Educator Extraordinaire: Daniele Manni’s Path from Startups to Success in Education

Daniele Manni | Computer Science and Entrepreneurship Educator at Costa Highschool
Daniele Manni | Computer Science and Entrepreneurship Educator at Costa Highschool

In the sun-kissed city of Lecce, settled in the southern beauty of Italy, Daniele Manni, a seasoned Computer Science and Entrepreneurship Educator at Costa Highschool, has been crafting a unique narrative in education and technology. He pioneers a creative approach to education, dedicating over half of his lesson time to engaging students in long-term projects and startups across various subjects.

50-60% of Daniele’s lesson time is a whirlwind of creativity, where students dive into long-term projects and startups, spanning a spectrum of topics, be it business ventures or social initiatives. A decade ago, he co-founded a startup incubator and accelerator right within the school’s walls, creating an ecosystem that nurtures entrepreneurial spirit.

Daniele’s commitment goes beyond the classroom, as evidenced by the accolades his students have garnered, including prestigious medals from the President of Italy. Not content with silent victories, he strategically ensures that these triumphs echo in the press, showcasing the success of his alternative approach to the entire Italian teaching community.

Let’s delve into a visionary perspective that showcases his students’ success in the press, challenging traditional Italian learning norms and inspiring the next generation of innovators!

Merging Worlds

Daniele is a trailblazer in both entrepreneurship and education, and he embarked on an unconventional journey that seamlessly intertwined these two realms. After graduating in Computer Science in Turin in 1984, he defied the norm by choosing entrepreneurship over the allure of a cushy job in a software giant.

In the early days, I ventured into creating innovative companies, not termed startups back then,” recalls Daniele. “Two failed, but the other two still thrive today under my former partners’ stewardship.”

In 1990, a pivotal moment occurred. Daniele, driven by a newfound passion stepped into the realm of education. “Teaching hit me like a lightning bolt. For the next nine years, I juggled mornings as a teacher simultaneously afternoons, evenings and nights as an entrepreneur.”

A paradigm shift occurred in 1999. Daniele relinquished entrepreneurship to channel his ardor and expertise into shaping young minds. “I never ‘taught’ EntrepreneurshipI guided students to create tangible economic and social micro startups. It’s LEARNING (Entrepreneurship) BY DOING (Startups),” he emphasizes.

Initially deemed an ‘outlaw teacher’ challenging the Italian school system, Daniele’s unorthodox methods faced resistance. However, student triumphs soon silenced skeptics. “My students, starting from age 14, learn by doing–a hands-on approach that defies traditional norms,” he proudly states.

Daniele’s disruptive teaching method fosters the Entrepreneurial Mindset imparting vital soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, leadership, resilience, public speaking, failure management, self-esteem, and self-confidence. “I witness numerous students turning entrepreneurial dreams into reality,” he beams.

The accolades speak volumes—Top 50 Global Teacher Prize (2015), 3rd place at Entrepreneurship and Innovation Teaching Awards (2018 and 2020), Global Teacher Award (2020), and GESS Education Award (2023). Daniele’s legacy is not just in creating successful startups but in nurturing a new generation of entrepreneurial minds.

Valued Roles, Dynamic Learning

With over 30 years of experience teaching Computer Science and Entrepreneurial Education, Daniele swears to the success of the peer-to-peer education method. “I ask my 16-year-old students to become my collaborators and help me explain various topics to my 14-year-old students,” he reveals. This approach seamlessly facilitates generational transition, enhances younger students’ comprehension and empowers older students making them feel valued with significant roles.

It’s a win-win-win scenario creating a dynamic learning environment. Daniele’s commitment to adapting teaching methods across generations ensures a vibrant and effective educational experience for all.

Tech Integration and Personalized Learning

Daniele discerns two distinct trends in the ever-evolving education landscape. “The widely debated trend revolves around the integration of new technologies, notably Artificial Intelligence, into teaching. Ignoring technology in education is reckless. Teachers must embrace these tools to connect with students and bridge the gap between classroom and reality.”

Daniele champions a second trend close to his heart—Student-centered Education. “Young students deserve a system that places each of them at the center of their educational journey, acknowledging their passions and talents.” He introduces innovative techniques for individual improvement and discovering personal passions aiming to create a school that caters to each student’s needs and dreams. “It’s about offering a more personalized and holistic education, cultivating not only academic excellence but also transversal skills for a well-informed and purposeful future.”

Acknowledging the importance of technology, Daniele emphasizes its integration into education. “Efforts must be made for teachers to understand and apply the tools technology provides. It’s not just about the world our students live init’s about understanding their languages, both verbal and non-verbal.”

In contrast, Daniele’s vision of Student-centered Education shifts the focus to the individual. “It’s about recognizing each student’s unique qualities and guiding them towards personal growth.”

He adds, “The ultimate goal is to create a school that caters to the needs and dreams of every student, fostering a more conscious and informed direction in their educational journey.” Daniele’s dual perspective encapsulates the dynamic balance required in modern education—embracing technology while prioritizing the individual student’s experience and potential.

Celebrating Individuality

In Daniele’s classes, the concept of engagement takes a tangible form through the creation of micro startups. “All students are totally involved as they work in teams, each tackling a specific aspect,” he affirms. The diversity within the teams caters to individual strengths and preferences. “Some excel in software programming for website creation, while others showcase creativity in inventing names, logos and communication campaigns. Whether drawn to the economic aspects or marketing, everyone finds a niche. Those enamored with social networks specialize in their strategic use.”

Daniele’s approach ensures inclusivity and appreciation. “No one is excludedon the contrary, everyone feels appreciated and valued for who they are and what they love to do.” The micro startup model not only imparts practical skills but also fosters a sense of belonging making learning a collaborative and fulfilling experience for every student. It’s an approach that celebrates diversity and individual strengths within a team dynamic, preparing students for a future where collaboration and specialization go hand in hand.

Soft Skills for Success

In Daniele’s educational approach, the dual techniques of Entrepreneurial Education and Student-centered Education yield a crucial outcome—the acquisition of a substantial array of Soft Skills. “I offer all students the opportunity to acquire skills such as problem-solving, resilience, critical thinking, teamwork, leadership, public speaking, and the ability to navigate mistakes and failures,” he emphasizes. These skills, he notes, are universally valuable for any future career.

Above all, Daniele places significant emphasis on fostering ‘self-confidence and self-esteem,’ considering them the pinnacle of personal development. By prioritizing these essential Soft Skills, Daniele not only equips students with practical tools for professional success but also nurtures their personal growth ensuring they emerge from education with a holistic skill set ready for the challenges of the future.

The Tech Conundrum

As a computer science teacher, technology is ‘my religion,’ but the rapid advancements became overwhelming,” confesses Daniele. “It’s impossible for me to keep up with all the developments and inventions.”

In a savvy move, he delegates the task of staying abreast of new knowledge to his students. “I decided to delegate to the best and most knowledgeable ones the task of studying and instructing other students. It works!” Daniele’s approach not only acknowledges the evolving nature of technology but also empowers students to take the lead in their learning journey creating a dynamic and collaborative educational environment.

Learning Together

As Daniele navigates the ever-evolving realm of computer science, he candidly admits, “Computer science is subject to rapid updates and it’s difficult to always be up to date.” Rather than feigning expertise, he embraces humility, seeking assistance from students. “Rather than explain poorly, I prefer to tell students I don’t know a topic well and let them help me,” he affirms.

This collaborative approach not only fosters a sense of shared learning but also instills in students the value of continuous exploration and teamwork. Daniele’s openness exemplifies a refreshing teaching style that encourages a dynamic exchange of knowledge between teacher and students in the rapidly changing landscape of technology.

Pioneering Pedagogy

I encountered many difficulties in the first years, not from the students or their parents, but from colleagues,” admits Daniele. He learned firsthand that venturing ‘out of the box’ often elicits criticism, discouragement and even obstructionism. Undeterred, he advocates for persistence, “If you are convinced of the quality of what you do and the benefit that students can derive from it, you must continue to move forward with determination.”

Daniele expresses regret that it was winning international awards that changed the attitudes of colleagues rather than an inherent curiosity to assess the value of novelties and experiments. His experience highlights the need for resilience when introducing unconventional methods. While external recognition validated his approach, Daniele’s approach emphasizes the importance of perseverance and belief in educational innovations, even when met with initial skepticism from within the education community.

Transforming Teaching

In addressing the future of education, Daniele notes the challenge of transmitting excellent old knowledge to students with new methods and technologies. Recognizing the multimedia and colorful world students inhabit daily, he emphasizes the need to adapt teaching methods. “If lessons remain traditional, frontal, flat, and monochrome, teachers and their excellent teachings risk being less attractive and engaging.”

Moreover, Daniele highlights the pivotal role of educators in the digital age. “Given that almost all information is available online, educators should focus on stimulating curiosity and providing guidance on how to search, select and verify the correctness, importance and relevance of such information.” In a world inundated with data, he underscores the importance of nurturing critical thinking and research skills.

Passion-Driven Futures

At 64, retirement looms for Daniele in three or four years, but he anticipates little change as he is certain to “continue to dedicate myself totally to young people.” In 2021, with astute friends, the WeDo Academy emerged—a unique school offering Summer Camps and afternoon courses. Its mission—helping youth aged 10 to 19 realize they can (and must) become protagonists of their lives.

Daniele laments the school system often fails to convey to students that they can (and must) discover their passions, talents and aspirations. His profound love for the job transcends its definition. His heartfelt wish for students is clear—to have a future job in the sector for which they feel most attracted and inclined. He ardently believes that choosing work aligned with passion is the ‘first step towards a happy life.’ Daniele’s dedication to empowering the next generation reflects a commitment to nurturing not just students but individuals ready to shape their destinies.

Empathy, Diversity, Creativity, Joy

When addressing fellow teachers at conferences, Daniele imparts four invaluable pieces of advice. The first is to ‘lose’ a few hours connecting with each student, empathizing and learning about their stories and passions. “Understanding who they are fosters a better teaching relationship,” he asserts. The second advice encourages diversification in lessons tailoring content to students’ levels and providing extra support or accelerated paths accordingly. The third suggestion advocates continuous experimentation with various teaching techniques, urging teachers to embrace creativity. “Never stop exploring and innovating,” Daniele emphasizes.

The final and perhaps most crucial advice is to infuse joy into the classroom. Daniele encourages teachers to have fun, despite the common misconception that teaching is devoid of enjoyment. “Students notice and follow teachers who approach their work with passion and lightness,” he notes. By enjoying the teaching process, educators not only create a positive learning environment but also inspire and connect with their students on a deeper level. Daniele’s advice serves as a practical guide for teachers to enhance their effectiveness and make a lasting impact on the lives of their students.