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By Tommy Hoang, Science Teacher at Burton High School
This blog post was republished by permission from his blog.

Business and education are seemingly two very different sectors that we often view as private and public, respectively. One has the potential to make billions while the other… impacts billions. (Education isn’t as lucrative, but we make a difference okay?!)

But after reading the Lean Startup, an entrepreneur’s guide to designing products for the market, I’ve come to realize that the two have more in common than previously thought. How, you ask? Well …

Time & Agility

  • Startups normally have a few years of runway (money in the bank) to develop and grow into a successful lasting business. There’s a sense of urgency and changing directions is common practice when things aren’t working.
  • The education system has thirteen years to impart essential skills to students which they will presumably need to succeed in their lives. Teachers have one year (9 months, really) to adapt and adjust to their students.

Assumptions & Learning

  • Startups operate with many assumptions about their target market that may or may not be true. They validate ideas and learn from their customers through experiments and use the results to pivot or persevere, driving their team in the right direction.
  • Teachers assume practices like collaborative work, reciprocal teaching, and flipped classroom are effective because it’s backed with research. We drive future instruction by learning from professional development courses, past teaching experiences, colleagues, and students.


  • Entrepreneurs validate their learning by assessing customers. Success can mean long-term growth and delivering a product that customers value.
  • Teachers assess students primarily to validate students’ learning and to validate their teaching methods. Traditional success is based on students’ proficiency in key subjects areas.

After reflecting on these similarities and knowing  that students no longer really need teachers to obtain basic information, my colleagues and I implemented some startup practices in our classrooms to see if they’d enhance the learning experience. (We joke that our job titles would evolve into Education Engineers – it’s got a nice ring to it, right?)

Anyway, I present to you tips for establishing and maintaining  “The Lean Classroom.” They’ve worked for me so far and I hope they’re helpful to you, too. Of course, it’s always a work in progress.

Validate Assumptions.
Run small experiments on a class or two (you have 3-5!) to see the effects of a new teaching strategy on your students. Various tactics may or  may not work for your students even if the methodology is backed by research. Example: I set a schedule for weekly office hours instead of telling students “the classroom’s always open”. More students showed up to my weekly session to ask for help compared to the daily lunch session offered by my colleague. The ones who came to tutoring saw a lift in test scores.

Measure Often.
Students testingAssess students’ skills on a rolling basis, not on their content knowledge at the end of the week, quarter, or semester. Skills include actionable metrics such as managing time, studying tactics, and collaboratively applying content.  Providing consistent feedback allows students to be witnesses to their own progress and serves as a strong motivator. It also reinforces the notion that hard work — not innate intelligence — leads to success.Example: We provided an entire week for students to pace themselves through reading a chapter on earthquakes, taking a content test, and designing an earthquake board game with a team. We informally and formally evaluated students during the week and they earned an overall score based on completion (time management), comprehension (study tactics), and project creativity (content application). This instructional model was validated through changes in student behaviors such as increased productivity from all students, requests to continue project outside of class, and improved self-efficacy (measured via survey).

Focus on Skills.
Vanity metrics like test scores, homework completion rate, and classroom participation matter less than students’ personal growth.  Your efforts are better spent helping students to develop skills they’ll need to succeed after they leave your classroom and take that commencement walk.  Classroom success is helping all students be self-directed learners who learn from their failures. Example: Our sixth grade data showed that some of our students were reading at the second grade level. I provided opportunities for these students to improve their reading skills by allowing them to skip some classroom activities in exchange for silent reading. “But they’re in science class!” you say. These students, who rarely read outside of school, exceeded their quarter reading goals by over 100% within two weeks. Furthermore, they began choosing to visit the library and choosing to read outside of school (They enthusiastically shared). Yes, they missed the week on earthquakes but now they have a renewed interest in reading.