Don Wettrick is known for his award-winning work as a middle school and high school teacher; educational and innovation consultant; and educational speaker. Don is the CEO and founder of StartEdUp, author of “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level” and Innovation Specialist at Noblesville High School, central Indianapolis.
I’ve followed Don on social media and on his podcast for years and enjoy learning from him online. Now it’s my turn to interview him. I was excited to learn about FutureReadyU for kids and sharing it with my audience. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
About you, your family, and where you live
I’ve been in the Indianapolis area all my life and love it. I live in Indianapolis, IN with my wife, Alicia, and my three children: Ava, Anna, and Grant. It is literally the crossroads of America.
Everyone in my family was from education. My dad was a teacher, my mom was a stay-at-home mom which made her a teacher, and my sister is a teacher in deaf education. When I was young, we traveled all my life usually by pop-up camper always on a budget. I think one of the things that were instilled in me is that the best money you can spend is on (a) your loved ones and (b) on memories. Every summer was a road trip somewhere.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t be a teacher, but I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be the dad that my dad was. Part of it was to spend time with my children. The current position I had didn’t look like it was going to be as family friendly. My dad always had an optimistic view of education. He was very upbeat about things and wanted to keep what he taught fresh. So after 3 years out of college not being a teacher, I decided to go back and get my teaching degree. My favorite quote from my dad is what was at the heart of innovation:
“Don, I don’t care if you go on teaching for the next 20 years, but please don’t teach one year 20 times.” Chuck Wettrick
Curiosity has always been a part of my genetic code. I have a little more of my mom’s confrontational side where we used to get in these great arguments and enjoyed a good debate. My dad is more the agreeable type so I’m hoping I am a good combination of the two. I remember my first few years teaching in middle school, the kids would rush in and tell you all these things that happened over the break. Then when I started high school, the first thing the kids did was not talk. That whole middle school excitement and the social aspect of it was great. I taught ten wonderful years at middle school.
Teaching Innovation and Open Source Learning
Daniel Pink mentioned in his Ted Talk that most adults are not driven by money but by mastery, autonomy, and purpose. The lure of money didn’t necessarily put people over the top. I thought about what he said and wondered if kids are in school to work for grades or work for the sake of learning. Because of how the system is set up, they are working for the grade and school is something they have to get through not something to enjoy. This isn’t learning. This is just an exercise in compliance.
Why We Must Teach Innovation – Don Wettrick – Sparks Tech
I’m deeply concerned about what we are not doing in education. I don’t think “innovation” is the be all, end all. In fact, you cannot be innovative, if you cannot read or write, don’t know math, or cannot understand or appreciate history. I still think a large part of our standards is there for a reason. But, I do strongly believe that there should be a part of your school day that is centered around innovation and entrepreneurship. I started this wacky, weird class on innovation seven years ago at the high school level. We’ve been experimenting and doing strange things. They don’t work for me, I work for them. I help them find the tools, mentors, and open source their learning. If this comes across that I’m bragging about my students, I am, because they have done amazing things.
“The hardest things we do are the things we decide to do because we want to do them.”
The innovation class is about 7-8 weeks long on the innovative process, and I’m learning along with them. I have no idea in my class how they are doing what they are doing. Teaching them how to learn as they see fit is the hard part. What I have fallen in love with is being part of this cult of doers. The more I got deeper into this class, the more I realized I was only scratching the surface.
Actually, Daniel Pink, provided us feedback when we started this class. After that, it was Tina Seelig from Stanford University who helped us go deeper and pull the layers back. The class started out as a class on creativity and then was driven by the differences between creativity and innovation. Now the last few years, it is now driven by the differences between innovation and entrepreneurship. If you have a great idea and don’t do anything with it, then what does that do? Take a good idea and bring it to the world. No matter what age, you have the ability to bring any idea you have to the world. That’s entrepreneurial!
Article on Forbes magazine: Endorsed by Entrepreneurs how this High School Teacher is Making the Classroom a Safe Place to Fail.
Don Wettrick with Gary Vaynerchuk
Preparing for the Future
In 2020, 45-55% of the world’s jobs will be gig related or freelance. So who’s going to find those jobs? People who understand patterns, where the trends are going and the opportunities are everywhere. People who are innovators and creators. So why do we continue to teach the same way we have that prepares them for jobs that will no longer be there? I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but my class and what it stands for is the most important thing we need for education. That’s not to say that everything else is not important. But if you are not doing anything with the knowledge you have, no one cares.
For the past two years, StartEdUp has been empowering schools to provide #innovation #Entrepreneurship & the entrepreneur MINDSET! Now we are taking our mission directly to students that don’t have this opportunity. StartEdUp is about enabling student-led entrepreneurs and bringing an entrepreneurial mindset into classrooms. This will help kids that are home-schooled. In fact, Seth Godin said to me that all kids are home-schooled. My kids are home-schooled. They get home after school and then we talk about school
Please go to http://www.futurereadyu.com to be a part of our network!
Don Wettrick is the Innovation Coordinator at Noblesville High School, and is the author of “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level.” Wettrick has worked as a middle school and high school teacher; educational and innovation consultant; CEO, and podcast host. He is also the founder of StartEdUp, an organization dedicated to helping transform the school culture toward innovation and enable student-led entrepreneurship.
Don has lectured across the US, Europe, South America and Africa about collaboration, social media use, and work environments that enable innovation. Through his travel, he has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to Ghana, and seeks to bring that entrepreneurial mindset into our classrooms. His podcast, StartEdUp, has featured some of the most successful entrepreneurs, authors, and thought leaders in the world- focusing on educational change. Most importantly Don works with educators, students, and entrepreneurs to bring innovation and collaborative skills into education.
Book: Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level