Five ways to apply startup thinking in your classroom

Startups are generally considered to be new technology-focused companies less than five years old. For the most part, their aim is to disrupt industry with innovations, grow in terms of users and revenues, as well as to provide value to customers and shareholders.

It may not appear that startups have much in common with English Language Teaching (ELT), but there is, in fact, plenty to learn from startups and the way they work.

By understanding how startups think and looking at their best attributes, we can bring more creativity to our classrooms. Not only can we find new ways for our students to learn, collaborate and grow together, but we can also help our students develop much needed leadership and critical thinking skills.

What is startup thinking?

At its core startup thinking is about problem solving and growth. User-focused and data-driven, startup teams theorize, research, plan and test their products on new markets. Their strength is in their agility, being able to ‘pivot’ quickly; change products, services and technology based on feedback from their customers.

They also operate on a number of key principles, all of which can be applied in the classroom:

1. Be entrepreneurial

Startups are entrepreneurial by definition. Their staff work in teams, but also have no problem going it alone, finding solutions and taking responsibility for new projects and initiatives. These are all excellent traits to encourage in the classroom as they will not only help your learners in an educational context, but in their professional lives too.

By learning to be accountable to themselves, measuring their own progress and seeing their achievements, autonomous learners develop self-confidence and progress faster as a result.

It’s therefore important to encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Rather than being solely reliant on their teacher, autonomous learners seek out ways to practice and improve their language skills in ways that appeal to them.

To do this, brainstorm strategies with your students to help them find ways to use English outside the classroom. They could, for example, keep a journal in English, watch English language films and take notes, read short stories or news articles, or even set their technology and social media language settings to English.

2. Collaborate and learn from each other

Startups have a common goal – and that’s to establish a business model and achieve a product-market fit. This goal focuses people’s attention and develops rapport among team members. As an additional benefit of working together, startuppers learn their own strengths and weaknesses and begin to collaborate with team members with complementary skills.

By learning about your students’ interests, objectives and needs, you can find inspiration to design relevant class projects. These give your students a common goal and the chance to collaborate effectively. What’s more, project work is rich in language learning opportunities and makes students accountable to one another. This in turn increases motivation and provides a genuine context for language learning.

3. Reward effort

Startups are not afraid to get things wrong. In fact, all entrepreneurs embrace mistakes, as they are a part of coming to the right solution. As Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Some startups go as far as to reward and celebrate failure – saying that it’s a sign that a person is trying to succeed.

Encourage students to see mistakes as learning opportunities. Creating a safe space in the classroom, where everyone is treated respectfully and mistakes are seen as natural. This will help your students let themselves learn the language at their own pace, without fear of ridicule.

4. Foster a growth mindset

Startups are famous for focusing on growth and believing in improving their products. They see both negative and positive feedback as opportunities to grow. By always seeking to optimize their products and services, they improve the user experience and earn loyalty.

Similarly, it’s key to foster a growth mindset in your learners. As Anna Roslaniec stated in her article What it means to have a growth mindset, “…a growth mindset perceives intelligence and ability as attributes to be developed, whereas a fixed mindset sees intelligence and ability as innate and unchanging.”

Students with a growth mindset will therefore believe they can improve, be more motivated and see more progress as a result.

5. Mentor and support

Startup founders mentor and support their team members when they face challenges, when they need to grow and when they are not reaching their potential. This increases the value of the workforce and enables them to be more productive.

Teachers are often already naturals at this. We know how important it is to offer support to our students, especially when they are feeling frustrated or disappointed with their progress. With our encouragement and support our students can achieve things they never thought possible. So perhaps, in this final point, startup leaders could learn a thing or two from us.

Did you enjoy this article? Read more about how the tech industry can influence ELT in our post – What is rapid prototyping and how can it apply to the ELT classroom.

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