Who is Don Wettrick?

Tom Bilyeu Introduces Don Wettrick for Inside Quest

I can think of no better way to introduce Don Wettrick than this video right here:

Most adults say, “I’m not here to be your friend” anytime their unpopular decisions are being challenged by teenagers. Well, Don is here to be your friend and he sees something in you that you don’t even see yet.

“But how can he have high expectations for students if he’s their friend,” you might ask. What you call “high expectations,” I call control.

Don is the co-founder of Start Ed Up, an educational consulting firm that helps equip educators to implement Genius Hour in the schools. The firm creates content that shows educators how normal students learn to become entreprenuerial in their mindset and embrace the challenges that come with living real life. Don and his co-founder Hunter Stone co-hosted a podcast for a while which is now hosted by only Don. Just recently Start Ed Up has created a separate non-profit foundation to serve students across Indiana with a group of mentors that encourage and challenge students to pursue their interests and develop a growth mindset about their own learning.

Who is he? He’s a teacher and a husband and father. But, he’s really just a guy that took a desire to create meaningful learning experiences to the next level. He’s a man that recognized some of his own limitations when it comes to motivating students; he realized that he needed to let them motivate themselves.

If you met him at a friend’s house or in a store you may not be that impressed. He’s just a dude. But when you start to think about how he impacts students differently than other teachers, then he starts to look a lot more like a leader, a mentor, a friend, and an inspiration.

To really understand who Don Wettrick is, we should probably set the context for where he works, in a school.

Most of My Teachers Were Awful

People. are. the. worst. Besides friends, it seems like it takes so much effort to actually get along with others. Teachers are no different. Unless I already felt a connection with a teacher before starting the class or I found them interesting then there were always issues. I’m not sure how often I rolled my eyes in class but I can rarely remember being pleased to be there.

My teachers were not bad people. I’m sure they cared very deeply about how I performed in school. They were just awful at making a personal connection with me and most of them had no idea how their class was impacting my needs (more on those needs below).

Every teacher I had that I did not like used a specific set of behaviors when dealing with me and others. William Glasser called these deadly habits or disconnecting behaviors because their use tends to put a wedge between the people involved.

I wrote about the seven disconnecting behaviors in more detail in my post about how “schooling” may block your desire to learn. In short, the teachers that I disliked the most were nagging and critical. They blamed students for most of their problems and complained about our behavior. They used bribes to get us to do things we didn’t want to do and even threatened us and punished us for doing things that were against their wishes.

I can’t imagine why school wasn’t great for me…this is sarcasm btw.

Most Adults Were Awful

It wasn’t just teachers actually. Most adults were and still are this way. So much of this comes down to three beliefs about the human experience. We behave in alignment with what we believe. You believe that gravity will pull you down if you fall from a tall bridge or ledge so your heart races anytime the possibility becomes more imminent.

Adults believe that children are incapable of responsible decisions so they treat you as such. They nag, criticize, bribe, and punish you to get you to do things they think you won’t do otherwise. Often times they are right that you won’t do them, but that’s because you do not always see the relevance of the task, not because you’re incapable of being helpful.

How is Don Wettrick Different?

I won’t try to argue that Don is perfect. We have found that we don’t even see eye to eye on several education ideas. But Don is respectful of students. He recognizes their desire and gives space for that desire to be exercised and developed instead of just treating it like a distraction from what he’s trying to do.

Don is Well-Liked by the Business Community

People in business often find themselves at odds with educators because they feel educators are not teaching students enough practical skills for the workplace. Not so with Don’s work. He introduces his students to successful people from all walks of life. He highlights their hard work, patience, and a sense of community. Many business leaders come to spend time in his classroom just to see how he is preparing these students to look for opportunities instead of complaining about circumstances.

Don Doesn’t Put a Large Emphasis on Grades

He’s still a teacher so grades are a part of his classroom but they are not a big factor in his interactions. Don encourages students to think about ways they want to provide value to people both now and in the future. He does not think that a person’s grades determine how valuable they might be to someone in the marketplace. This sets him apart from conventional wisdom.

Don’t Focus is Not on College Preparation

He’s focused on the mindset of his students. He knows that too many students are borrowing a lot of money to go to college when they don’t even know what they’re good at yet. He encourages students to reach out and connect with people in the workplace and find a way to provide value. He encourages students to think as if work was the only safety net they had and brings in helpful and successful entrepreneurs to teach his students new skills. Many of these entrepreneurs become one of the students’ first connections outside of school and introduce them to other people in their desired field.

Don Encourages the Wise Use of Social Media

Personal branding is something that many teachers would scoff at because of the time it takes to build one but Don sees it as a big part of the world we are living in, and almost unavoidable. The truth is that everyone on social media already has a personal brand, just not a very positive one. Don teaches students how to use social media wisely as a tool for getting introduced into their fields instead of just a place to goof off.

All of these things together make Don and his class very different. Almost every student I’ve talked to from his class not only has a tremendous amount of appreciation for him but also brags about being in his class. How many teachers do you know of who’s students publish their name in their profile on social media in a positive light? His past students still come into the class and work with current students and come to what’s called Innovation Nights to help local non-profits brainstorm ways to solve problems. I’ve been floored by the amount of respect he earns from his students. I’m proud that our own community has such a powerful teacher in our midst. Had I come across his work before I would’ve never guessed he lived and taught just a couple miles away. I met Don in the most appropriate way, through one of his former students, Pete Freeman.

I Met Don Through One of His Students

Pete Freeman, was featured in our local newspaper. Several of his students have been featured in the paper actually. But Pete was now in college starting a school in Ghana. I just had to talk to him. I reached out and scheduled a dinner to get to know him. We wanted to know what his life had been like to create someone with such drive and natural ability. Quite honestly, I was jealous. I always wanted to be a founder and entrepreneur and I’ve always struggled to find real success. Pete was the real deal.

We continued to discuss his childhood and my wife and I were blown away. He talked very positively about his memories of childhood and we spoke about the kind of environment we were trying to create for own children. After listening to us describe our passion for education and giving our kids permission to try things on their own he said, “You gotta talk to Don Wettrick at Noblesville.” I’d never heard of him. He told me about his class and I started to get excited. Someone in my own community already gets it!

How Do I Earn a Mentor’s Attention?

I didn’t actually realize that Don’s work was known internationally already. I’d read a few books of my own and I thought I was on to something pretty spectacular. I thought to myself, “I’m going to blow his mind.” He’s busy. It took me some prodding to finally hook up with him and when we finally were able to talk I don’t think he was that impressed. Here I was talking about starting a small school that doesn’t even exist yet and he’s already teaching and promoting these ideas at educational conferences. But I knew my ideas would make an impression, but he had to see it.

The next move has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Humbling myself and taking on a learning disposition has helped me make much more progress in the area of getting our school going than anything else. I’m still adamant about my ideas about education. I know those ideas inside and out and I’m not afraid to admit it. What I finally admitted I didn’t understand was networking and promotions. I started consuming Don’s content and retweeting and replying to almost everything that came out. I engaged with others in the threads and began showing my value through thoughtful conversations. I sent Don a few ideas of things to try in class and even volunteered some of my time to sit with students and talk about their projects. By this time I had his attention. We even began moving toward running a joint venture together to serve more students but the timing is not quite right yet. But it all came back to me admitting that there was a lot I still needed to learn about running a business and just engaging with people with the idea of learning from them.

Why Does Innovations and Open-Source Learning Work?

Many people don’t get too caught up in their philosophy of education. What can I say? I’m a philosopher! I want to understand why things work or don’t work. The thing is if we don’t understand why an approach is effective then we are often doomed to copying the approach in situations where it’s not appropriate.

Don’s class “works” because it meets the needs of so many of the students who sign up for it. It’s really that simple.

Students need three things according to research gathered by Alfie Kohn: Autonomy, belonging, and competence.


When you walk into their classroom you can feel the buzz of autonomy. Not only do students have the freedom to pursue their interests but they are free to express their opinions with little to no criticism for holding those opinions, especially from Don. This autonomy, while it threatens the power the teacher supposedly has, is empowering for students because they feel like they have ownership and are responsible for their learning. They are less likely to groan about the assignment because they are the ones who gave themselves the tasks to do!


I have observed some grouping in the classroom but nothing near to what I remember in high school, and nothing near to what students describe in other classes. When students are accepted by the teacher for being themselves it gives students permission to do it themselves. Many of the students find value in what their peers are working on because they see how important it is to them even if they don’t understand why it’s important. Seeing value in other people’s work is a big step in treating others with respect. When you’re respected by your peers you tend to feel like you belong there.


Students love to feel good at something. They love to have skills that are important to them. We all do. But think about your experiences in school. How often do you feel like you’re engaging in tasks that you feel skilled at? I can remember constantly feeling like I didn’t know how to complete assignments so I would just give up. I’d write it off with, “This teacher is so stupid. Why do I have to do this assignment?” Had I been properly supported in developing my skills I may have had a different experience.

Competence was big for me. If I could do something well then it made the class much more interesting to me. If I was not competent at it then even an interesting class became an absolute drudgery.

Because of the autonomy in Don’s class, students develop a great sense of competence! Some of that competence is in decision making. “I thought I really loved programming but I’ve done it for three months and now I hate it.” Students become competent at deciding what they don’t want to do!

Students Can Start Ed Up at Home

“That’s all great,” you might say, “but I’m not in Don Wettrick’s class.”

I know. It’s a bummer. But, now that you know why it works, you can start to find ways to meet your own needs.

How Do I Get More Freedom at Home

You’re going to need to get some freedom. That may mean making an extra effort to be helpful around the house or, and I cringe while I write this, pretending to be happy about homework. Your parents can’t make you do anything but they can change the environment to be less pleasant for you. Approach them with some confidence and ask, “What are some ways that I can be more helpful around the house? I’d like to get some more time to myself but I don’t want to neglect my responsibilities.”

Listen to what they say and do everything in your power to do it, even when you don’t like it.

Once you get that free time don’t waste it. If watching movies and playing video games are your interests then make it count! Do everything you can to get more time to do those two things and ignore the other things in your life that seem like fun. The thing that many people do is spread themselves too thin. They play basketball, run cross-country, watch movies, play video games, practice drums, learn piano…etc. None of these things are bad! But trying to do all of them means you’re less likely to do any one of them well.

Being a pro-gamer is a legitimate career choice but it still takes dedication.

Being a movie reviewer or screenwriter is a legitimate career choice but it still takes dedication.

Think about anything you want to do and you can fill in the same sentence: Being a ________________ is a legitimate career choice but it still takes dedication.

How Do I Make Better Friends

You’ll need to feel like you belong. Choose your friends wisely. You cannot choose your parents but you can determine how you will treat them. Find a way to be respectful even when you disagree with them. You may feel they don’t deserve your respect. You may be right. Disrespecting them will definitely make things more difficult though.

Pay attention to how you feel while you’re around other people. Draw yourself closer to people who inspire you to chase your dreams. Pull yourself away from people who inspire you to complain about your circumstances.

How Do I Get Better at Stuff

Remember when I wrote that people spread themselves too thin? This is a huge culprit for not getting better at something. Think about what your goals are. Whether it’s skateboarding, dancing, acting, writing, gaming, running, videography, photo editing, or watching movies, skills take time to develop. If you’re trying to get better at 15 different things then you won’t be very good at any of them. Find someone who is doing what you want to do and try and find ways to spend time with them and learn from them. Remove those things from your life that distract you from that goal without abandoning your responsibilities and your skill set will grow tremendously.

If you’re not willing to do those things then ask yourself, “How important is this goal to me?” If you decide it’s not very important then start looking for a new goal immediately.

I hope you found this entry helpful. If you did then please send it to someone that you think would find it helpful or let me know how it impacted you in the comments or send me an email.

Thank you for your time.


Philip Mott

I've been working with families for two decades now. I write about topics pertaining to parents of children ages 4-12.

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