Business and Education aren’t as different as we often want to believe.

Run Your Classroom Like a Business — 6 Steps to Wealth in Education

Chad McFarland
Aug 27 · 8 min read

Since leaving education in June 2018, I’ve had to learn a few things about “business”. As an athletically minded individual, I’m not surprised that I’ve taken an interest in the amount of competition that occurs in business. Competition in business, just as in athletics challenges us to prosper and grow, or lose (die). Competition was even prevalent in the world of coaching football. The amount of time spent after practice breaking down film, number of cameras and angles recording practice/games, number of weekend meetings and even simply the number of coaches on the sideline became a competition. It challenged each of us to work harder, smarter and become more efficient with our time. Competition surrounds us and, like The Storm in a game of Fortnite, competition is surrounding education.

In the business world, change is often driven by the consumer. Take Uber for example. Taxi companies sat back and laughed at the idea of a person ordering a ride from their phone at a price better than the traditional taxi. Consumers were tired of standing on the side of the road, waiving and then jumping into an almost stopped car, only to be treated rudely. Consumers wanted better. They wanted available, friendly drivers. While taxi companies still exist, their market share is considerably less than it was pre-Uber and Lyft. Another is Blockbuster. The video king is now defunct and out of business because it refused to adjust quickly enough to the changes Netflix was bringing to the movie market. Consumers flocked to Netflix because Netflix offered a convenience factor that Blockbuster wouldn’t.

Education is in a precarious spot though. Yes, it’s true that students are required by law (in most places) to attend school until a certain age. We call that a “captive audience”. There is certainly a thought that education will never go anywhere because of that reason. I want to toss out a couple of ideas though, that hopefully will invoke some thought and maybe even a change to how you engage your students.

Consumers are demanding better in education. They are bored and frustrated. They want relevant material delivered to them, but more importantly, they want relationships. Business, no matter the type of business you’re in, revolves around sales and a successful sale hinges on the relationship between the salesperson/business owner and the consumer. Whether you are a barista at the corner coffee shop, a loan officer at a bank or a used car salesman at the local dealership, you’ll be hard pressed to find continued success if you don’t build relationships with your clients and potential clients. Education is no different. Any teacher can find success one time, but a teacher focused on relationships first will keep her students out of the counselor’s office asking for a schedule change. Education is a business and we must run our districts, buildings and classrooms as one.

Consider this scenario; a small school building with three Algebra classrooms and one counselor’s office.

Classroom #1 is a traditional public school classroom with district adopted, state standard meeting Algebra curriculum, teaching from the most current Algebra 1 textbook. It has cool math posters on the walls, the latest math technology including calculators, iPads, interactive white boards, a TV and flexible seating. There is enough seating for 28, but there are 31 on the roster. The student load makes it difficult for teacher #1 to prepare lessons that veer too far from what’s in the curriculum.

Classroom #2 is a virtual classroom. It houses a teacher, desk, whiteboard, “doc cam” (camera mounted to the desk that is movable to record and broadcast demonstrations on paper) as well as a camera pointed at the whiteboard to record and broadcast the teacher working out problems on the board. The teacher has access to the same Algebra curriculum as classroom #1. There are only 10 student desks to proctor testing to accommodate those students who prefer paper/pencil test. There are up to 50 students enrolled in each online Algebra 1 class. On occasion, teacher #2 uses ZOOM to introduce students to “real-world” guests who use algebra in their careers.

Classroom #3 is a private/charter school classroom. It houses a teacher, desk, whiteboard, current technology, the same district adopted curriculum and flexible seating with space for 16 students. Each unit, the teacher brings in outside guests who use the principles learned in each unit to talk with students.

Each teacher in all three scenarios is charged with the same task; teach the curriculum in order for students to be academically proficient in algebra, so they may score higher on standardized tests and improve their chances of being accepted to the post-secondary institution of their choice. Sounds familiar, right? At the root of it, isn’t this the unofficial (or official in some districts/states) charge for educators? Under this context, this situation is no different than Blockbuster, taxi drivers, Toys R Us or any business in America. Provide a service to the end consumer that solves a problem and satisfies their needs/wants/desires. The difference is how we go about providing that product or service. Based only on the three descriptions of the scenarios above, which classroom would you likely choose? Which classroom would you likely seek a transfer from?

Most of us come face-to-face with similar situations on a daily basis. And we almost always choose the quality of experience, comfort, convenience, and familiarity (the relationship). I’m sitting at a Starbucks right now because the green tea is excellent, the employees are friendly, it smells great in here and the wi-fi is decent. There is a McDonald’s right across the street with free wi-fi too. They serve tea. Employees are probably friendly, but the smell…

Similar competition is here in education. In order to compete with online education and voucher systems, we must be flexible and adapt. Students return to your classroom for one of two reasons: the relationship you’ve built with them or because the law says they must attend school until a certain age. Unfortunately, many educators rest easy on the former. Those who do are soon in for a rude awakening. Online education is becoming more reputable and as we all know, voucher programs for private schools are available in several states and becoming a popular topic in many more states. The relationship is what continues bringing the kids back. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your job is safe because, “the kids have to be here. It’s the law.” I’ve seen it and heard it. What an awful way to lead a classroom.

So what exactly can you do as an educator to ensure that your clients come back thirsty for more, day after day?

Have a routine — And stick to it! Clients and students alike expect consistency. It creates comfort. When I return to a place of business, I generally know the routine of getting what I need and what/who I will encounter when I go there. Most enjoy that level of comfort. It builds confidence. So, establish a routine with yourself and your students. Let them know when you’ll be available other than class time. Share with your students what your morning and after school routines are (sparing personal details of course). They want to know that you’re prepared and on the days that maybe you aren’t, they can rest easy that they might know why (“Mrs. Smith seems a little grumpy this morning Maybe she was up late with her new baby”).

Transparency goes a long way —Without divulging extremely personal issues and teetering on boundary issues, your students want to know that you have struggles too. They see Instagram models everyday and dream. What they really need to know though, is that their real life model (you, their educator) has struggles as well as successes. Share with them.

Establish rapport — Certainly sounds easy, but if you’ve spent anytime employed as an educator, you know how many directions you’re pulled every minute of the day. Being pulled and distracted so often makes it difficult to spend time building rapport with your students. Your email can wait. Greet each kiddo as they come in the door. Say hello and look them in the eyes. Physical touch is huge. A fist bump, high five or fun hand shake creates a physical and emotional connection immediately. And I’ll bet ya, if you build rapport with your students, they’ll behave for you on those occasions that you have to use the restroom. Students who trust and respect you do not want to disappoint you.

Take interest in themBoundaries you say! Not that kind of interest. Ask them how their baseball season is going. What fall activities are they participating? How is that new puppy? Go to the school play they’re in. No, these questions and situations aren’t in the curriculum or necessarily even taught in teacher school, but it’s well known, students perform better when they are respected, shown trust and felt loved and wanted.

Hold them accountable (and be accountable)Because they are still maturing, many students mistake building a relationship with them as being their friend. We need to avoid the dreadful, “FRIEND ZONE”. Holding them accountable and teaching responsibility are two sure fire ways to set appropriate boundaries while still building rapport. It tells the students you do care, but there are some rules and guidelines. It creates a slight level of discomfort and discomfort is ok. But this also means you need to hold yourself accountable and at times, a student may hold you accountable. No one likes a hypocrite. Understanding your ego will help with this. (Check out No Ego by Cy Wakeman.)

Run your classroom/building like a businessBusiness owners are (or should be) constantly trying to stay ahead of the game. For business owners, steady paychecks are not the norm. They are constantly trying to innovate in order to meet the needs of their clients, ensuring their return. And if they can do that, steady, recurring revue is much more possible. You must approach your environment in a similar fashion. Take a quick daily inventory of each class period. How was the overall mood? Attendance? Listen to requests and complaints from students. Make adjustments on the fly and after your day is over. Lesson plans are the guide, not the law. Something doesn’t work, scrap it. Repeat what went well and scale it. Make it even better!

Owning a successful business is not easy. Education isn’t supposed to be either. Business owners don’t stop working on their business when they turn off the “OPEN” sign. They may go home to dinner and the family, but rest assured, most successful business owners are spending time after the kids go to bed to answer client questions, develop new products, streamline a process, balance the books and finish up employee evaluations. You probably complete similar tasks after you turn off your “OPEN” sign. And that contributes to your success as an educator. It’s not desirable; it’s a necessity.

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