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Teacherpreneurs: The Bold Leaders Our Public Schools Need

What if you could teach and also have time, space, and reward to innovate or share what you knew?


So what is a "teacherpreneur," anyway? Another fancy word summoned from the din of voices championing privatized education? No way.

Some years ago, deep in conversation with other accomplished teachers from across the country, Ariel Sacks mentioned the term, first coined by Vicki Davis. We paused to consider it—and then came a rush of ideas. What if you could teach and also have time, space, and reward to innovate or share what you knew?

That is… what if schools invited great teachers to spend part of the time teaching and part of the time making changes to benefit even more students—in your school, district, state, nation, or even across the globe? What if you could advance in your career without becoming an administrator and completely abandoning what you do best (teach)? What would our schools look like if big decisions were made by practicing teachers, the people who know students and learning best?

Imagine all the education problems that would be solved if our most accomplished teachers taught part of the time, and also served as virtual coaches, curriculum publishers and curators, new teacher mentors, student assessment analysts, edugame inventors, community organizers, policy researchers, or creators of their own schools.

The "preneur" part of the term is about the innovation, incubation, and execution that teachers would bring to the table—not to scheme for profits, but to meet kids' needs. The "teacher" part is about staying grounded in what matters most—teaching and learning—a reality that is all too distant to many administrators and reformers.

In Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don't Leave, along with my colleagues, Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder, I tell the stories of eight teacher leaders who have developed the skills it takes to be boundary spanners and innovators. Their attributes, struggles, and achievements demonstrate how and why schools should invest in formal teacherpreneur roles: to make the most of teachers' expertise.

Teachers like Renee Moore, who was a journalist and mentor for inner-city youth in Detroit before beginning her 25-year teaching career in the Mississippi Delta. She continues to teach while leading teacher education and student assessment reforms locally and nationally. A Milken Award winner and National Board Certified Teacher, Renee is relentless in battling racism and economic injustices that undermine student achievement. She was one of the first teachers nationwide to share her teaching practices using Internet-based technologies.

She is committed to her students in the Delta, while also making sure her voice is heard (through her prolific blogging) by education reformers. Our nation should be ashamed that this expert teacher leader, who works about 12-15 hours a day, is still only paid about $50,000 a year.

Renee is exceptional, but she is not the exception. So many teachers seek to teach for a career (remaining deeply connected to students, families, and communities) while also making a difference beyond their classrooms. And like entrepreneurs, they are idea generators—working outside the lines.

We can build a new culture of collective innovation, creativity, and social justice in the education sector by creating teacherpreneur roles for these boundary spanners and problem solvers. The organization I founded in the late 1990s to advance teaching as a profession, the Center for Teaching Quality, is now supporting teacherpreneurs to carve out ways for teachers to lead education reforms.

Read our book to learn more. And join the movement by connecting with thousands of others in the CTQ Collaboratory. Together, we can ensure that teachers have opportunities to create the programs and policies that will serve students and their families best.

Want to join the teacherpreneur movement? Click here to say you'll do it.

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