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Shoreline Public Schools

How to be an Educator-Entrepreneur

Aimee Miner, the Principal of Changemaker School Lake Forest Park, shares her insights on being an entrepreneurial teacher, school leader, and school district.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

October 29, 2012

Laura White: When did you first start thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur?

Aimee Miner:  Being in a leadership role at my school has allowed me to be part of the solution. From my position, I am able to see problems that multiple stakeholders are facing and work collaboratively with these stakeholders to find solutions. Opportunities for leadership are central to helping people be entrepreneurs, and there are many opportunities for teachers to take leadership at Lake Forest Park. For example, we have leadership teams that work on subjects like school-wide systems and instructional leadership. Each teacher stays on a team for two years, which builds a sense of trust and shared leadership.

Laura White: What experiences showed you that you can be a leader in a school setting?

Aimee Miner: The one that comes to mind is building our character expectations for the Lake Forest Park community.  We formed a committee and met over the summer to identify the problems we wanted to solve, devise solutions to address those problems, and create a plan to enact our solutions. We wanted to have one hundred percent staff buy-in, so when school started again, we had the staff go through the same process that the committee did. The staff came up with the same problems and solutions that the committee did, and committee showed them legwork they did on an action plan over the summer. I think this process was critical – our committee didn’t come with a set of commands but instead engaged the rest of the staff and incorporated their ideas. This took a little more time, but it was worth it because there were not any staff members who objected to the plan.

Laura White: Take us through how you made the case for bringing Roots of Empathy to your school and your district?

Aimee Miner: I started working on bringing Roots of Empathy to Lake Forest Park during my first year as principal. I took a slightly different leadership approach here. Instead of forming a committee and bringing in the staff, I started very small. I told the teachers about Roots of Empathy and asked if there were any volunteers who wanted to bring the program to their classrooms. I wanted to make it voluntary because I knew that I only wanted to do Roots of Empathy with a colleague who was as passionate about it as I was. One teacher volunteered, and we had one very successful classroom that first year. The program snowballed to more classrooms from there.

Laura White: What other leadership strategies do you use?

Aimee Miner: The other leadership approach I use is engaging the community and the students. The students should always have their voices heard, and students often have the best ideas. For example, we just raised a lot of money through our school walk-a-thon, and the kids are deciding on how to spend the money.

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Laura White: How has being an entrepreneur supplemented your experience as an educator?

Aimee Miner: Being entrepreneurial brings joy to my job every day. I think that it shows the culture of our school.  For example, one new fourth grade student came into my office during her second week of school to schedule a meeting with me. She was wearing a suit, carrying a portfolio, and had her hair in a bun. During our meeting, she presented her proposal for a coat drive to me. Within her second week of school, she already felt comfortable talking to me about her ideas. That is the joy of my job.

Laura White: How has your district been entrepreneurial?

Aimee Miner: Our district has always been very entrepreneurial. We are always on the cutting edge with technology adoption, and now we are looking into bringing Roots of Empathy to all elementary schools in Shoreline School District. A lot of this entrepreneurial drive comes from our superintendent, whose enthusiasm and confidence in us inspires the principals and trickles down to the other Shoreline School District staff.

Laura White: What advice do you have for other educators who want to be entrepreneurial?

Aimee Miner: The key is to think outside of the box and engage your stakeholders. With Roots of Empathy, no one else was doing it in Shoreline. I just gave it a try on a small scale. It is important to take thoughtful and purposeful risks – it might not work out, but at least you tried it and learned from it. This is so important to model for our students.