On Monday, Amethyst Hinton Sainz wrote in this space that Teacherpreneur has "got to be one of the most influential educational buzzwords of the decade." She adds that Arizona presents a prime example of districts that have disrespected the foundations of the concept Teacherpreneur – disrespect she calls Teacherprefakeurism.
Her post is getting a lot of attention in social media. I shared it myself but would like to contribute a different interpretation of her observations, in a different tone.
First, a disclosure. I am a Teacherpreneur who has been released from half my teaching duties in Tucson Unified School District to build bridges between national teacher leader networks. For that work two non-profits – the Arizona K12 Center and the Center of Teaching Quality – have deposited half my compensation, including benefits, with TUSD.
Distinctions that count
Three distinct concepts are often blurred:
- Traditional leadership work that teachers do;
- Teacher Leadership; and
Teachers in traditional leadership roles work on committees with predefined functions. They may be compensated and given release time and do have to prepare lessons for their guest teachers to deliver. But that doesn't make them fakes. I've served in those roles and will again – and not as teacherpreneur imposter, but as a teacher leading in a traditional role.
In contrast, teacher leaders have proven they can improve education by developing and making real their own ideas regarding pedagogy and policy. Teacher leaders have an inherent credibility because they are expert, practicing teachers whose ideas come from front line classroom experience and because they know they will have to live with the ideas they create. Regrettably, they too often do this work on their own time and their own dime.
Teacherpreneurism is the proposition that providing teacher leaders with time, resources, and compensation will bring their influence to scale and transform the profession for the better. "Why We Need Teacherpreneurs" (a 3 minute video) highlights the grounding principles of teacherpreneurism.
The three concepts blend into each other and calling a traditional leader a teacherpreneur isn't disrespectful, full of scorn and contempt. It's a mistake, most likely made with good intentions.
Protecting the Meaning of Teacherpreneurism
It's true that a lot of people are reading Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave, by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wielder, of CTQ. But I don't think teacherpreneur is anywhere near the most influential buzzword of the decade. I rarely say to someone, in or out of education, "I'm a Teacherpreneur," without having to explain what that means.
As the term catches on, the distinguishing features of teacherpreneur must be continually clarified. Only by retaining its singular features will teacherpreneur have power to mediate thinking about leadership roles. Otherwise, if its singularity is diluted by misuse, teacherpreneur will indeed become a buzzword – and meaningless. See Diva Words and Two Worth Fighting For for more about this.
Teacherpreneurs and cooperating partners must develop data which prove that investing in the creativity of accomplished teachers is a cost-effective means of educating children and empowering teachers to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom.
A step in that direction is for school districts to take a risk and partner with outside agencies to support a teacherpreneur. Mine did. Our new superintendent responded immediately to the proposition, and the school board approved the position unanimously.
A next step will be for districts to internally support both a teacherpreneur's teaching and leading. But would it be diligent for them to do that without evidence of the efficacy of teacherpreneurism?
Speaking Loudly or Speaking Persuasively?
As Amethyst writes, teachers have spoken clearly about a vision for the future of education which includes teacherpreneurism.* Many are speaking loudly, too. But we must learn to speak beyond the echo chamber, and persuasively – with evidence and stories – to policy makers and the people to whom they listen.
And then will we transform the vision into reality.