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.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”– Lao Tzu
I’ve always had an innate sense for helping others, a desire to assist and spring into action when an opportunity arises. Starting my career as a kindergarten teacher, there was no shortage of opportunities for helping. There was helping to build routines, helping to facilitate friendships, helping to thwart off homesickness, helping to tie shoes and zip coats and certainly helping to build foundational academic skills. The joy I found in teaching and learning was the ability to help these little minds develop, process and understand the world around them. What I had not anticipated was the amount of helping that would take place with my colleagues as my career continued as a classroom teacher.
While asking for help as a child is seemingly natural, it is much more difficult as an adult. Perhaps this stems from a fear of being embarrassed by preconceived notions of what we “should” already know as adults. Whatever the case, I began to notice patterns of my colleagues asking questions in private, rather than in large groups or team meetings, particularly when it came to technology, the topic that seemed to have the ability to paralyze even master teachers.
As a technology enthusiast who always dabbled with gadgets and software, especially in my classroom, my desire for helping others was magnified in this space of confusion, embarrassment and concern surrounding teachers’ use of technology. I became a resource for these colleagues looking for answers, assistance or just assurance in their journey with technology. I discovered that adults need to know, just as our students do, that wherever they are on their learning journey is OK; everyone needs a place to start from in order to move forward.
My passion for teaching was amplified through these experiences, pushing me forward to roles that allowed me to take a more formal approach to working with my colleagues. After three years in the classroom, I transitioned into a media specialist role where I was able to specifically focus on helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. This focus was especially beneficial as I was able to continually see how assisting teachers at this level impacted students in the classroom. I was able to see growth in student engagement and interaction, better communication between teachers, students and parents, and a new level of differentiation in the classroom through the use of technology tools.
The common thread that continued through these experiences was the need to reassure and approach these “teachable moments” with my colleagues as, customized conversations personal to their individual journey. There was no black and white approach to technology integration, recognizing the unique needs of learners (both students and teachers) and making it relevant to their own situation. Even with the myriad of technology tools (software and hardware) available for use, the approach to understanding and integrating these into the classroom was a very grey area.
My interest in how these resources could be used to inform instruction and enhance the student learning experience propelled me further in my professional journey as I transitioned out of a direct instructional role to an administrative role where I served as the district’s executive director for technology. From this new vantage point, I observed magnified levels of my previous discoveries and became more aware of the grey that existed within education technology products. From the design and development to the selling and purchasing, I often felt myself tilting my head inquisitively wondering if these products “to help learners” were designed in isolation or with the input and clarity of teacher thought.
After we developed an enormously successful and well-respected 1:1 program in our district, we became sought-after as thought leaders in this space. Appealing to my desire to help others, I was enchanted with consulting and coaching others in their journeys even when I was frustrated by other districts because they were trying to apply the “black and white” template, rather than individualizing the grey of their own situation.
Through these experiences the idea of our company, GreyED Solutions, was born as an effort to address the need for personalized assistance in helping districts to create a blueprint for their planned success in reaching and visioning their instructional technology goals. My experiences as an educator have been invaluable on the entrepreneurial journey, grounding my work and serving as a guide along the way. For those who share the entrepreneurial spirit and wish to embark on this type of journey, stay connected to your educator roots and draw from your teacher toolbox:
- Monitor and adjust. Just as you do with instruction in your classroom every day, monitor and adjust your business according to market demands, customer feedback and upcoming opportunities.
- Personalize and differentiate. Adapt your offerings and services based on the individual needs of clients meeting them where they are at, just as you would address the variety of needs of students in your classroom
- Build relationships. Get to know your customers and colleagues to build a network that is focused around working together to achieve common goals. Don’t operate in isolation; it takes a village to build a company.
- Communicate. Tell your story, share your work and spread the news of exciting projects and success. Your classroom newsletter is a fabulous reference for providing a framework to highlight 1) what is new and upcoming to watch for, and 2) what is worth reporting on to highlight the success of hard work.
- Never give up. Just as you would never give-up on a student struggling to make their way, never give up on your journey. Try a new approach, ask for help, bring others into the conversation, do what you have to do to steer the ship to calmer waters. Don’t give up or be discouraged when challenges arise, work hard and the rewards will be great.
Julie Carter is co-founder and CEO of GreyED Solutions. Carter began her career in education as a classroom teacher and media specialist and then moved on to become the executive director of technology for Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota. There she supervised a one-to-one computing effort and was recognized by the Apple Distinguished Educator Program and the National School Board Association.
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