“In order to help teachers create new learning experiences through technology, we have to invest in training and encourage trial and error.” – Spain

Luisa Tristán, founder of the Powering Education Network consultancy and former CEO of Spain’s SEK, a private network of eight schools and one university, knows that it takes a considerable degree of business savvy to navigate the complexities of today’s educational institutions. With a background in business (and an MBA), Tristán has used her own business savvy to run a network of schools. She’s now utilizing her business acumen to help schools redesign curricula for the 21st century, advance professional development, integrate technology into the classroom and in many other critical areas. Tristán notes that “Managing education businesses is a balance between the education model (curriculum, assessment policies, quality of teaching and resources, professional development) and the business model (resource management, staff recruiting and retention, marketing and sales plan, financial results),” and she’s spent her career focused on both of those models, helping make Universidad Europea de Madrid and INTI International University into market leaders. Here, Tristán shares her views on the importance of a sound business approach to education, and what educators can learn from business leaders.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

Lately, I have been working with Gareth Mills in the development of 21st century learning-focused management process for eight schools in Spain. The core of this idea is the definition by teachers, parents, students and opinion leaders, of a desired outcome (or ideal student profile), and the development of learning and management guarantees to be implemented in the classroom/school to achieve that profile.  All the professional development of teachers and non-teaching staff is consistent with the guarantees, and the result is a powerful tool to drive the team in the right direction.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Education businesses tend to be very conservative, especially in countries with heavy regulation like Spain. Most educational models were designed in the 19th century to face the challenges of the industrial revolution, and have slightly evolved since then. Education has to adapt quickly to the 21st century, because students and job markets are completely different.

My efforts have been devoted to setting up innovation processes in all the activities that have to do with the customers’ needs and expectations, managing education as a consumer product. I have developed specific consumer research processes for education markets, mass media advertising for education brands and products, and CRM tools designed to manage both the student and the families.

As a result, all the professional development and innovation works towards the positioning that the education brand/business has chosen, customers are more satisfied, market share grows, price can be increased and more resources are available.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I recommend including in the team some people coming from the consumer products or services market, and to look for benchmarking with different sectors (meetings, task force).  The work and ideas of innovative leaders like Gareth Mills, Stephen Heppell, Marc Prensky and Richard Gerver are an inspiration. Additionally, I have recently launched Powering Education, a consultancy network to help schools and universities to transform education.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Technology is a fantastic source of innovation for education businesses. It has transformed how students perceive the world and how they learn, so it has to be central in any updated educational model. Technology helps to accelerate innovation processes because networking and know-how transfer is very easy. In order to help teachers to create new learning experiences through technology, we have to invest in training and encourage trial and error. Changing assessment policies is also key to achieving this evolution.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

The biggest obstacle is the conservative approach to education of parents and society in general. Most parents want for their children the same kind of education they had, because it really worked for them. Explaining the new challenges that their children will face in the future is key to starting the conversation.

The second obstacle is regulation; local authorities tend to stop any innovation that drives education in a direction that they don´t control.

What is your country doing right to support education?

Public education in Spain (80 percent of the market) needs a deep transformation, as shown by the poor results in PISA rankings. Due to the economic crisis, the education budget is being reduced. A complete reform, with long-term objectives and no political view is needed.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

More flexibility for schools and universities, better management of resources and getting politicians out of the system are key to improving the situation.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Technology allows learning anytime, anywhere. Education businesses should use that opportunity to go beyond the classroom, and create a long term relationship with the student that can last for a whole life.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

I would recommend forgetting about teaching and concentrating on learning: creating powerful learning experiences that connect with the students passions and use the communication codes that they value more. The best teacher is one that helps us to grow as a person, the one that boost our potential. Sharing learning experiences with students is more effective than telling them about the subject and it is for free!

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Students move easier in social networks than in schools or universities. We need to find the way to incorporate social networks into the learning design.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I would give them a tablet with a good internet connection!!!  And a passion for learning.  Education is not about devices, but accessibility to information and guidance to exploit it.


About  Luisa Tristán

Birthplace: Spain
Current residence: Spain (I have also lived and worked in Italy and Malaysia)
Education: Masters in Business Administration
Website I check every day: Zite’s sections about education and higher education
Person who inspires me most:  Steve Jobs, Gandhi, Julius Caesar
Favorite childhood memory:  My father’s stories about his childhood
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Brazil (work and some pleasure, I hope!)
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Yesterday, having dinner with
friends and telling old stories. I laugh everyday (or at least I try!!).
Favorite book: The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough
Favorite music: All types of jazz
Your favorite quote or motto: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein

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