster educational change. Determining your best path forward, starts with self-reflection. What do you find inspirational? What are your strengths? Do your peers look to you for help? Do you have a solution an unfulfilled need in schools? These are just some of the questions to ask yourself before making any changes.
When starting a new business or a new venture at a school, it’s critical to recognize that there are downsides and find ways to overcome those obstacles. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, hard work in the beginning. You wear many hats, and often for the first time – sometimes you’re the leader, the developer, the project manager, the champion, and the financier. At the outset, you need to know where you can turn for help. Build a tribe of supporters, experts and collaborators who want to invest in you and your idea. You must also understand that you’re now in business to make money, while making a difference. If you want to climb the executive ladder or start your own company, you have to be willing to address the negative aspects of business or have the conviction to walk away.
After leaving the classroom, my resolve was tested when I attended my first industry event to unveil Marco Polo. During the press event, the publicist commented to me that the educators participating were “just props” and the most important part was the “show.” That was an earth-shattering moment for me, and I called the company president to say that I couldn’t do this job if that was their view. I couldn’t work where I wasn’t making a difference. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and this sentiment is rare in our industry. I truly believe we have a reputable and caring industry, but you have to be strong enough to stand up for your beliefs and cultivate that culture.
Whether or not you are ready to become an entrepreneur, you can develop your entrepreneurial muscles in the classroom now. Some education companies like myON offer full-time educators the opportunity to earn extra money and travel around the world in exchange for sharing best practices. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship in which educators are recognized and appreciated for their expertise, while companies get insight from practitioners to improve their offerings.
To successfully transition into business, and nurture your entrepreneurial spirit in the classroom and in the boardroom, these are essential steps to pursue along the way:
- Network with wide range of people, from CEOs to instructional coaches to parents. You never know where these connections may lead and when you might need them.
- Identify mentors, and when it comes time, return the favor for another newbie.
- Make your voice heard and share your experience in as many venues as possible. Submit to speak at conferences or volunteer to lead professional learning sessions in your district.
- Follow your serendipity. When opportunity arises, explore where it may lead you. Sometimes it’s these experiences that help you find the ways in which you can contribute most to the world.
- Nurture your relationships. You’ll need help, and lots of it, to develop new skills and pursue new paths. Make sure to give advice as much as you listen.
- Always do your best, and bring out the best in others. This is a lesson I learned from my father, long before I started in my career. It’s as important in business as it is in the classroom.
Todd Brekhus, president of myON, a division of Capstone, spent eight years as a teacher, department chair and technology director. Todd is an education technology entrepreneur. In 2014, Todd was awarded the prestigious LampLighter Visionary award from the Association of American Publishers.
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about education. We offer newsletters covering educational leadership, special education and more.