Building Entrepreneurial Mindsets: 5 Reasons to Teach Entrepreneurship in the Classroom
“Teach entrepreneurship? I’d be lucky if I could spell it!” If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, my classroom would never be short of pencils or Expo markers again. Entrepreneurship has been a buzzword among educators for the past several years, but it’s deserving of the hype.
Before I began teaching, I worked as the afterschool and community education director in my district, which afforded me the opportunity to attend workshops and work with students on entrepreneurial projects. When I began teaching during the school year, I applied those experiences in my 5th-grade English class, and the way students approached learning changed instantly.
While completing their entrepreneurship unit, they had a new spark of creativity and ownership of their work. I went into my second year craving more of that spark, so I rewrote my English and science curricula such that building entrepreneurial mindsets is at the core.
The big question I’ve gotten from other teachers is: “Why?” With so much other material to cover just to get through the state standards, why add something else? Here are five reasons I believe incorporating entrepreneurship is well worth the extra effort.
1. Teach Entrepreneurship to Engage Students & Appeal to Passions
As a first-year teacher in the same school district I graduated from, I walked into an empty classroom with 30 basal reader textbooks lined up neatly on a bookshelf. The bright red color caught my eye, but the weathered spines camouflaged their familiarity. I pulled one book off the shelf and opened it to find years and years of names scrawled inside the front cover, but near the top, in handwriting that (embarrassingly) has not improved much, was my name.
Students in my school had spent 17 years reading the same stories; how was I going to make these outdated texts relevant for my students who have grown up with the entire world of information and entertainment at their fingertips?
I remembered the entrepreneurial projects I had helped students with in my prior role, and the answer was clear. With these projects, students were engaged. They cared about what they were studying, and the reading, writing, and speaking skills they practiced and gained checked off every standard I was required to cover.
Entrepreneurship-infused lessons provide context and purpose for learning the concepts being covered. Students feel ownership over their learning, as they know they will apply the knowledge in a culminating activity that they get to drive. Even better, I found that students who frequently struggled with completing worksheet packets or taking exams excelled at completing entrepreneurship projects that provided additional modes of expression to demonstrate their knowledge!
2. Entrepreneurship is Multidisciplinary
After the success I saw incorporating entrepreneurial lessons in my English curriculum during my first year in the classroom, I decided to expand the idea across all subjects for my second year. Doing so has not only changed how my students approach their work but has also changed how I approach teaching the material.
For example, at the beginning of each unit in science, I tell my students what their ending performance assessment will be, which is always prototyping some type of design or giving a presentation. I then outline the name of each lesson we will cover to build up to the assessment. Deconstructing units like this helps me plan my lessons and helps students know what they will need to do to be successful. Entrepreneurship fits hand in hand with mathematics concepts and science concepts, and it enhances students’ reading and writing skills.
3. An Entrepreneurial Mindset Prepares Students for a Future Workplace
According to the Pew Research Center's “The State of American Jobs” report, the modern workforce as we know it is changing rapidly. Automation is steering us to a future where jobs will focus more on creation and management rather than pure knowledge or assembly.
Examining the workforce of the past 20 years reveals how quickly our workforce is changing. Just 15 years ago, careers like social media analyst, SEO consultant, or app developer were uncommon. All of these jobs require the people working in them to be problem-solvers, strong collaborators, and critical thinkers—all skills that entrepreneurial concepts help build.
A surprising lesson that highlighted this need to better prepare my students for the future workforce came from a friend who recently completed a medical residency. My friend completed training at one of the best schools in America and excelled; however, opening their own practice was a nightmare because they had never had training in running their own business!
4. Teach Entrepreneurship to Build Empathy and Growth Mindsets
Easily, one of my favorite impacts of organizing my teaching around entrepreneurship has been pushing my students to build empathy and a growth mindset.
The cornerstone of being an entrepreneur is considering the wants and needs of the consumer or client. In a reading lesson, this can be explored by examining a character in a text and determining what they wanted or needed based on their actions in the story. Students then analyze the character's pains and prototype a product or flesh out an idea to help the character. It is as simple as that!
While engaging in this kind of entrepreneurial thinking, students also build a growth mindset – because they WILL fail and learn from that failure. Entrepreneurial lessons instill in students the very real-world attitude of “learn, debug, and try again.” This makes your classroom a safe place to fail and encourages students to continuously look for new information and try different approaches.
5. Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset in Students Enhances Communities
This idea is definitely more of a big-picture concept, as my students are 10 years old and are not building storefronts on Main Street—yet. However, discussing, learning about, and engaging in entrepreneurship gives them hope. Practicing entrepreneurial skills in a safe classroom setting allows students to explore their talents and shows them that they can do something with those talents.
In my hometown in rural Appalachia, there is a revival of the downtown area as more small businesses are opening. Small, unique businesses make communities more attractive places to work and live in. In small towns like mine, entrepreneurship is critical to helping students build a lasting connection to the community and ultimately stay or return to live in the area as adults.
I want my students to be prepared, to be confident, to be engaged, and to be hopeful for the future of their communities. My teaching, inspired and forever changed by the infusion of entrepreneurial concepts, helps me to support those goals I have for my students. Entrepreneurship starts with a challenge and a simple idea; what’s yours?
Looking for more tips to incorporate entrepreneurship in your classroom? Check out this blog post with instructional approaches to infuse entrepreneurial mindsets in your lesson plans.