Using Entrepreneurship to Teach Leadership to Girls

By September 25, 2017 No Comments

In this episode, Doris speaks with Regina Rosi, Assistant Division Director & Dean of Student Life at Marlborough School, an all-girls school in Los Angeles, CA. They discuss the need to modernize leadership education in K12 schools. Regina shares the entrepreneurial approach required to design courses like these and what she has learned from using community partners to create her curriculum.

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Doris: Hello, Regina.

Regina: Hi Doris.

Doris: It is wonderful to talk to you.

Regina: Yes, I’m so excited to be here.

Doris: Well, it’s really exciting to me because we had such an amazing time together at the workshop and that was already two years ago. So I can’t wait. Yeah, I can’t wait to hear what you’ve done since. So, if you could please, start by telling the listeners a bit about yourself and then what brought you to the workshop, and what you did since.

Regina: Sure. Well, I think like many people, I never really planned on being a teacher. I went to Kenyon College in Ohio and there I majored in Spanish and International Studies. And after graduation from college, I had a fellowship and I lived in Mexico and I was doing research at the time. And then I sort of just ended up in Los Angeles at Marlborough School which is the oldest all-girls’ school on the west coast actually. And I thought I would just be here for a little bit while I applied to grad school, but I really loved the school and I really loved teaching Spanish.

And one of the things when I think about it now, when I think about Spanish, is that I graduated from a liberal arts college, and I had a lot of skills, but Spanish was my most marketable skill, and it was through Spanish that I had, jobs in tutoring. I think being able to speak Spanish was ultimately what got me in my job at an independent school even though I was only 22 at the time and had very little actual teaching experience. But what I loved about it was that it was a very real world skill. And, in a way I think that guided me to want to teach a class in entrepreneurship because I found while Marlborough is definitely a college preparatory has a very rigorous academic curriculum and it’s quite traditional in many senses. I felt like we needed more opportunities for our students to leave and to graduate with these real-world skills that they could apply to any job that they might be interested in.

But that’s a little bit about my background. I taught Spanish here at Marlborough for 10 years. And in that time, I also took on the role of Dean of Student life in which I was also in charge of all of our leadership programming. And so leadership is one of those words that can be a bit divisive, and it’s so ambiguous as well, like, what does leadership really mean? I think there’s so many ways that someone can be a leader, and it’s not just limited to students who might have a titled position, or will be on a student council. And so, for about five years actually we grappled with this idea of do we want to have a leadership class? How are other schools teaching leadership? And again, with Marlborough being an all-girl school, are there specific ways that we should be teaching leadership to girls?

And we actually did research, I did a huge East Coast tour and I visited a bunch of schools to see how they were teaching leadership. And we had actually settled on teaching a course and the title of it was going to be Real World Leadership. And we are really excited about it, it was going to be more hands-on and practical, it wasn’t going to be just about theory. And then I happened to go to the OESIS conference in Los Angeles, which I guess would have been in 2016, February 2016, and that was where I met you. And I saw you presenting at that point, and it was then that I had, like, that lightbulb moment and I was like you know what we should call this class is not Real World Leadership. We should just have an entrepreneurship class because all of these skills that we want our students to graduate with, we could teach them through entrepreneurship.

And so teaching leadership has always been something that is a personal passion of mine. I think about my personal mission as an educator is to empower young women and in my case, any student, really, to empower young people to change the world, and I think entrepreneurship allows me to do that. And that’s what makes it really exciting.

Doris: I tell you what is really interesting that you just did in a really brilliant way. I don’t use the word leadership anymore for all the reasons you brought up. The baggage it has with it, and the assumptions others make bog it down and make it not just ineffective, but actually in many cases harmful to whatever point I’m trying to make. And, right?

Regina: Yeah. I mean, I was surprised. I think it can be a really contentious word. And I had never really realized that before until I started to really delve into teaching leadership. But I don’t know, there’s something about it. And I think that too if you tell students, like, ”Hey, we’re going to, we’re offering this new leadership class.” It’s just, kind of, like, Okay, eye roll, here we go again.

Doris: Right. And I think about how for many people this is going to be a gruesome way to say it. But, I think for many people, that word is something that enters into their language as a little kid, as a child. And the way it’s used is very simplistic. ”Okay guys, I’m the leader at this time. Oh, I get to be the leader.” And so, we never get a chance to evolve a more sophisticated definition or use of the word. And it’s more trouble that word when you’re dealing especially with students who are in high school, or middle school kids, it’s more trouble, I found that it’s worth.

Regina: Yeah. Well, because I think leader, it implies just one. And I think we all know especially if this comes out so beautifully in a class like entrepreneurship, there can’t just be one leader or you’re never going to get anything done.

Doris: That’s right, that’s exactly right.

Regina: So I think students are starting to see other opportunities for leadership beyond student council. And I think we’ve moved beyond that idea of there only being one leader. I think students are starting to see leadership as a skill set. And I think they’re also identify saying, ”Oh, well, there’s more than one way to be a leader.  I can maybe be an introvert or I don’t always have to be the one up in front of everyone to be a leader and I think that the conversation has changed a bit.

Doris: That’s awesome. So then you came to this workshop, and I forgot that we met in February at that conference, I forgot that. And you came to the conference and I remember it was a pretty intense thing for you. I remember talking about it with you about coming in from years of teaching Spanish to doing this very different thing, right?

Regina: Yeah. Well, there were a lot of things that were so interesting to me about that conference. One thing that I noticed, and I’ve told a few other people about this, and this is more from my all girls perspective, I’ve been to a lot of education conferences. And at most of those conferences, the majority of the participants are women. And I have to tell you that that, the workshop, I remember we were standing doing the News Circle and I just looked around and I was like, this is the first education conference I have ever been to where there are more males and females because I did, to be honest, I did feel a bit like fish out of water because math is not my strong point. Like the whole finance piece, I’m learning more about that, but I wasn’t a business major.

I took introduction to Micro-Econ in college, and did fine in it, but it was a very difficult course for me and I remember looking around and being like is this a course that I’m going to be able to implement? Because I see all these other people here who teach Econ already or they teach the business course and they just have more experience in this world than I do. But, yeah, your workshop was incredibly helpful for me because it was a big task that I was tasked with, but it was, yeah, it was a fascinating experience.

Doris: Oh, I’m glad, and as you discovered, it’s really not about Econ or Business, it’s about how to create that kind of learning, right?

Regina: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Doris: How to create the course, an academic course where that kind of learning happens. So then, and I actually remember, I mean, this is a couple of years ago, but that even in the course of the workshop, I saw you go from being intimidated to being pretty bold, emboldened I would say, even in the workshop.

Regina: Yeah. Well, it was like the light bulb went off and I was like, okay, I think I can. I’m starting to see how I can make this work.

Doris: That’s right. And then you left, and you tell us what you’ve created, and what’s happened with that.

Regina: Yeah. Well before the workshop, we had the plan. Originally we were going to have a class with 8th through 12th graders. And the goal there was like, “Oh, our older students can mentor our younger students. And this is going to be a great opportunity for inter grade level collaboration and we’re looking for more opportunities to do this.” And I remember sitting there and as we were talking about the curriculum and different ideas, I was like that is not a good idea. I was like, I don’t really see that panning out very well.

And I think during one of the breaks, I actually sent a text message to my division head and I was like, “we need to really think about the schedule because we need to split up middle school and upper school because this is just not going to be the best option.” And so, after the workshop we actually then ended up saying, Okay, we’re going to do an upper school elective for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. And then, in addition, we’re going to offer middle school entrepreneurship.

So, middle school entrepreneurship ran in second semester of last year, then we had upper school entrepreneurship. And we actually, I mean, the enrollment… I think the word entrepreneurship there’s definitely a certain buzz to it because our enrollment was high especially given that it was the first year we were offering the class. And we gave students the option that they could take the course for an entire year or they could only take it for the first semester. But if they wanted to continue in second semester as upper school students, they had to have done first semester as well. So we did that. We have changed it. I mean, I really do think of starting a new course is also entrepreneurial because, you pivot and you iterate and you try again and you learn. I get it’s all about building, measuring, and learning.

But what we did, yeah, we created, ultimately we created these two courses. I was a little nervous despite going to the workshop. I was like contacting these startups and getting them to work with us, I was like I just don’t… I like wanted to kind of dip my my toe into the water. And so, we actually started by doing a real-world design challenge problem-solving at Marlborough. And so, we had students identify problems that they deemed worth solving. Actual problems in our community. And then we had them pitch those ideas to the senior administrative team.

Then my original plan was going to be that the second project they were going to then go into the broader community and like go within a mile of Marlborough because Marlborough is… we are in Hancock Park which is a very old historical neighborhood but we’re 20 minutes from downtown, we’re by Crenshaw in Koreatown, we’re by Beverly Hills, and so there’s a lot of diversity within… we’re definitely an urban school. And that was the original plan. But then the Marlborough project, it went well and I think it was effective. But I was like I think we could do a little bit more. And I was like and what do you know, this is what Doris said, was, go into a real startup business and you’re going to actually get more buy-in. And so, we then ended up, again, I’m still a little bit nervous.

And so, I had been to this new coffee and tea shop, and the title of it is Rubies and Diamonds. It’s very, hip and trendy and very LA, and it’s owned actually by a parent who is a female founder, which for me is important. Again, I think I’m trying to really develop a program with more of a feminist bent to it, I guess I would say. And so, as much as possible I’m trying to work with female founders. So this was an easy one and I knew her, and I knew she’d be willing to work with us. And I called her right after the workshop in June and was like, mid-October I’d love for us to partner. And she was so excited, and she was like, ”We definitely need more women founders, we need more women CEO. I love this idea. I’m all in.” And she was awesome. I mean, especially for my first time doing this, it was so wonderful to have her as a partner. I think if I had any advice to people it’d be find, it’d be a little bit nervous to find someone who will help you develop this.

Doris: And I also need to interject here that what you’re describing is very common. That people who’ve been educators, the first time you use an external partner to create the curriculum in your class. That is such a foreign idea, that educators are really nervous about it. And I have in the workshops and after the workshops, I actually have to do an awful lot with some of the individual educators to help them just get to that first one. And then once educators have done this once, it’s not hard after that.

Regina: That is exactly true. It’s not hard at all once you do one. And, I mean, what I’ve realized too is now I have people, more, and more people coming to me and saying like, ”Oh, this is great, would you be interested in partnering with us?” And how I’d see it is like, why wouldn’t they want to partner with us? Because if you look at, if you think about high schoolers, and that demographic, and as potential influencers, and purchasers, and consumers, I mean, I see it as then you have this new community of people talking about and potentially getting the word out about your business, which is great for them too. So…

Doris: Well, and also they have for three weeks, or four weeks, or whatever it is, you have a group of students working for a business who are absolutely masterful with all of this stuff that a lot of these business people are most struggling with and don’t know themselves. So the whole, you know how do you market in this very different era? They can add a lot of value. It’s funny because as we’re finding that more and more schools want to work with us to build some of these kinds of programs. And some of them are entrepreneurship programs with businesses, some of them are history classes and they’re using partners that aren’t necessarily the traditional startups but all kinds of external partners. Getting businesses and industry to want to participate with schools, and teachers, and kids is actually not the hard part.

Regina: Yeah. I would agree that is not the hard part. And I think maybe depending on the partnership it depends on what exactly is going to be challenging, but getting them to sign on, and getting them excited, yeah, that is not as scary to me as it once was.

Doris: That’s great. And just to add, the nature of what the students are working on doesn’t actually require that much time from the external partner.

Regina: No.

Doris: So, regardless of what somebody is teaching, so that’s the other thing that I think a lot of people don’t understand until they’ve done it.

Regina: Absolutely. I think there is a bit of… I found I had to work this year when I started reaching out to other companies, I had to do a little bit of work in terms of explaining what type of problem is big enough, and juicy enough that students can really dig deep and actually spend three to four weeks on. But then also not something that’s so big and so complex that they’re not quite ready for it. If I just look at it like the progress, last year I was like, “Okay, I’m going to work with a parent company that a parent owns and like, really dip my toe in.” And then this year I’d love to make a partnership with a VR Company. That’s my next kind of thing.

Doris: Oh, that’s interesting. Well, and I’m going to give you a challenge to think about, just start thinking about this. I think it would be very, very good for you to experiment with some additional learning objectives inside your entrepreneurship class. So, for example, I experimented in the early days with challenges that required students to learn a little bit about genetics and a lot about biology, or a little bit about water treatment and etc.

I think as you dip your toe now into very different, like, I love that you’re looking for a VR challenge. Doing very different kinds of challenges that require students to gain subject matter knowledge that is not business or marketing, but something others would classify as rigorous academics is, and play around a little with that because what ends up happening is that you start really understanding that this is truly a method of teaching and it’s independent of the subject matter. And I think that what that does is it helps your students because they see not only can I do this really hard problem solving, not only can I present and create a cogent, etc., etc. I can learn really hard stuff. And it also puts you in a position to have more impact, I think on other teachers at your school as you see it, it isn’t just its own new silo that’s business.

So it’s very convenient to keep it in the entrepreneurship bucket, and it’s actually much. It’s really actually empowering for the students when schools break out of those, well, these are the core academic subjects. These are the ones that are really academic, and these other things are fun things to the side.

Regina: Yeah. No, that’s a great challenge. I think that is a goal for our next version and that will be a new challenge for me. But I think it will be good for the girls.

Doris: Yeah, that’s awesome. So, you did a great job of describing yourself. You’re an educator. You’ve been teaching inside schools and you don’t have experience being an entrepreneur. It’s not about teaching the girls at your school business. What’s the impact on your students?
Regina: Yeah, you know I think the impact, I love that question because it makes me really think about the students I had last year and got to know them really well. One of the things that I like to emphasize is to see them really thinking deeply about problems and about the work that they were doing and the meaning of what is our duty as a citizen of the world? How do we go about solving problems that affect us, problems that affect our fellow citizens, problems that affect our city? And to see them doing that kind of deep thinking and really that deep learning was really so gratifying. You know, it’s not just about… there’s no test, it’s not about memorizing or regurgitating information but it was really real, the type of learning.

And I think that students get really good at doing exactly what the teacher wants them to do. And so, be that, be it a certain style of writing or they get really good at performing for the teacher. And what I love about entrepreneurship is that suddenly that paradigm switch is a little bit.

Doris: So, how is this impacting, how is it impacting your school?

Regina: Teaching entrepreneurship, it really has taken off. Even in the last year, I’ve gotten, I’ve been on a number of email threads of educators who are saying we started an entrepreneurship program. What are you guys doing in entrepreneurship? And I’ve actually had one where someone mentioned that they had been to your workshop, and I was like, yep, that’s the one. That’s what I tell people too. I say, we use the Doris Korda Method, and I’m a huge believer in that.

And we are looking more and more of what comes after entrepreneurship. So they take this intro class and then is there then a Hack for Impact class, or Designing an App for Social Good that could then be team-taught by one of our computer science teachers and by one of our entrepreneurship teachers. But I think this method of teaching does lend itself beautifully to so many other disciplines.

Doris: So Regina, taking it back to where you started this conversation with your mission about empowering young women, does any of what you’ve created here and what you’re doing with this radically new class help you achieve that mission? And if so, how, and in what way?

Regina: Yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons why I feel compelled and driven to really do this work, and to put all this effort into starting this new class is because I do think that out of everything that I have done in my years attempting to teach leadership or in attempting to empower young women, I found last year by teaching entrepreneurship to be the far most effective way to actually do that. And I think it just kind, I think the main thing is, is that over the years I’ve had students come into my office saying things like, I want everything from, I want to start a club to I have this great idea and I want to help the environment, or I want to help solve the homelessness problem in Los Angeles, or I’m really passionate about dogs or cats. I mean, whatever it may be.

And so I think that students especially at this age, have so many ideas and they’re such creative thinkers and they really are driven and they’re passionate and they want to effect positive change in the world around them. But the actual steps of how do you do that? That’s where students need some guidance. And I think that the entrepreneurial model of starting off by saying, “What is the actual problem that I’m trying to solve? And, two is it worth solving? Is this a problem that other people have?” And then going through almost like the product design cycle, I mean, that works whether you are trying to design something for a new skincare product or whether you’re trying to save the turtle.

Doris: Solve cancer.

Regina: Yeah. And I think that what this class that empowers students to do is to say,” Hey I can do that! Whatever problem it is that I’m confronted with be it, I have to do something for my boss, or I just want to solve this problem for me, or I want to solve this problem because it’s something I care about, and I’m passionate about. I know that I can do it because I’ve done it before. You know I had to create a custom drink for Rubies and Diamonds or I had to come up with this new skincare line for Skin House Cosmetics and I didn’t know anything about that yet. There I was four weeks later after doing research and putting in the work.  I presented to the CEO and her team, and I proved to myself that I was able to do it.”

And so, for me I really think that a class like entrepreneurship, it allows students to start with an idea and then turn it into a successful reality. And I think that one of the challenges in education right now is that in most of the academic classes students don’t have that experience of starting with an idea and then actually turning it into something. And I think going through that is incredibly empowering. I think there’s other parts to that… other pieces that you can put into a class. I’m a big believer in that idea of you have to see it to believe it, and you have to see it to become it.

And I think one of the things that I’ve noticed with my students is that they see these other women who had a passion, who maybe followed a really non-linear path to get where they are today. But here they are and they’ve taken an idea and turned it into a successful company. And for them to see that and say, ”Hey, she did it and she didn’t major in business or she didn’t know anything about chemistry or she never thought that this is where she’d be. But look at everything she’s accomplished. I can then do that too.” So I think a class like entrepreneurship also gives you the opportunity to put some terrific role models up in front of your students so that they can really get a better sense of all that is possible and everything that they can ultimately accomplish.

Doris: Well, Regina, I was taken by you in that workshop and I’m not surprised to hear that you’re just doing amazing work for these kids and your school and keep doing it. And I can’t wait to hear what you’re doing a year from now.

Regina: Yeah. I’ll keep you posted.

Doris: Thank you Regina. You’re awesome.

Regina: Thank you.

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