Coaching, Teaching, and Learning Like an Innovator and an Entrepreneur | Steve Barkley

Coaching, Teaching, and Learning Like an Innovator and an Entrepreneur

I stumbled across a TEDX video, titled The Power of Wonder: by Jeff Hoffman, who is a global entrepreneur, CEO, motivational speaker, author, and Hollywood film producer. He has been part of a number of well-known successful startups, including,, and While his presentation was focused on business, I found his three key suggestions to be appropriate for educators.

Harness the power of wonder

Hoffman shares a story of how a five-year-old’s string of questions raised the thought for him that there is a lot we could gain from creating time and space to wonder. He established a wonder day in his office. “Come and think like a five-year-old. Question everything.

I posted an earlier blog about the role of curiosity for students, teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches.

An ASCD post titled The Wonder Years paints a picture of the need for curiosity in our classrooms.

Scientific research supports the notion that our brains are wired for inquisitiveness. Researchers found that when we seek answers to questions, we think are interesting, we are better equipped to learn and retain that information. We are also better at remembering the other material we uncover while on our quest for those answers.

Curiosity releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which helps improve noticing and affects attention and remembering. When your curiosity is piqued, you are going to remember things more deeply.

In a blog about “deliberate curiosity,” Diana Kander connects curiosity to coaching.

Accountability forces us to be curious. Take professional athletes: They are peak performers in the top 1% of their industry, and yet you would be hard-pressed to find a professional athlete without a coach or multiple coaches. Why is that? Coaches are like personified curiosity. They help identify blind spots, find what’s not working, and think of new creative experiments to try. They hold the athletes accountable for constant improvement and achieving new levels.

Wisdom begins in wonderOn the National Library of Medicine website, I found this description comparing curiosity and wonder, that’s pushing my thinking further.

…the scope of wonder goes beyond curiosity. Curiosity is the urge to explain the unexpected (Piaget, 1969), or the urge to know more (Engel, 2011), and may be an instinctual response. Wonder is the desire to know the unknown, as well as the already known. Before the already known, a child may wonder again and again, because to wonder consists in never taking anything for granted, even that which is already known.

So, when children ask, “Why is it not raining upwards?” or “Why is the moon is round and not square?” they might not be demanding an answer but rather they might be wondering in the face of reality.

Maybe we educators should be wondering…

  • Why are students sorted into groups by birthdays?
  • Who gains by us assigning grades?
  • Why does recess stop at grade 5?
  • Why do we separate the day into subjects? What if we did science all day long for a month?

Try info-sponging

Hoffman describes info-sponging as time he sets aside to read an article, listen to a podcast, or explore a website that he has no idea why or how the information might be of value to him. He suggests taking a broader look at what’s happening in the world and then bringing it back to yourself. He uses sticky notes to capture any key thoughts and then from time to time he looks to:

  • Connect the dots
  • Study the world around him
  • Collect data points and think about them
  • Push the puzzle pieces around the table

Where are you “info-sponging?” What opportunities can we create for students to info-sponge? I am writing this blog as an outgrowth from my info-sponging.

customer focusFilter data through the eyes of your customer.

Hoffman illustrates this point with a picture of his office where he has silhouettes on the walls that represent customers. He describes times when staff members are pitching an idea and Hoffman asks them to describe it to the customer silhouettes. This made me smile as I was recently coaching a teacher over zoom who was focused on increasing student voice and choice in her classroom and she turned her computer to show me a large picture of a student she has on her wall as a reminder during her planning and instructional activities.

I am working with a school district that has been implementing the use of proficiency scales over the past few years to guide a viable and guaranteed curriculum for learners across the district. In the process of assessing the impact of this practice, we are identifying the need to have focus groups with students, requesting how they use the scales and feedback on the scales to empower their learning decisions.

I’m thinking we might consider adding a spot in our PLC agendas that asks, “What would our students say?” If we are not sure, it is information we should gather before our next meeting.

Innovators generate ideas. Entrepreneurs are idea farmers,” states Hoffman. They plant, weed, water, and fertilize ideas. Entrepreneurs do something with ideas.

Consider how we can implement this into our roles as education innovators and entrepreneurs.

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