Technology Integration

The Era of the Teacherpreneur

May 27, 2015
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.