Teacherpreneurs Panel and How We Benefit Students

On the Teacherpreneurs Panel this week at the Ford Foundation, I found myself in the unusual situation of speaking publicly about the intricacies of engaging in a range of leadership work in education while teaching full time. Normally I’m talking to people who know me in one capacity or another—as a teacher, a teacher leader, teacher-blogger, author, or workshop presenter—but being asked about the connections between all of these things was unique.

On the Teacherpreneurs Panel this week at the Ford Foundation, I found myself in the unusual situation of speaking publicly about the intricacies of engaging in a range of leadership work in education while teaching full time. Normally I’m talking to people who know me in one capacity or another—as a teacher, a teacher leader, teacher-blogger, author, or workshop presenter—but being asked about the connections between all of these things was unique.

What made it even better was that I wasn’t the only one.  Jose Vilson and Stephen Lazar, fellow teacherpreneurs profiled in the book by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder, shared and reflected on their unique experiences teaching fulltime and leading beyond their classrooms.  Also in the conversation was Bob Hughes, president of New Visions for Public Schools, and moderator Emma Sokoloff-Rubin of Chalkbeat NY.

Themes emerged.  One point that struck me was how each of us responded to the question of whether and how our leadership outside our schools affects our students.  This issue is especially pertinent right now.  Teacher leadership has become a popular model within K-12 schools, but practicing teachers leading beyond their schools is far less common and accepted.

In some ways, practicing teachers getting involved in policy issues and professional development beyond their schools is inconvenient for everyone. Teachers all know that preparing to miss a day of school often takes more work than actually being there!  The voices of practicing teachers in spaces we don’t usually occupy—education policy meetings, graduate schools of education—can challenge other norms, spurring other education leaders to consider changes.  It would be easy to dismiss these challenges as unworthy of our effort when students do occasionally lose out on time with their teachers as a result.

So how does teacherpreneurism benefit students?Here are some of the ideas that came out of the panel discussion:

·      When Steve leads PD outside his school, he takes a collaborative approach and walks away with numerous new ideas for his own teaching. Students benefit from a teacher who is constantly learning from other teachers.

·      Jose plans his absences carefully, setting students up with projects before he leaves, so that in his absence they can take control over their work.  He reports, his students told their substitute teacher to stay out of their way while they worked on their projects!  How empowering for the students!

·      When I leave my students to participate in a policy conversation, I share the policy issues with my students and solicit their input. Not only are their thoughts important to contribute to the larger debate, but they also see me modeling being an engaged citizen and professional.

·      We all write about our work as teacher leaders.  Last year, I was writing a book while teaching full time (and this year Jose has been up to the same task). While I definitely lost some sleep over it, which is not ideal, I also was able to share aspects of my writing process with my students. They learn lessons about what it’s like to be a professional writer, interact with editors and readers, and make revisions. My students came to see writing as an infinitely more “real” process and profession.

·      Finally, Bob Hughes made the point that intellectually engaged teachers benefit students. Too often, he says, schools are committed to creating a strong intellectual community for students, but fail because they do not do the same for teachers.  Engaging professionally beyond our classrooms keeps us growing intellectually and that is important for our students.

The audience for the panel was a diverse group that included teachers, principals, philanthropists, ed-tech folks, policy leaders, and community organizers.  Discussing teacherpreneurism with such a group was powerful.

It’s even more exciting to think that these panels are happening across the country over the next few months. Next up? Washington DC, where Lori Nazareno, Jeff Charbonneau, and Barnett Berry will speak about teacherpreneurs at the National Board Teaching & Learning Conference.

[Thanks @BNiche for the photo!]