In honor of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s annual Dare to Dream Awards Gala tonight in New York City, we’re highlighting the work of Ron Summers, who will be recognized in the 2012 Enterprising Educators of the Year category. The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) provides middle schools and high schools across the globe with the tools and support needed to create a new generation of entrepreneurs, and Summers is one of the educators helping to lead the way. “I started my career in education as a graphic design teacher,” Summers notes, “and when I was presented with NFTE’s curriculum back in 2007, I knew it was something I needed to be a part of.” Here, Summers shares his views on teaching entrepreneurship, and on the unique challenges his students must overcome to be successful future entrepreneurs.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I have been lucky enough to be part of a movement to empower young people with the ability to be their own boss. This movement focuses on showing low-income minority students the fundamentals of entrepreneurship in order to teach them the life skills they will need to be successful. I have taught entrepreneurship at August Martin High School in Queens, NY for five years based on curriculum provided by the NFTE. Since then, I have worked with the NFTE to create innovative ways to teach entrepreneurship to students in New York City. These include using traditional teaching methods, cloud-based technology, and activities to bring the idea of “creating” to life.
Recently my work in entrepreneurship education has been recognized by the NFTE. I have been selected as the 2012 Enterprising Educator of the Year for the New York Metro area. This will be my second Educator of the Year award in three years. I am extremely proud and honored to have achieved something so great.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I think my efforts and experience has help teachers see different ways to achieve results. I tend to teach my class like a college course where the students are important stakeholders and leaders of exploration. This classroom environment is transferred to everything we do in class and it has altered how students approach the problem-solving process when completing assignments and projects.
We have many open conversations and do a good amount of work centered around “project management teams,” or PMTs. Over the course of the year, these PMTs help students approach problems the same way a group of vice presidents would at a major corporation. Each student understands their role within the team and is able to create a logical path to a solution that satisfies the PMT goals, versus the simplistic goals of an individual. Giving students the ability to be college students at an early age really has changed how I teach, how my kids learn, and how they contribute to the yearly cycle of entrepreneurship at my high school.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Try the most far-fetched idea you have and try to implement it. At worst you will reduce the most difficult parts and create a new lean and innovative way to do something. Never start off with the most feasible idea. Roll the dice.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I am a huge proponent of using cloud-based software to manage and extend the classroom. Over the past three months, I have been using class management software from a start-up called Coursekit. Coursekit is geared towards college professors who want to create a virtual extension of their classes. Coursekit does an excellent job of not only providing a clean interface and traditional grading features, but it is able to offer the most dynamic use of social media. My students and I are able to communicate in a Facebook and Twitter-style environment in real time, while sharing various types of files on the fly. It has changed my entire approach to virtual learning and made my class one of the few digital classrooms in my city. There isn’t one ounce of printed paper used to submit student work in my classroom. The trees can thank me later.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Perceptions of self. I currently teach in the area of Jamaica, NY. This is a predominately African- American neighborhood in the borough of Queens. My students tend have the broadcasted images of “minority education” burned into their minds. They come in thinking they cannot achieve as much as their white counterparts in other neighborhoods. They come in knowing they are different. It takes a lot of time to rebuild my students so that they can see how intelligent, creative, and unique they are. The institution of education in the United States has created a disenfranchised group of people, haves and have-nots. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians are not receiving the same support as others are and are quickly called failures when the results do not appear fast enough. Race and economics combined create an unfair balance in who receives a quality education.
What is your country doing right to support education?
Some schools are doing an excellent job of going back to basics. They are supporting environments that favor the creative process and are turning kids back into vessels of imagination. We need to foster creativity in young people in order to create the next generation of engineers, scientists, and teachers. The US cannot survive without a group that can help us advance in meaningful technology. Facebook will never cure cancer.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
Data-driven everything. My country is obsessed with crunching numbers to tell the story that best fits the narrative. We need to be more responsible with data and use it to make thoughtful changes in policy and learning. Until that day comes, our children will continue to undergo rigorous drill and practice to create a new set of data for a new narrative.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
I hope that one day teachers will regain control of how they teach. The greatest innovation on any given class day is when a teacher can play to his or her strengths and deliver a unique lesson based on skill sets. Innovation is the second grade science class that uses iPads and live frogs to study anatomy. Innovation is a history teacher who can change her planned lesson to reflect late-breaking news in the New York Times. Our best opportunity for education is to allow our classrooms to become incubators of creative expression again.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
The most rewarding days in your career will be when a student says “thanks for everything.” It won’t happen every day or every month, but when it does your heart will reaffirm that all the hard work was worth it.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
Positive Trend: Incubator programs and contests. I love seeing schools and businesses sponsor programs where a group of students solve a problem by creating something unique from the planning phase to completion. It is one of the most valuable experiences for students when done right. Negative Trend: Too much high technology usage in classrooms. Technology is great to achieve some tasks, but not all. As a New York State education technology specialist, I see school districts using technology for everything. Chalk is still a great tool.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would give every student an art pad. I think the process of idea creation and dissection is a lost art. Students in the fine and graphic arts, fashion, and architecture live by sketching and erasing. This ability to create freely without concern for mistakes is necessary to create a new generation of thinkers.
NFTE’s annual “DARE TO DREAM GALA NIGHT” in New York on April 18
About Ron Summers
Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist, August Martin High School
Ron Summers began his career as a graphic designer, eventually bringing those skills to August Martin High School by creating and implementing a new design-focused curriculum that increased student productivity across all subject areas by using a unique, hands-on approach to learning focused on cognitive problem solving. As part of his focus on entrepreneurship education, Summers created August Martin’s first annual Business Entrepreneurship Competition and Speaker Series, modeled after college-level business competitions where students present a detailed business plan to mock investors for prize money/start-up capital to invest in their businesses. He also developed a comprehensive curriculum for the pilot program “Start-Up Summer 2011,” aimed at helping students who have developed a business plan take their business’ operations, marketing, and sales to the next level. Summers is certified through the NFTE and was named NFTE’s Teacher of the Year in 2010.
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Current residence: Kew Gardens, NY
Education: Binghamton University – BA in Graphic Arts, Long Island University – MS in
Website I check every day: Engadget.com
Person who inspires me most: My Father
Favorite childhood memory: Sitting for hours on my floor using LEGOs to create whatever my imagination could come up with.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Aruba
When as the last time you laughed? Five minutes ago. Why? I discovered Instagram.
Favorite book: 1984 by George Orwell
Favorite music: Hip Hop and R&B from the late 80s through the 90s
Your favorite quote or motto: “Be the change you want to see in the world” – Ghandi