Waiting for MacGyver

Waiting for MacGyver

We’re looking for the MacGyvers of education, which is exactly how I describe the type of individuals I’m looking for as we begin recruiting for Venture Academy’s founding team. If you’re unfamiliar with the character MacGyver, take a look here.

Roger von Oech, who has spent his professional life focusing on the study of creativity, once said that “It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date.” Our current model of education is out of date and no longer aligned to the economy our students will soon face. Let’s look at the tech industry as an example. It thrives financially by feeding the hunger of its consumers for smarter, faster, and more efficient tools. The 21st century demands young people not just with highly specialized technical skills, but also with the creative minds to imagine possibilities that don’t even yet exist, and the resourcefulness to make them happen. Enter MacGyver. MacGyver is mission-driven, he can think on his feet, he has no aversion to ambiguity, he solves complex problems in resourceful and creative ways, and as a scientist he also has in-depth content knowledge. Those are the educators I’m looking for.

The reality is that some skills are easier to coach than others, and adults who can demonstrate the above MacGyver-esque qualities are much better equipped to model and transfer them to the kids they teach in an authentic way. What we want to know is can you coach someone to be more MacGyver-like? The landscape of education is changing rapidly; we need educators that can change with it or risk missing out on ways to propel every student to meet their maximum potential.

I had the great privilege to spend the better part of this past week with the other Next Generation Learning Challenge Wave IIIa grant recipients, engaging in thoughtful conversations with some of the most innovative minds in education. Everyone expressed concern about finding the right “teachers” for each model. Historically education has focused on content expertise, success as demonstrated by high-stakes testing, or how well one can manage a classroom. These arenas are critical, but they are no longer enough. As we start the hunt for Venture’s “dream-team” I’m concerned about even the best educators making the shift to a new learning environment.

Starting a blended learning program is messy, period. We don’t have all the answers and every time we find one, it seems another question pops up. What we do know is that we are in uncharted territory without a map, and no matter how shiny the new technology is, or how quickly it generates data, it’s ultimately the people who create the culture to make it work. This requires a new breed of educator. After deliberating over a laundry list of “non-negotiables” for potential recruits, below are my suggestions on what to look for when vetting educators, or edupreneurs, for your blended program:


Depth of content is important, so is balance. Look for individuals who have demonstrated success in multiple arenas, perhaps even outside of the education bubble. While it might be great to have a high performing content teacher, experience in fields outside of education helps them to contextualize it for students. Think a math teacher who has been a software engineer who also performs in a band on weekends.


Teaching in a blended model is a little more like coaching. Teachers need to feel comfortable letting go of control and empowering students with their data and goals to take charge of their own learning. For some this will be a radical shift from the traditional, teach-to-the-middle, “factory model” school. Students will *gasp* talk to each other in class, often teaching each other, and perhaps even the teacher.


Ultimately blended learning isn’t about the technology, but rather how it’s implemented. This means getting creative about how to actually “blend” edtech into your program, rather than just overlaying it into something that already exists. This means finding educators excited by the use of classroom technology and not burdened by it. Basically if you feel like you need to sell the technology, it’s not worth the sale.

In this brave new world of blending learning, where you might have to rig your broadband with chewing gum and paper clips, it might be smart to have more than a few MacGyvers on your team. After all, the goal should be to cultivate a student body full of them.

Written by Kerry Muse

Kerry Muse

Chief Learning Officer and Head of School at Venture Academy, a grades 6-12 public charter school that will open in Minneapolis in August 2013. Muse spent 10 years teaching math, special education and visual arts in both district and charter schools in Texas and California, most recently at KIPP Bridge in Oakland. In addition he is a practicing artist and musician.


  1. Tess Tiernan

    Venture school sounds amazing! Where is this school located? What website could I send my resume?

    Looking forward to hearing from you! Tess Tiernan

  2. Silke Koester

    Venture Academy is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The website is: http://ventureacademies.org/

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