Entrepreneurs Changing Education
Modern day education has become a flocking ground for entrepreneurs. There are grants specifically created to allow entrepreneurs to develop education-changing ideas. There are charter schools founded by entrepreneurs (http://www.ivyacademia.com/). EdTech companies are being developed across the country as a way to institute innovation in our classrooms (http://www.knewton.com/blended-learning/). The Penn Graduate School offers a Master’s degree in Educational Entrepreneurship (www.gse.upenn.edu/tll/ee). 4.0 Schools brings together entrepreneurs in an incubator-type setting and helps to develop their idea to disrupt education (http://4pt0.org/). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just the first five links on a Google search of “Education Entrepreneurs.”
Let’s face it, education is changing around us and “edupreneurs” are the catalyst behind that change. These oft-young, tech-savvy innovators see the value in the education market, and are producing products to suit. But is this the only way to create change?
Introspection for Leadership
While there is clearly a great deal of change that can be created, do we need to look outside schools in order for that change to happen? It seems we are quick to look to the private sector in order to fix some of our shortcomings. I can’t argue with many of the great things that have come out of this practice, but I want to make a case for another catalyst of change: teacherpreneurs.
Teacherpreneurs – A Catalyst for Change
If you think about many of the pillars of great entrepreneurship—innovation, resourcefulness, solving unmet needs—you don’t have to look to startups to find someone superlative. You can look to teachers, too. Teachers create innovate lessons on a daily basis and educate children without all of the necessary resources. They keep current with changes in technology. They set a vision and mission for their classrooms and then determine the best course of action to meet those goals. Teachers are entrepreneurs whether they like to think of themselves as such or not. Some teachers, however, go above and beyond in terms of changing education. These “teacherpreneurs” serve a more important role in creating the new education system than a startup education company could.
The Role of the Teacherpreneur
A teacherpreneur, as defined by the Center for Teaching Quality, is “an innovative brand of teacher leader who lead without leaving their students or schools.” Traditionally, teachers who look to get into leadership within education have to leave their classrooms and pursue opportunities in non-teaching roles. Teacherpreneurs, however, dedicate time both to students within their classroom and work to improve policies and practices beyond the walls of their classroom.
Teachers spend the most time with the ultimate beneficiaries of the education system (students) but play such a minor role in the development of policies that affect their practice. Teacherpreneurs are bettering the practice of teaching by collaborating with teachers in their districts, in their state, or even nationally, and sharing the many lessons learned along the way. They don’t just talk about what would make a difference in education; they create, build and implement those changes.
Imagine for a second what education might look like if principals spent more time in the classroom, get this, teaching! I know, for one, that I wish my principal could spend more time in my classroom just observing me teach—but I know that there would be great value if he also taught lessons to my students. I understand the demands of the position, which currently does not allow this to happen—so maybe it’s time to reimagine educational leadership. Imagine Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education for the United States, teaching a class-a-day at schools around the country. These leaders do an excellent job of developing policies, and while they may have been teachers once—they no longer fill that role. Educational leadership largely revolves around creating strong intellectual communities for students. Policies are developed to meet the needs of students, but teacherpreneurs aim to create those same intellectual communities for teachers. This is where true change in education will come from. The time spent away from the classroom for these teacherpreneurs allows them to network and collaborate with other teachers and ensure that the polices developed that affect teachers directly are created with those who understand student learning the most in mind.
Those Who Teach AND Lead
In essence, the goal of developing teacherpreneurs is to shift non-teaching jobs such as education policy maker, educational researcher or staff developer, back into the classroom. Teachers will still teach, but they can also write curriculum, develop assessments, mentor new teachers, innovate ideas about teacher development, and draft policy. This hybrid model will blur the lines between those who teach, and those who lead. Notable educator Jose Vilson says that “teacher leadership is the present. Teacherpreneurism is the future.” If accomplished educators could have restructured roles in schools, education would change rapidly. Teachers already make a major difference in the lives of students, but many teachers see the role as a job, rather than a career. Teacherpreneurs can change all of that through an innovative approach to the development of teachers, and bring teaching into the 21st Century.
The modern day student is diverse, technologically savvy and part of an increasingly global market. Are the products developed outside of the classroom meeting these new needs? Maybe they are in part, but in order to truly meet the needs of our education system, we need teachers who can teach and develop policy. We need teachers who can teach other teachers, organize communities, and serve as representatives for the teaching profession. A new leadership force of teacherpreneurs could help blur the lines of education leadership and education. These two things no longer need to be separate entities, and if we want true change within our system, let’s develop those potential leaders who know best based on their experience.
Chris Brida is a mathematics teacher in Baltimore, MD. He currently teaches 9th grade Algebra. Chris has written several blogs for us this spring.