Teacherpreneurism, not incrementalism, will give us ‘peak performance’ schools

Barnett Berry explores the idea of ‘teacherpreneurism.’ His idea is to create teacher leaders who assist in blurring the lines between ‘those to who teach in schools’ and ‘those who lead them.’ Barnett is confident that these new professional leaders will transform schools and improve student learning.

I share the optimism of TLN blogger Ariel Sacks (see this recent post) and her hopes for creating a large force of teacherpreneurs to lead excellence in the schools of tomorrow. It’s a major concept we decribe in TEACHING 2030, the new book co-authored by myself, Ariel and 11 other accomplished teachers. I’m so hopeful about this Big Idea, in fact, that I fully expect to be promoting Ariel and many others as teacherpreneurs in the decades to come.

As Ariel notes in her post, over 20 members of the Teacher Leaders Network had an often-riveting conversation with Education Secretary Duncan in mid-December, during a live virtual conference. The online event was one of a series of webinars co-hosted by CTQ and the Education Department to inject more expert teacher voice into the national ed policy debate. (Watch for a policy paper and podcast on “TLN Talks with ED” in late January).

Ariel’s excellent elevator speech on teacherpreneurism did indeed catch the ear of Mr. Secretary. But somehow I do not think he fully understood our call for 600,000 teacherpreneurs by 2030 — and the goal to finally blur the now-sharp lines of distinction between those who teach in schools and those who lead them.

In response to Ariel’s description, Secretary Duncan pointed to the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program as an example of his Department’s support for more substantive teacher leadership, suggesting TIF will support the kinds of roles she identified as “teacherpreneurial.”

With all due respect to the Secretary, I question that interpretation. The Teacher Incentive Fund grants, at least in their current incarnation, do not encourage a “rethinking of the teaching profession” as an instrument to drive continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Neither the specs of the grant guidelines — nor the uninspiring “career ladders” being built from TIF funds — suggest that anyone in Washington imagines TIF as a catalyst for transforming teaching into a full-realized profession capable of leading America’s public schools to peak performance in the 21st century.

Through our extensive work in Jefferson County, Colorado, those of us at the Center for Teaching Quality know the TIF process and criteria well. I certainly agree that the TIF grants are promoting some positive, incremental change in the direction of more teacher leadership and responsibility-sharing. But the reforms are still “so 20th century.” For the most part, they still reinforce the keen distinctions between teachers and administrators, with the former clearly at the bottom of the organizational pyramid.

Here is what I am sure of: TIF does not advance the spread of teaching expertise in and out of cyberspace. It does not promote teachers as bridge builders between schools, communities and other vital student and family service providers. It does not open doors for teachers to become education game developers and masters of mobile technologies in the cause of learning. It does not promote teachers like Ariel and my other Teaching 2030 co-authors as change agents empowered to revamp university preparation programs (which the Secretary justly calls for). Those who shape the Teacher Incentive Fund’s policies would never imagine that its investments could produce situations where the highest paid person in a school system is a practicing teacher.

TIF could help drive these and many other reforms that would nurture and promote the teacherpreneurial spirit. Absent that policy vision, be assured that the Center for Teaching Quality and the 1000-plus members of the Teacher Leaders Network will forge ahead in 2011, in full pursuit of a true, results-oriented teaching profession.

Teaching 2030, the new book describing our vision of the teaching profession we need in the 21st century, will be available in bookstores and online no later than January 9.