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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Era of the Teacherpreneur

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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Close up of man's hands on desk with papers and books

One of my dearest colleagues in the world was in the classroom, full-time, for more than 30 years. She was inspiring students for all that time and left when her body and mind were simply too tired to continue. I was in awe of her, but her path will most likely not be the path of many teachers in this current generation of educators.

The Pathway through Teaching

Many teachers that are currently in the classroom today long for a different system in which to exist. Some may enter but soon join the exodus for the administrative world. They may cite the desire for better professional pay. They may also choose a different path because the students prove too challenging or the expectations set by those outside of education's reality are too unforgiving -- as described in this article from The Guardian. Some will leave entirely, citing lack of support and burnout.

But wait, don't click away yet! This isn't a post about the challenges of teaching; this is a post about a movement to help those talented and dedicated teachers remain enthusiastic about their profession. This is a post about a current trend that can help teachers contribute to students' learning by granting them a different pathway through that very same profession.

With recent funding to address the needs of Common Core trickling down to more local control, many districts and schools are finding that tapping into teacher leadership can help an individual remain in the classroom while leveraging his or her skills to help others in different ways.

Enter the Teacherpreneur

The teacherpreneur merges the image of the innovative classroom teacher with the risk-taking and entrepreneurial leadership that we commonly associate with those who create their own place in the professional world.

Teacherpreneurs are, first and foremost, imaginative teachers. They have created a classroom culture of creativity and reflection. They think beyond the classroom in terms of how to make lessons meaningful, and in so doing, might see a need elsewhere in school that their innovation can address.

As a result, they might request to go part-time in the classroom in order to use their other untapped skills to meet that need. The district or school itself might fund this "other part" of their job, or it might be funded through grants or other outside agencies. For instance, in California, we have noticeable influx of recent funds from the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

As a result, many districts are spending a percentage of that money on creating teacherpreneur positions.

The key here is that the teacher creates a different way of navigating the profession without leaving that profession entirely. Their talents remain in the classroom and on the school site, but they've had the opportunity to shake their dice, try something new, and use their skills in a different way.

It comes down to differentiation. We differentiate our students, but we rarely talk about the need to differentiate our teachers, too. It isn't about one teacher being "better" or "worse" than others on a site. It's about admitting that staff can't be standardized and that the individuals running the classroom might have some strengths that should also be leveraged to improve the school and district culture overall.

It's interesting to see the difference in focus that some rings of stakeholders seem to have when investing in student achievement. We live in an age where the federal government seems to ever-increase funding for assessments, and those outside of schools fixate in the hiring and firing practices within the profession.

This post isn't meant to debate that focus. It is meant, however, to acknowledge that there is another focus at hand, one that many are hoping becomes a more successful tool to build greater student learning.

So while there are those investing in evaluation and assessment, there are also those at the local level who, more and more, seem to be investing in teachers' talents as a way to aid in student success. Go to places like EdJoin.org and you'll see ever-greater numbers of part-time Teachers on Special Assignments (TOSAs) and Coordinator positions available.

These positions are meant to allow teachers to flex other muscles while still keeping their toe in the classroom pool. The schools and districts are recognizing that some of these new funds should be designated to allow teachers the opportunity to be advisors, trainers, developers, and leaders.

It's yet another arrow in the quiver aimed to aid in student development. It's another way to help meet the needs of our students and the needs of the adults on campus as well.

So What Is a Teacherpreneur?

I spoke recently about what I'm calling "the teacherpreneur phenomenon" to The Center for Teaching Quality's CEO, Barnett Berry, and COO Ann Byrd, the co-authors of TeacherPreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave.

Edutopia: What is your definition of a teacherpreneur?

Barnett Berry: Teacherpreneurs are classroom experts who teach students regularly, but also have time, space, and reward to incubate and execute their own ideas -- just like entrepreneurs!

Why is it vital that we invest in these individuals?

Barnett Berry: High-quality teaching and learning, now and in the future, will not be realized without more investments in teachers who lead without leaving. Consider the need for more teachers, who know students the best, to lead robust school-community partnerships, design and score 21st-century student assessments, prepare and induct new recruits, and overhaul teaching evaluation systems that demand more peer review.

What differentiates a teacherpreneur from a teacher who has moved into a more administrative position?

Ann Byrd: Teacherpreneurs maintain their "teacher cred" with their peers because they are regularly engaged with students. They maintain their firsthand experience with all aspects of teaching while also being afforded the opportunity to lead beyond their own classroom.

Don't Dream It, Be It

Much like entrepreneurial endeavors, what the teacherpreneur position looks like in education is as wide and vast as those who dream up the positions.

Some positions allow teachers to be the main leaders in individualized professional development. Some allow them to create Response to Intervention (RTI) afterschool programs or enrichment workshops. Some allow those teachers to focus on grant writing, website or curriculum design, team-teaching as a model for PD, or parent outreach.

Regardless, if you have a skill set that might not be met by remaining full-time in the classroom, perhaps it's time to consider exploring other pathways through the profession. But don't wait for the job description to be handed to you.

Sure, some positions are being created by school administrators who acknowledge that they need the support of those who are classroom practitioners, as described in this Washington Post article, How Principals Can Avoid Administrator-itis. But many positions are also boiling up from the entrepreneurial spirit of the teachers themselves.

And while many of these new hybrid positions are covered by LCAP funding, the fact is that, much like an entrepreneur, you may also need to figure out how to fund an alternative pathway that will permit you to remain enthusiastic about this challenging and rewarding profession of ours.

It seems that being a teacherpreneur is about dreaming. It is about making something happen for yourself so that you can be a better teacher and overall educator. It's about reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses. It's about being collaborative with both teachers and administrators.

Teacherpreneurs are amongst us, and they are, just perhaps, signaling in a new kind of educational system.

Was this useful? (2)
Teacher as Entrepreneur
This series offers insight into the new role of the teacherpreneur in the education landscape.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Funny -- I first heard the term "teacherprenuer" from Vicki Davis about 6 years ago. She labeled herself as one and during a webinar she was giving, she backed up all of the reasons why she was one. I was a bit torn on the idea to start -- mainly because some of the things (in my mind) teacherpreneurs did was on TOP of their day job; they fundraised and found innovative ways to get the funds they need. Part of me (my inner critic) kept saying...yes but why can't we just give teachers the money they need so they can teach? :)

I really LOVE your definition of a Teacherpreneur as a dreamer. That resonates so much more with me and I can honestly say that most of my PLN, I'd classify as that.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post Heather.

(1)
Peter Pappas's picture
Peter Pappas
Exploring frontiers of teaching, jazz, yoga, Macs, film

Back in the 1980s I was a high school social studies teacher. I was doing many conference presentations which led to requests for me to do workshops at a schools around the country. At first I was only able to accept those paid workshops during my vacation days. I approached my district HR officer and asked if we could work on a way to take advantage of more workshop requests.

He agreed to give me up to ten "Professional Personal Days" per year. I could go work as a paid consultant in another district, in exchange for taking an unpaid day from my home district. Of course I was responsible for making sure that my students did not suffer, so I went above and beyond to design great lessons for subs to use in my absence. I thought it was a creative response on the HR director's part. He said he realized it promoted my growth as an educator and promoted the quality of teaching in our district. I never abused the opportunity and used it for years.

(3)
Kim Caise's picture

Vicki Davis did indeed come up with the term and concept but I don't see any credit given to her. The tone of the article and comments makes it sound like we are beggars but on the contrary. We are using our creativity to help educate others and share what we have learned and make a profit for sharing our hard work, creativity, and expertise. Vicki's name should have been included as she is the originator of this idea and the expert on this concept.

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert - Gawron
Middle school teacher by day, educational author/blogger by night

Hey Kim!
Thanks for chiming in. The good news is that Vicki Davis herself (as well as online colleague Suzie Boss) were involved in giving feedback on this post because it's a series we are all contributing to. She is writing the 3rd part in this very series. It was a collaborative process, and one that is vital as we tease apart the complexities of the issue. It's a term that means one thing to some people and something else to others. While clearly there are many who have picked up the word, that fact is that this post was meant to give a broad introductory definition to challenge folks to think about more diverse ways to use their creativity and innovation so that they could remain in education. Many great teachers leave the classroom in order to pursue ways to use their other tools in their professional toolkit. Many would argue that it isn't necessary to get out; we just need to think of other ways to use our skills while still tapping into the skills it takes to teach. From doing so, that tone of entrepreneurship will undoubtedly also trickle down to our students as well!

I have heard from many that Vicki was the first to coin the term, even if its definition may have morphed somewhat. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that it's about being a creative educator, both in the classroom and when thinking about our pathway through education.

Thanks again for bringing this up, and I hope I've clarified the intent of the post!

-Heather

(1)
Laura Davis's picture
Laura Davis
Teacher in Honolulu, HI

"We differentiate our students, but we rarely talk about the need to differentiate our teachers, too. "
Heather, I love this idea and I am so happy you are stirring up this conversation that for some reason so often goes unmentioned. I have watched so many of my friends move to admin or leave teaching altogether because they couldn't see growth for themselves as full-time teachers. This idea that there isn't enough differentiation available to teachers in the current definition of full-time teacher is THE essential question facing our profession in the 21st century.

You also made a great point that teacherpreneurs can't just wait for the funding to drop from the sky to create these more dynamic positions. I'd love to know more strategies teacherpreneurs can use to "shake the dice and try something new" as you said.

Sherri George's picture

I had never heard the word "Teacherpreneur" before reading this article, but the idea of it excites and fascinates me. I personally know of at least five teachers this year that have left the classroom for many of the reasons cited in this article. I have to admit that the thought of doing so has often crossed my mind and I have only been teaching 8 years. This article specifically references California, but I am curious to know if this concept has reached further abroad in the United States. It would certainly be something that I would take advantage of as an educator in Florida. Thanks for the enlightening information.

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Heather Wolpert - Gawron
Middle school teacher by day, educational author/blogger by night

Hey Sherri!
Don't leave the classroom; reinvent the profession. Tap into other skills and find ways to use them on your campus. And to answer your question: yes, it is all over the country. The gentleman I interviewed, Barnett Barry, wrote a book on the subject, and his foundation, The Center for Teaching Quality, is located in North Carolina. Now that you know the term and resources are abound, I think you'll start seeing evidence of this movement everywhere. And if you don't....start it yourself.

Thanks so much for posting, and I hope you continue to chew on this topic until you find a way to embrace its possibility for yourself.

Take care,
Heather

Jkracker06's picture

Before reading this article I can honestly say that I have never heard of this concept before. Going through student teaching, we were told about a statistic that within five years about half of teachers leave the profession for various reasons like the article talked about. I think that the "teacherpreneur" concept is great and allows for educators to pursue other interests while maintaining their status in the school. I only wonder how far programs like this have spread.

Hayley Romano's picture

Does anyone know whether the idea of "Teacher on Special Assignment" has spread to New Jersey, and if so, how these positions are funded?

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