Teacherpreneurs: Changing education from the inside out

If student learning is going to be competency-based, personalized, and open-walled, so must the leadership of their teachers. CTQ’s work with teacherpreneurs has proven it can be done.


What if teachers could lead without leaving the classroom—and in doing so, incubate and execute their own policy and pedagogical ideas?

In recent years, the Center for Teaching Quality has supported two dozen teacherpreneurs — expert teachers who typically have a reduced teaching load of 50% — to lead bold reforms at the school, district, state and national levels. In partnership with districts (and with philanthropic financial support), teacherpreneurs like Noah Zeichner, Ali Wright, Jessica Cuthbertson and Julie Hiltz have achieved remarkable results for students, schools and the profession.

These classroom experts have generated powerful proof points for CTQ’s bold brand of teacher leadership, documented in a series of case studies. Their experiences have also yielded “lessons learned” that we can share with others interested in this model:

Extra time yields extraordinary results. Noah had long been a leader of other teachers, offering informal mentoring and broad collaboration with colleagues. But his principal Aida Fraser-Hammer noted that extra time as a teacherpreneur helped him “push things forward” to draw more teachers into work to design district-level programs and deepen student engagement.

The best teacherpreneurs “lead from the middle.” Teachers, administrators and students alike say that Noah is a successful leader not because he directs others, but because he engages and supports them as co-leaders in his work. “He starts conversations, he convenes people through similar interest, and he shows others how they can do the same,” says colleague Heather Griffin.

Technology keeps teacher leaders connected with the world while based in the classroom. During her time as a teacherpreneur, Julie engaged more than 900 teachers and principals statewide in webinars and design-thinking workshops to help them develop new leadership skills and new structures for classroom experts to lead. She also co-created (with teaching colleague Jaraux Washington) the national #TeachingIs social media campaign that reached millions of educators, parents and engaged citizens on the complexity of teaching in the 21st century. Mary Fernandez, her principal back in Florida, said, “Julie does so much to bring new ideas and perspectives to our school.”

In addition, Noah has taught in Ecuador and joined delegations to Singapore and Brazil to explore teacher-led reform within the context of their education systems, with implications for his profession back in the U.S. But when he isn’t traveling, virtual communities like the CTQ Collaboratory have allowed him to engage with global networks without losing instructional time with his students.

Relationships matter. As demands on Ali’s time grow, she has been careful to schedule time with colleagues, family, students and key partners. This has helped her live and work in connected, balanced ways. “She listens deeply to help the rest of us hear ourselves as leaders,” says teacher Lauren Hill. I recently completed a comprehensive review of the research on teacher leadership — and found that classroom experts who lead most effectively also seek to be led by their colleagues, just like Ali does.

Teachers who model leadership do the most for their students, in and out of the classroom. Ali shared her experiences as a budding blogger and speaker with her students. She challenged them to take a risk of their own: the AP Calculus exam. The result? All of Ali’s students sit for the exam and 50% earn the highest possible score. Meanwhile, as a teacherpreneur, Ali brought her daily work with students into policy conversations with Kentucky’s state legislature, national reform groups like Achieve or Student Achievement Partners, or with Noah and their work with the Asia Society’s Global Cities Education Network.

Blurring the lines between policy and practice makes each stronger. Ali’s hybrid role has allowed her to influence math teachers districtwide and participate in related state-level policy conversations. Education leaders in diverse roles see her as a trusted voice, and teachers have looked to her to keep them one step ahead of the reforms that impact their classrooms.

When educators can teach and lead, they and their schools benefit. Jessica was ready to leave coaching because she missed a close connection to students. Had it not been for her CTQ-supported hybrid role, her district would have lost the opportunity to leverage her expertise to drive systems-level improvements. She is now creating a system of teacher leadership for her district, driven by teaching colleagues in hybrid roles so many more can lead without leaving.

These are just a few of the discoveries that we’ve made in working with teacherpreneurs, building their capacity to solve local challenges and to bring their solutions to scale. We learn more all the time as we partner with savvy districts, state agencies, and other organizations to address their challenges and goals by designing, supporting, and systematizing new hybrid roles and leadership pathways.

Our greatest lesson: If student learning is going to be competency-based, personalized, and open-walled, so must the leadership of their teachers. CTQ’s work with teacherpreneurs has proven it can be done.

This blog was originally published in Smartbrief Education on October 15, 2015. 

  • jimmymeraz

    Education develops a positive

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  • LaurenPacheco

    Teacher Leader Learner

    As a grad school student who is studying and learning different ways that teachers can become leaders in the classroom, this read was phenomenal. It gave new ideas and real life examples of how teachers can lead others and to make changes in schools that benefit the students. 

    I also really loved the term “teacherpreneurs.” I am not familiar with this term at all and I thought that this was a great way to describe the teachers in these case studies. I think that expert teachers who lead school reform at the different levels is exactly what the schools need. Schools are constantly changing and who is better than teachers who spend thier time bettering the school everyday to lead these changes and reforms?

  • BarnettBerry


    thanks Jimmy and Lauren. There are many many teachers who could lead like this teacherpreneurs described in this piece. But is the system of public education — and the world of charters – ready for them. Not yet. But you cannot build demand for a break-through idea w/o creating – at least- a supply of it! 

  • BarnettBerry


    thanks Jimmy and Lauren. There are many many teachers who could lead like this teacherpreneurs described in this piece. But is the system of public education — and the world of charters – ready for them. Not yet. But you cannot build demand for a break-through idea w/o creating – at least- a supply of it! 

  • Kristin

    I really liked your quote “

    I really liked your quote " teacherpreneurs lead from the middle". I think that is so true!   Teacher leaders are not the administration but can be the middleman in helping voice opinions which is a very important role to have within a school. I also think how your colleagues perceive you can be crucial in how successful you are as a leader.  I think if they feel as if they are being supported and viewed as a co-leader, like Noah made others feel, the outcome will be success. I imagine what it would be like if there were more "Noah's" in all of the schools. I think it would be very powerful.

  • Petra Schmid-Riggins

    Hybrid roles

    I am interested to learn about CTQ-supported hybrid roles.  

  • tashee232

    The need for time to “teach from the middle”
    I was very intrigued by your blog as it talked about the fact that these teacherpreneurs were given a reduced workload in order to become better teacher leaders and work to affect change within their schools, their districts, and it seems around the world as well.

    It seems in so many districts that it is difficult to get that kind of time and still lead a balanced work and home life. Districts and principals often do not recognize the need for teachers to have time to meet and collaborate with each other. Not just on the mandatory PD days, but actually collaboration day where teachers can become those leaders and help build up their school. I feel that if teachers could have that time, then they would be able to affect the change that the teachers mentioned in the blog have made.

  • peterzak

    Support Leaders

    As a grad student thinking about how I can be a teacher leader in my school is really perplexing. I often ask this question in my head, would my administration support a teacher leader program? It is really inspiring reading this blog about teachers being successful teachers and leaders. From my own experience one of the powerful points that you brought up was “extra time yields extraordinary results”. I often feel so rushed in our PLC’s/department meetings that we barely scratch the surface at the root of our problems or we start a great program but have no sustainability. Your blog gave me some hope that my school would support me as these other teacher leaders were supported by their administration.

  • Barnett Berry


    One of hte best examples of a school redesigning curriculum for teachers to lead is the The New American Academy. http://tnaacs.org/

    Teachers spend at least ninety minutes each day working together on lesson plans, classroom management, pedagogy, and reflection. They design their own interdisciplinary curriculum—and decide in two large blocks of time (between 9:00a-12:30p and 1:45p-3:30p) what and how to teach. With all adults in the building serving and teaching students in some way, teachers have more time to lead. They develop new assessment tools to assess student learning, build school-community partnerships to ensure students have the health and social services they need, and design after-school programs that include swimming and violin lessons. And TNAA, because it relies less on administrators to lead instruction, offers a four-step teacher career ladder: apprentice, associate, partner, and master. But most importantly EVERY teacher is expected to lead. Their school reform model demands it (:-)


  • KellyBegani

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    Teaching from the middle and relationships matter are two topics in your blog that really hit home.  I believe deeply that teacher leaders will be successful if they build a sense of trust among their colleagues.  Once trusted, they can help institute change in their departments, grade level, school or even district.  I think it important that the teacher leader stays in the classroom; getting 50% of their time to teach and the other 50% to “lead” seems like the best of both worlds.  I wish more districts would see the value in this program.  Maybe this is something I need, as an aspiring teacher leader, to work on in my school district!

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