Defining the Teacherpreneur 

Teacher leadership is the present. Teacherpreneurism is the future.

—Jos e Vilson

f you Google the term teacherpreneur, you’ll get about 17,500 results. So the word, a combination of teacher and entrepreneur, has some “lexiconic” lift. For us, the word teacherpreneur represents the bold concept that teachers can continue to teach while having time, space, and incentives to incubate big pedagogical and policy ideas and execute them in the best interests of both their students and their teaching colleagues. It is a word expressing our hope that teachers will no longer be isolated in individual classrooms with the doors closed, a phenomenon often characterized by sociologists as schools’ “egg-crate” organization. It is also a word communicating our expectation that teachers will no longer be controlled by meddlesome advocates and rigid bureaucrats. For the last several years, our ever-expanding vision for teacherpreneurism has been growing, in large part due to ideas from and increasing interest in our previous book, Teaching 2030. The animated video linked in the following paragraph highlights the big ideas of the book. Written by Barnett and twelve expert teachers from the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) Collaboratory, the book transcends the typical debates among today’s school reformers, union leaders, and politicians while carving out powerful solutions for how to best organize teaching, learning, and schooling.




Teaching 2030

Deliberating in our conference room back in 2009, the word teacherpreneur captured our imagination. It is a word that brings together concepts from what are usually entirely separate lines of thinking—the dedicated, student-focused teacher and the innovative, ambitious entrepreneur. We all were comfortable with the word teacher. And why not? Among the thirteen coauthors, only one of us (Barnett) had not taught for many dec ades. Everyone else was a practicing teacher, and the combined pedagogical experience in the room was well over two hundred What if accomplished educators’ years. So what about the word entrepreneur, a term jobs could be restructured, enaforeign to many who teach and work in the public bling us to use and spread our sector? A common dictionary definition refers to expertise in innovative ways while “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the also keeping one foot in the risks of a business or enterprise.”1 classroom? Most teachers readily proclaim that they teach —Jos e Vilson because of their commitment to students, not their pay. As Teaching 2030 coauthor Jos e Vilson wrote:
Right now, teachers across the nation are going above and beyond our responsibilities to benefit our students: developing online professional learning communities, fine-tuning our schools’ curricula, and connecting students’ families to community resources. What if accomplished educators’ jobs could be restructured, enabling us to use and spread our expertise in innovative ways while also keeping one foot in the classroom?2

We were quick to recognize that entrepreneurs take risks in making decisions about what to do and how it is going to be done. They launch new initiatives and accept full responsibility for the results. The coauthors all agreed, “We do this all the time.” Entrepreneurs are self-reliant and highly optimistic. They are idea generators. They work outside the lines. They are mobilizers.
Defining the Teacherpreneur


Figure 2.1
In Teaching 2030, written by Barnett Berry and twelve teacher leaders, teacherpreneurs are considered integral to the transformation of our nation’s public schools.

Cover image © Teachers College Press, 2011. Used with permission.

Two famous entrepreneurs, living in two distinct eras, point to the heart of entrepreneurism. Thomas Edison made the point that entrepreneurs focus on “what the world needs, then . . . [proceed] to invent it.”3 Steve Jobs’s entrepreneurism has



been characterized by his ability to make connections as well as create “insanely different experiences” and master the message.4 The creative process of entrepreneurism demands some definitive degree of rule breaking. What if we took the best thinking and imagery of the two worlds and literally illustrated what the teaching profession could be—and how we could get there, with teacherpreneurs as the centerpiece of the transformation? What if we, unlike the 2013 South by Southwest Education Conference, jettisoned the idea that the worlds of teachers and entrepreneurs are distinctly divided?5 Much of what we discussed at our TEACHING 2030 retreat (from which the graphic note taking shown here emerged) focused on shifting away from the current one-way conversation in school reform between school reformers and those in the classroom who must implement their mandates. With teacherpreneurs in the mix, this no longer would be the case. They would finally disprove the myth that teachers are born and not made—and lead a revolution in how America invests in those who teach young people. We know of and work with many teacher leaders who use their knowledge of students as well as teaching and learning to dream, think, plan, act, and react like entrepreneurs—and turn the rigid, pyramid-like organizational structure of schools upside down. Rick Hess reminds us that the work of education entrepreneurism requires a mix of “seasoning and experience” on the one hand, and “energy and a fresh perspective” on the other.6 But unlike education entrepreneurs so in vogue today, teacherpreneurs still work with students on a regular basis, always drawing on their everyday experiences with children and adolescents as they design and develop as well as mobilize and transform systems of teaching and learning. As we wrote in Teaching 2030:
We see teacherpreneurs, not primarily as marketers [of their own ideas], but as expert practitioners who are paid to spread their ideas and approaches as virtual mentors, teacher educators, community organizers, and policy as well as action researchers. The purpose in creating teacherpreneurs is not to identify “super teachers” who will make a lot more money, but to empower expert teachers who can elevate the entire profession by making sure that colleagues, policymakers, and the public know what works best for students.7

Ultimately, teacherpreneurism is not so much about establishing a new income stream for individuals as it is about promoting and spreading a new culture of collective innovation and creativity in a sector—education—that has been woefully lacking in one. What is more, it is about calling on a group of professionals who have been vastly underused—teachers—to establish that culture.
Defining the Teacherpreneur


Figure 2.2

As this mindmap suggests, teacherpreneurs would be the designers, knowledge brokers, system thinkers, talent maximizers, and bridge builders in the transformation of education.

Image courtesy of Sunni Brown (

We know very well that the history of the teaching occupation includes long-standing control by laymen, a lack of clarity and rigor in the process of becoming a teacher, and limited prestige and income—restricting the professional possibilities for its members.8 When it comes to fostering teacherpreneurism, teachers should not have to face the dilemma of choosing either to teach as hired hands or to lead as professionals. Over the last ten years, as our virtual community of teacher leaders in the Collaboratory has grown (from forty in early 2003 to over two thousand in 2013), we have come to know many who have the “right stuff” to be teacherpreneurs. What follows are the faces of teacherpreneurism.

We could shine a spotlight on almost any of the thousands of teacher leaders who have been engaged with CTQ over the years. This book focuses primarily on eight of them (including two, Noah Zeichner and Jessica Keigan, whom we supported as teacherpreneurs in the 2011–2012 school year). We chose these eight because they teach in some of the most challenging urban and rural school systems in America (see Appendix A for a group r esum e). They are terrific teachers and have results, measured in a variety of ways, to show it; they are experienced, and have used that experience to deepen and widen their expertise. All of them care deeply for their students and their profession. But above all, we chose them because they are representative of so many other teacher leaders like them who can and should be given more opportunities to lead. These teachers have started their own teacher-led school; designed and fueled new performance pay The purpose in creating teachersystems; hosted a public television show on math preneurs is not to identify “super and science; spread bold pedagogical and policy teachers” who will make a lot more money, but to empower expert ideas through award-winning blogs; led efforts to teachers who can . . . [make] sure globalize curricula for schools and districts; created that colleagues, policymakers, and powerful peer review programs to revolutionize the public know what works best teacher evaluation; founded grassroots youth develfor students. opment initiatives; launched a vanguard effort to share digitally recorded images of teaching for others to view online and critique; engaged in efforts to transcend cantankerous teacher evaluation debates; and served as directors of boards of venerable nonprofits, such as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. They range in age from their early thirties to their early sixties. Collectively they blow away so many of the myths that fill today’s school reform space, such as the thinking that older, more experienced and traditionally trained educators can neither
Defining the Teacherpreneur


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