Nuria Gabitova, Founder at iSchool for the Future
Great Companies: How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Nuria Gabitova: I started iSchool for the Future when my son started school. At that point, I sensed that the traditional education system was not set up to meet his foundational social and emotional needs. He had a very high IQ, and his EQ was about average. It would not have been that dangerous if the gap between the two was not that huge, as I learned later.
At that time, I was working in the corporate industry, high tech, and telecom. I didn't know much about childhood education besides being a passionate, independent lifelong learner myself. But I sensed that something was not right. I started doing my research, meeting with educators, education leaders, and experts, visiting various schools, and learning about different schools of thought. The consistent message that I was hearing was that I was on the right track and that education would eventually evolve in that direction, but it would take years. I realized that it would be too late for my children and their generation, and instead of complaining about the current situation, I need to do something about it now. That's how iSchool for the Future was born.
After launching it as a pilot and calling it a summer camp, I essentially tested my ideas by mimicking the school settings, Monday-Friday, 9-3, for six weeks during the summer. By the end of it, my son said,' Mom, during these six weeks of summer, I learned so much more than in the entire year of school!'. Many of our students and their parents spoke of a similar transformation for their children. I knew I was on the right track. And the rest is history.
Great Companies: What services does iSchool for the Future provide?
Nuria Gabitova: Since the launch of the iSchool for the Future, we have reached and positively impacted over 6000 students, and we have worked in over 20 schools. This summer, both of my children (now in High and Middle school) were working in our programs, teaching young children, and paying it forward. I have also partnered with scientists and researchers to make sure we measure our outcomes and collect data to inform our design and keep improving. We have three collaborative publications in academic journals about our work and our STEAM SEL learning framework. It holistically combines Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math with Social and Emotional Learning skills.
Now, we take this project one step further, aiming to reach 1 million students in the next 5 years by retooling thousands of teachers through our Transformative Teaching programs.
We know that, compared to any other aspect of schooling, teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. We believe that every child deserves a great teacher, and every teacher deserves the support that they need to become a transformational educator: one who shifts the paradigms around them and puts education for their students on a new journey. Our Teaching Transformation Programs offer effective retooling to build teacher effectiveness and improve student success.
Great Companies: What makes iSchool for the Future different from other similar organizations?
Nuria Gabitova: We strive to stay true to our mission and values in everything we do. iSchool for the Future is enabling a new generation of Compassionate Innovators TM to reach their full potential through STEM, Arts, and Social and Emotional Learning Skills. Staying true to our values, we create an environment for our students and teachers to LEARN with Passion, DREAM with Empathy, and SUCCEED with Excellence.
Great Companies: What were the struggles and challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Nuria Gabitova: There is a saying, If you need therapy, become an entrepreneur's, This journey makes us face so many challenges – internal and external. But the believe in our purpose, and vision helps us persevere, pivot, and reinvent ourselves on that journey.
One of the main challenges on the way to innovation and improvement - whether in the corporate environment or in education - is our natural resistance to change. Even when people are unhappy with the status quo, they have a hard time getting out of their comfort zone. I understand, change is uncomfortable, but it is inevitable so we can grow, advance, and innovate. To evolve and to thrive, we need to learn to embrace the fear of the unknown. The intentional SEL practices like Growth Mindset, learning from and celebrating mistakes and failures, ability to self-regulate and persevere through challenges, partnering and learning with and from others – can help both educators and students overcome setbacks and issues. All of us at iSchool are committed to those practices and to walking the talk!
Great Companies: How do you plan to grow in the future? What does 5 years down the line iSchool for the Future?
Nuria Gabitova: Here at iSchool, we believe that every one of us has an inner genius, and we all need the right environment so we can flourish and be our best selves. We believe that every child deserves a great teacher, and every teacher deserves the support to be great. We are looking to transform education through the Teacher Transformation Program, where every teacher will have access to authentic, ongoing support to be great - professionally and personally. Not by chance, but BY DESIGN. We are set out to invent the Future of Teaching by creating unforgettable learning experiences for thousands of teachers - so they can do the same for their students.
Great Companies: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Nuria Gabitova: Education improvement and innovation is a challenging but a very rewarding field. It may not be as hard to venture into it as it is to stay there. Based on my own lessons, I think it is very important to learn from others – mentors, advisors, successful entrepreneurs, and education experts - who have gone before us, listen to their advice and experience, learn from their mistakes and successes. But do know your own WHY. Why you do what you do? When you discover your why, you will see the how.
The path becomes clear. While listening to others, do not compromise with your vision that fired you up and moved you into this field in the first place. It will likely evolve and shape over time as you learn more and get more experienced and rounded, but in its core stick to your WHY and your values. That’s what will keep you going when the going gets tough.
Also, team up with people, organizations and teams who share your mission and can be your community partners in advancing your vision together – create your improvement network. That can help galvanize your community support.
Finally, pack up your patience, your perseverance and grit for the trip to the long-term success – it can be a rough road. Your belief in your mission, your values and your WHY will be your guiding stars that will help you maintain the laser focus and to tap into all your strengths to make it a reality.