My name is Jennifer Barnett and I am a teacherpreneur.
My teaching career began twenty years ago and almost immediately I began leading. I suppose one might have called me a teacher leader. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the leader of Alabama Best Practices Center’s 21st Century Learning initiative, explains her view of teacher leadership on her blog, 21st Century Collaborative. “Teacher leadership is about reaching out past the four walls of your classroom and leading other teachers.” I totally agree with Sheryl. In fact, I spent the first ten years of my career reaching out as much as I could. Chairing departments and vertical teams, developing curriculum, leading professional development, teaching higher education courses, mentoring new teachers, and supervising the internships of teacher candidates were the types of outreach that characterized my early career. Over the last ten years I’ve been working to extend my reach. Establishing new community traditions by connecting the school to its community, inspiring new teacher leaders in my district through our teacher-led technology training initiative and working to foster change in system thinking have characterized the last ten years. These actions differ from my earlier ones. To fully understand today’s teacher leader, we need a new way to think about these new pathways and opportunities. A new framework now exists for thinking about this emerging subset of teacher leaders. It is called teacherpreneurism.
Over the past several years, I’ve had the privilege of studying and writing about teaching with twelve amazing colleagues from across the nation. The results of our efforts can be found in our book recently published by Teachers College Press, Teaching 2030 – What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools – Now and in the Future. Laying out a vision for our profession in 2030 was the sort of challenge suited for this group. Our intense debates and focused discussions forced us to accept difficult truths about our profession, while creating and recommending solutions for radical change by 2030. One of the truths about our profession we addressed in our book concerns teacher talent pathways and opportunities. In other words, why should I enter a classroom to teach and why should I stay?
Too Many Ways OUT and Not Enough Ways UP
One out of five teachers leave the classroom by their third year. Three out of every five teachers leave the classroom by their fifth year. The effects this statistic has on our students are staggering. Everyone agrees on that. Unfortunately, consensus on the best methods for recruiting and retaining teachers is more difficult to attain. I believe we must address the teacher’s role to radically change this statistic. There are too many ways out of the classroom and not enough ways up. Many teachers feel deflated that the perceived manner of “moving up” in education involves becoming an administrator. While schools need administrators of the highest caliber, not all teachers wish to pursue such a course. Then what can we do to provide a system supporting a teacher seeking multiple talent pathways and opportunities while remaining a classroom teacher? Creating a nation of teacherpreneurs can change our profession.
The term teacherpreneur is defined as “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030)
We outlined four types of teacherpreneurism – Connected learning, Research, Best Practice, and Policy – in our book. If an accommodating structure existed, a teacher could spend a portion of the day with students and a portion of the day mentoring teachers, connecting students and teachers to pathways for success both within the school and community and on a global scale, drafting and implementing policy for solving local issues, or conducting and sharing action research. The needs of our students and teachers can be met by teacherpreneurs. These highly motivated professionals seek the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a more systematic way. It’s time we consider how we can make this happen.
To deepen the discussion, we have presented our ideas to various groups and organizations over the last year. I had the privilege of joining Barnett Berry, the main voice of our book, to share our ideas at the Summer Institute of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the September meeting of the Alliance for Excellent Education. My colleague Ariel Sacks presented a creative interpretation of a teacherpreneur at the Big Ideas Fest. Other colleagues have presented at conferences, conducted interviews and book signings/book talks, and written extensively on their blogs about teacherpreneurism. In fact, we are currently enjoying a spirited discussion on our Teaching 2030 blog on teacherpreneurism with educators across the nation. I mention these events to say this. This concept has traction. A curiosity exists about teacherpreneurism. I point to the evidence in the questions we are being asked. Do we really need 600,000 teacherpreneurs to lift our schools to their potential? How do we identify them? How do we change the system to support this new talent pathway and opportunity for teachers?
My colleague, Renee Moore captures our sentiments so well. “We stand on the cusp of a great opportunity to end generations of educational discrimination and inequity, finally to fulfill the promises of our democratic republic. I believe the noblest teachers, students, and leaders of 2030 will be remembered by future generations as those who surged over the barriers to true public education and a fully realized teaching profession—while myopic former gatekeepers staggered to the sidelines of history.”
It is time for all teachers to add their voice to the conversations that shape our profession. Join the conversation at The Future of Teaching blog. Your voice matters and needs to be heard today to affect the change we expect in the future.
A four-minute visual story of Teaching 2030