With feedback, comes deeper learning: Lessons from an #edtech workshop

(Originally published at story2.com, July 26, 2016)

After returning from Village Capital Education US 2016 (#VilCapEdUS), I shared four observationsthat I had about my experience with EdTech startups — observations that I think can be relevant for students and educators.

And… wow!

Thank you to everyone who reached out with feedback. So great to keep the conversation going! You inspired new thinking, which sparked more ideas about what students and educators can take and apply in their classrooms and lives. Here are three additional strategies for learning and life.

Get in the room

I was nervous to attend the workshop. This was a leadership event, to be attended with Story2 CEO, Carol Barash. I didn’t have a business background, and I was three weeks into my full-time role. This was not a comfortable space for me. But… I needed to be there. I had to challenge myself — force myself — to get into that room, to grow, to expand my skills and confidence, to do what’s best for the company, to step up. And, like always, I benefited from the experience. I met dynamic and cool people. I learned about business, investing, startups, and strategy. And I made the uncomfortable comfortable, expanding myself, growing my confidence, and equipping myself for future challenges.

I think students can do this too, despite the discomfort and stress. “You can’t know until you go” — that is, you can’t possibly know what could come of your experience until you have it. If you’re a student, try this by getting yourself in those rooms, at those events, and in those conversations, and you’ll give yourself a chance to reap the benefits. If you’re an educator, challenge students to take those first, scary steps, and support them as they navigate both the anxieties and the learnings.

Angela Maiers, educator and author, calls this tactical serendipity — taking intentional action to increase the likelihood of beneficial, unpredictable outcomes. As far as I can tell, the only way to capture those benefits and advance as a student, professional, and person, is to take action. Students (likely) want to improve and be the best them they can be, and educators want this as well. Thus, students should get in the room.

ABO: Always Be Open

It was during one of the breaks that Carol shared with me what turned out to be my biggest breakthrough take-away of the workshop. Joseph Steig, Village Capital Senior Advisor, nonchalantly shared a story from a book he recommended. An assumption-gone-untested — that they should advance in a particular direction — by the characters in the book irked Joseph, and he shared as much. After the story, during the break, Carol said the story hit her, got her thinking about our work, and that we needed to focus our energy in a particular direction. My dots hadn’t been connected by the story, but they were at that very moment by her translation of it for us. Had she not had that insight from Joseph’s incidental story — a story he wasn’t planning to share, but someone asked him to — we might be in a different place.

In my opinion, by being open, aware, and ready to embrace ideas, people, and resources, students give themselves a chance to incorporate new opportunities and use them to their advantage. Every person a student meets, every class they take, every job they have — all are opportunities to learn. How does this relate to my life? What can I learn from this person? Where have I seen this before? How might this look if it resembled that? I think these and countless other questions can keep students attuned to new possibilities, new innovative intersections. Such a skill is essentially a muscle that only gets strengthened through usage. So educators should encourage their students: everywhere students go → be mindful, be creative, be open.

Consider your impact

One of the exercises we got to do at Village Capital centered around impact. After we articulated and refined our value statements, we reconfigured our seating arrangement so that two companies could be joined by two mentors. After brief introductions, we shared our thoughts and histories associated with impact. What impact were we having? What impact did we want to have? How were we going about having that impact? How could we assess whether or not we were having that impact? We were challenged to identify, with numbers, what and how we could measure our impact. As social impact companies, all of the companies at Village Capital needed to be crystal clear about who we were serving, how we were serving them, and how we could be sure.

Have students ever considered the impact they want to have in their school, work, or life? If not, then I think they should, immediately. As I’ve written elsewhere, we’re often challenged to think about what job we want to have when we get older. We’re too often asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” By thinking about what impact we want to have instead, we’re putting the needs of others above our own. By improving the lives of our fellow human beings, we’re also improving our systems, our cultures, our societies. We’re making it more likely that the people who live long after us will have an increased chance to realize their potential and live the lives they imagine. In my judgment, this is accomplished not by “changing the world” but by “changing worlds.” I think educators should help students figure out what impact they want to have in the world, take action in pursuit of that impact, then observe how lives — both others’ and their own — are transformed for the better.

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