Distinguishing between teacherpreneurs and education entrepreneurs

Jose – I want to introduce you and our readers to Kris Kohl. I met Kris last August and found him to be incredibly insightful and sharp in his perceptions of the realities of teaching now and in the future. I think he can offer some valuable insights into teacherpreneurism so I wanted to share his thoughts as a guest blogger.

There are many professionals who have been doing teacherpreneurism before we tried to figure out a way for more teachers to do teacherpreneurism. One of those forward looking professionals is Kris. Kris was a Title I Data Strategist at an elementary school in the Clark County School District (Las Vegas, NV). He received his Masters ofEducation in Elementary Curriculum and Instruction from UNLV, and led each group of his students to more than one year¹s growth in literacy and math‹earning recognition as New Teacher of the Year at his school. Kristoffer wrote school improvement plans, led staff development, and contributed to the Wiki-Teacher Project to the team. Currently in Italy with his wife who is on a Fulbright scholarship. Kris first began working with us as part of our TeacherSolutions Teacher Working Conditions team. Here is his take on teacherpreneurism.

How do you create space for new, unproven ideas when a system is in motion? In education especially, it often feels like we’re trying to build the plane as we are flying.

What would our schools look like if we leveraged the expertise of teachers in order to recognize classroom problems as opportunities for innovation? How might learning outcomes be transformed if they were equipped to investigate and design solutions?

Given that everyday teachers are not afforded such opportunity, the world of education reform has been captivated in recent years by the incredible efforts of education entrepreneurs. Their accomplishments engage and inspire the public with endless possibilities for our schools. New Tech Network, Harlem Children’s Zone, School of One, and Khan Academy have rocked the foundations of the education establishment by transforming the identities of school and classroom.

They have disrupted traditional notions of education by experimenting with radical ideas that strive to transform learning outcomes for students, but they have proven difficult to scale and sustain in a manner that benefits all communities. Fortunately, there is an untapped reservoir of expertise that is capable of even more profound change in our nation’s schools.

Enter the teacherpreneur.

As defined by the authors of Teaching 2030, a teacherpreneur is a teacher-leader of proven accomplishment possessing a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to keep schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment necessary to spread their expertise to others—all while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom. Working as change agents within the walls of their schools, teacherpreneurs influence the broader community of educators because of their legitimacy as instructional experts.

Entrepreneurs may have brilliant ideas that often require venture capital and years of planning, but the innovation of teacherpreneurs is grounded in their daily experience within schools and classrooms.

Mastering their responsibilities to students first and foremost, teacherpreneurs are making a name for themselves by creatively packaging and delivering instruction. Some are ‘flipping’ their classrooms by allowing students to watch lessons online and then using class time to complete work traditionally reserved for the home. Others are leveraging student engagement with social media tools to develop a more modern take on classroom discussion, effective writing, and community action. While education entrepreneurs experiment with novel theories for student learning, teacherpreneurs act as action-researchers by hypothesizing, implementing, troubleshooting, and learning from their daily interactions in the classroom.

Beyond working with students, the prevailing form of teacherpreneurship occurring on a daily basis in school buildings across the nation is teacher leadership. Running everything from their departments and grade-levels to their professional learning communities and occasionally the administrative responsibilities of their schools, teachers are cropping up as managers, directors, mentors, and guides.

Whether out of necessity or initiative, teachers are taking ownership of their profession and their schools because they are keenly aware of the unique needs of today’s learners. Outside of their buildings, teachers are transforming their unions, community organizations, after-school programs, and online professional development communities.

Aside from the credibility of ideas implemented by current teachers, the influence of teacherpreneurs is enhanced by the multiplier effect associated with their accomplishments. In light of their own intrinsic motivations and creative solutions, learning of the tremendous results that entrepreneurs are achieving with the latest school design or technology leaves teachers longing for the financial backing, bureaucratic leeway, and time that is necessary to duplicate such efforts. However, when they look down the hall or across town at what their colleagues are accomplishing from classrooms similar to their own, it forces teachers to evaluate their contribution to the profession. Teacherpreneurs are capable of affecting change on an exponential scale.

Both groups play a valuable role in advancing the development of a 21st century system. While entrepreneurs may inspire a vision of what all schools can become, teacherpreneurs demonstrate the caliber of individuals that we will need in schools to realize that lofty vision. They elevate the entire profession by making sure that colleagues, policymakers and the public know what works best for students.

Establishing a system that allows teacherpreneurs to flourish might be just the job for an education entrepreneur, but a solution that comes from someone in the classroom will reinvigorate the entire profession.

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