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Six Lessons Learned from an EdCorp Founder

By: Grant Knowles, June EdCorps Founder of the Month

My most impactful classroom learning came from the basketball court this year, or rather, from standing on the side of it. “Lead loudly” was my most often used phrase in practice, before games, during games and reflecting afterwards. As a coach, my expectations are high, on the court, in the classroom, in practice and outside. I ask my team to grow as leaders, to model for each other, to be courageous, to be compassionate, and yet here I was, standing on the sideline, head throbbing as I am yelling out every rotation, every call, every read all while being outside the game and from the far end of the court. My head was hurting, and I wasn’t helping. I called a timeout and implored my team to talk, and then it hit me: how can I expect them to talk if I don’t stop talking? How can I expect them to grow as leaders if I don’t give them room to grow?

Sitting and watching my team play was excruciating at first. I saw mistakes being made, and wanted to jump up and help, but the team began to talk. They began to grow, and then grew quickly. They were able to grow because they had space. They were able to grow because they were able to make mistakes, and able to recover.

This learning came hard for me, but when it did it, it was applied in the classroom as well. Our EdCorp, Lightning Orthotics, had always been student-run, but so often I was making the reads about what was needed, and then handing that over to them. How could I expect them to continue to grow if I was doing all of the need finding? How could I call it their business if I was still doing the critical thinking for them?

Just about a year ago I met Audrey, Elyse and Michael from the RWS at the Pitt Fab Institute. Our school had recently been awarded a VWeLab, providing a digital fabrication space for our students to authentically create. I wasn’t sure how that would best be leveraged, and then here comes this Elyse Burden, showing us video of herself falling off a stage, and sharing how she used to video herself polishing rocks, being vulnerable, being real, and offering an opportunity for my students to take action in using the space. What followed was a year full of the most powerful and transformative learning that my students and myself have experienced. This is an attempt to share some of what we learned as we started this business to help others. It’s by no means comprehensive, and there is still an incredible amount of learning and work ahead of us, but there is power in being vulnerable and in sharing the learning as it is happening and still half-baked. Elyse and Margret Atkinson have taught me that, and I’ve tried to learn it.

So here goes something of a six things I’ve learned this year.

  1. Trust is a gateway to everything

We learned to move with the speed of intentionality, meaning that we wanted to sprint, but knew we had to be slow and intentional. We didn’t make a sale. We didn’t mean to, we didn’t put our products up for market. My plan was to sell small scale aquaponics, the students had other, better, ideas. They found a need, they found people in need, and they needed to help, but that meant we were a sixth grade business looking to hack a medical industry – getting things right is the only way we can go. Intentionality was our speed, but we couldn’t get anywhere without trust.  We wanted to rush forward, but we needed to know each other, before we could get real work done, we needed to know each other’s stories, how to build on each other’s strengths, and help push each other in areas of need. Trust allows for us to communicate, to care, and to take risks which takes me to number three.

2. We all have to separate self-doubt from idea doubt

Watch Adam Grant’s Ted Talk. Let me know if you’ve got thoughts. It’s guided a lot of our growth this year.

3. Done is better than perfect

If we are being all vulnerable and trusting, then I can say that my competitive side is our biggest challenge. We got our first package out in May, just before school closed. We worked on it for months. The point of the package was to be a mock shipment, to assess ourselves and to give feedback. I held that up.  I wanted things to be perfect, but didn’t that defeat the point? Done lets us receive authentic feedback. Done lets us learn and move, so striving for perfection slows our growth. Done allow us to rapidly prototype, and that lets us help others.

4. Treat the patient, not the problem

The most important learning the students grew into this year was understanding that solving one challenge didn’t become a solution for challenges. As we met with patients to define our challenge and receive feedback we found ourselves working to help patients looking to get into wheelchair racing. Hard work and innovation led us to start iterating some possibilities that might help. We began designing FOR rather than WITH. We began trying to solve a problem rather than trying to help a person. What worked, or looked like it might work for one person didn’t work for others. It was a great reminder for us that design thinking was a mindset, not a map for us to check off. People are at the center of what we do. People are at the center of process.

Students met with Laura, and shared their stories & shipped ideas.


5. Agree on how you will disagree

Conflict comes when people are passionate and take things personally. It’s natural, it’s going to happen, but it can be a positive driver. We’ve got a truly student-dreamed and student-run business, and that means there are times when we’ve got multiple, passionate opinions in any given moment. If we know that we’re going to have differences, then we need to agree on how we will resolve them before we have them.

My mom, wonderful woman that she is, gave me my love for board and card games. She was competitive, passionate, and had a knack of explaining rules after they had been “broken.” Explaining rules after they’ve been “broken” leads to negative conflict.

So while we’ve all got our cooler heads, let them prevail by deciding how they they will handle conflict. Will it be a straight vote? A representative group of students? Rock, paper, scissors? Whatever it is, decide early and be candid on how disagreements will be solved.  For us, we set clear expectations for respectful discourse, and agreed that we would settle with each head of department casting a vote as a representative of their department. We’ll reflect on that as we start back up next year, maybe we’ll build new procedures, but having this agreement worked for us. It beat my mom’s method.

6. Self care 

If you’re reading this, especially to this point, you want to do all the things. This is a work in progress, but I know to do all the things, to empathize with so many others, to take on all the problems, you run the tank close to empty. Remember to prioritize yourself, to keep finding ways to fill the tank, if for no other reason than to keep going.