In my Twitter stream the other day, I saw this appear:

Following the link led me to Tom Barrett’s post about how he is leaving the classroom to pursue work with Ewan McIntosh, in a consultant capacity. Here’s what Tom had to say about his decision:

For the last 5 years or so this blog and Twitter have been amazing at getting my ideas out to you – my fellow classroom practitioners and educators, but I want to work even more closely with you. And to do it full time without the myriad of pressures we face as teachers diluting my efforts.

I’ve long admired Tom and his capacity to share his practice and inspire others. I truly hope that he can do what he hopes to, but I’m saddened to think yet another classroom loses an inspiring teacher who is making a real difference. It seems to be happening more and more. As people gain traction and make inroads with new ways of delivering a classroom experience, we see them seconded to Government departments, snapped up by private industry, or pursuing their own consultancy careers. It’s a dilemma, and one that needs addressing. We just can’t afford to lose experienced people in classroom settings — people who model for both their students and other teachers what is possible.

Many of us battle the time demon

I understand why people like Tom make a decision like this. For many of us who write blogs, share practice and support others, we find ourselves battling with the demon that is time. This demon requires us to give due and proper attention to our full time jobs, but it robs us of time with our families, our downtime, our sleep, as we work a second job learning and supporting others. Without doubt, many of us are passionate about what we do, and that’s why we do it, but to ignore that the sacrifices we make affect important aspects of our lives is perilous.

That’s why I found the idea of a ‘Teacherpreneur’ so intriguing as I read lead author Barnett Berry’s recent publication, Teaching 2030. This is a very interesting book, co-authored by the TeacherSolutions 2030 team comprised of 12 teachers. In their eyes,  teacherpreneurs are . . .

“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)

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, one of the teachers quoted in the book, extends on this idea and suggests we will see a teacherpreneur working in the following way:

“I and others who are excited by this concept imagine teacherpreneurs to be a subset of accomplished teachers who act as change agents within their own schools, finding creative solutions and mobilizing the resources to accomplish those solutions. We imagine teacherpreneurs to have the freedom and power to interact in the global education marketplace, developing – and selling – their talents and ideas. We imagine teacherpreneurs will become the go-to experts in our profession and no longer will we be beset by peddlers of canned professional development who troll the nation giving workshops and presentations that are too generic or out of touch with today’s classrooms – intentionally or unintentionally undermining efforts for teachers known to be successful with today’s kids to spread their expertise to one another.” (Teaching 2030 p.141-142)

There are plenty of people fulfilling a role like this right now. I’m one of them. What’s at odds with these descriptions is that currently most of us have two feet set firmly in our classrooms, and we’re desperately trying to find time to do what we see as our commitment to our schools and other educators — to provide modeling of learning experiences that transcend the walls of our classrooms. While the modeling happens in the school day, the transmission of our ideas invariably has to happen in the time we have away from school.

My conference experiences over the last year tell me that our profession is crying out for the ‘teacherprenuer’ to be talking to them. People I speak to tell me they are tired of listening to people who theorise about what is possible, they want to hear from the people who have concrete evidence of what works in classrooms.

This is happening now, as teacher bloggers share their practice and assist their peers to envision what is possible. What’s not happening is financial reward for their efforts. I don’t think we should shy away from discussion about monetary return for effort. Plenty of teachers who have immersed themselves in connected learning and share their practice would have devoted the 10,000 hours needed to become an expert in their field. So much of this professional development has been self-directed, at the expense of nurturing other facets of these teachers’ lives. Financial reward is justifiable, and necessary, if we are to keep these early adopter change agents who fit the teacherpreneur model connected to classrooms and the students who need them.

Tom talks of “the myriad of pressures we face as teachers diluting my efforts” and his desire to do what he loves on a full time basis. My reply on his post expressed my own sense of division:

“Good luck with the move Tom. I totally understand why you feel the need to make this change. I constantly feel like I’m dividing my time between too many fronts, and know exactly where it is that I want my head space to reside in. If someone threw me an opportunity like yours, I’d do the same. You will continue to be as influential as ever.”

I think Tom will continue to be influential, but we shouldn’t be allowing great educators like this to walk away from the classroom. Lack of support and visionary thinking about our roles in schools is pushing people out of the very role that gives them the greatest credibility amongst other educators.

Who pays for teacherpreneurship?

Co-author and NYC middle school teacher Ariel Sacks talks in Teaching 2030 of the need to look at corporate structures as a means “to restructure schools and roles around the critical issue of time, so that the most accomplished teachers can spread their teaching expertise.” (p.163-164) The suggestion is,

“In order to break away from the hierarchical structures that keep us losing great teachers and moving at a snail’s pace, we’ll need to carve out significant time, like Google’s 20%, or even up to 50% for some, to expand teacher’s roles as leaders and innovators who are able to respond better and faster to the needs of students” (p.164)

Who pays for this? Surely not the individual school, or maybe this should be the case? Schools that currently have teacherpreneurs within them benefit at the school level, but also in a marketing sense. It is these schools that become recognized as innovative trailblazers, and often this hinges on the teacherpreneur(s) working within it. What happens when the teacherpreneur burns out, or is offered the private industry role or a Government position? The school loses out, and unless there is another teacherpreneur ready to step up, innovation may flounder.

Perhaps it’s our Federal Governments (or school districts in the US) who need to recognize the importance of the work of teacherpreneurs, and special funding can be provided to support the retention of these teachers. Here in Australia (recognizably a much smaller population base than the United States), our Federal Government, as part of the Digital Education Revolution initiative, has set aside $40 million for teacher professional development. Of the approved projects I’ve seen, none look at supporting teachers with the recognized skill set to keep one foot planted firmly in the classroom, while allowing time to support their colleagues both within their schools and further afield.

Let’s not forget the Philanthropists out there, particularly those who have made their fortunes from technological innovation. The Gates Foundation has recently provided Salman Khan with funding to support the growth of The Khan Academy. Why not support the teaching workforce and grow capacity within it? The modeling and support teacherpreneurs provide often extends beyond borders, and even continents. I’m an Australian, and the readership of my blog extends to countries far and wide. I seek support and guidance from educators worldwide through my Twitter network and give the same back in return. While our education systems may differ, our desire to create positive learning experiences for our students binds us. Educational philanthropists could be making a difference to education worldwide by investing in grassroots educators who are making a difference.

For those of us working like this now, we’ve reached a critical juncture point. We can’t be expected to continue running ourselves ragged trying to do it all, battling the demon that is time. If the status quo remains, expect to see more quality teachers exiting classrooms for other pursuits, and watch our profession continue to struggle with the challenge of adapting to the learning landscape of the age we are living in.


Click to see a four-minute video
about Teaching 2030





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Jenny Luca

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