October 15 — 12:43 pm, 2013

Teacher as entrepreneur

 does a great job of examining the skills and traits of thoughtful, innovative, and maverick-like educators. This new book, written by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Wieder of the Center for Teaching Quality, documents the leadership journeys of eight teachers who are exceptional at what they do but not the exception.

When we first looked at the title of the book, we had mixed reactions. Like many teacher-leaders, we bring an entrepreneurial and activist spirit to our practice. We were excited about the concept of innovative teachers leading, but not leaving, the classroom, yet concerned that the language of market-driven entrepreneurship may lure talented and dedicated teachers away from our craft, our passion, our willingness to give back and connect with our communities.

One of the teachers, Stephen Lazar, from Brooklyn, N.Y., reminded us of the teacher activists and advocates from our professional learning network, Teacher Action Group and Teachers Lead Philly. Lazar is one of the go-to teachers working to transform under-performing public high schools by working with parents, students, and teachers.

For both aspiring and veteran educators, Teacherpreneurs contains inspiring profiles and provides resources and activities developed by the Center for Teaching Quality. We appreciate that Teacherpreneurs offers a glance into the lives of eight innovative teachers. But as our Teachers Lead Philly colleague Kathleen Melville points out, there are some tensions in framing teachers as entrepreneurs. She cautions that we need to be careful with the narrative of the teacher as a solitary champion of students’ success. Fortunately, Teacherpreneurs demonstrates the value of professional learning networks and shows that the heart of teacher leadership is collaboration and leveraging social capital.

Jessica Keigan, a teacher at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colo., and Ariel Sacks, in New York public schools, benefited immensely from reciprocal mentoring. Tom Fitzpatrick, a 30-year teaching veteran, remembers Keigan as being “full of ideas.” He and Keigan taught an interdisciplinary course in English and history. Their collaborative teaching methods made them both better teachers and allowed Keigan to emerge as a strong teacher-leader.

Sacks’ expert knowledge in adolescent development helped her focus on the academic needs of her students. She was able to listen to her students through their writings and developed strategies to improve them socially and academically. Sacks knows her students very well and is connected to their families, which gives her an advantage as an educator.

A common trait that connects Sacks and the other teachers profiled in Teacherpreneurs is that she is a vocal teacher advocate. Sacks flips the script, as a teacher-blogger and as a workshop presenter. She (along with me, Sam Reed) participated in an Education Writers Association conference that allowed teacher-bloggers a chance to interact with journalists and weigh in on policies to improve teacher quality and recruitment.

Lazar’s leadership qualities allowed him to voice his concerns about school systems that rarely allow authentic teaching and learning opportunities to exist in classrooms. Many of his colleagues comment on how he treats his students as intellectuals. Lazar is also a nationally recognized teacher-blogger on school reform. Similarly, in Philadelphia, Hillary Linardopoulos, a 3rd-grade teacher-leader at Julia de Burgos Elementary, blogs for Huffington Post and got her students to write letters about gun violence to Vice President Joe Biden.

We felt a resonant connection with the quiet leaders profiled in Teacherpreneur. Quiet leaders are often not recognized in school systems, but are often the teachers that possess exceptional teaching skills. The exceptional teachers we read about in the book knew their students well and were able to design instructions according to individual and group needs.

The educators profiled were primarily based in middle school, high school, and higher-education environments. We wonder, though, how the teacher leadership advocated in this book would work for elementary teachers. Would they be partially released for hybrid leadership roles during school hours? Although we appreciate the resources and activities at the end of each chapter, we wanted to read more about the nuts and bolts of setting up time and space for teachers to lead and not leave the classroom. As it stands, many teacher-leaders from Teacher Action Group and Teachers Lead Philly perform their leadership roles outside of normal school hours.

Teacherpreneurs does a great job of profiling innovative and inspirational teacher-leaders. But a word of caution: the "Waiting for Superman" syndrome that exists in our profession cannot continue. As a 28-year veteran teacher and as a former business operator, we understand the allure of the star-performing "teacherpreneur." But as respective members of Teachers Lead Philly and TAG Philly, we place more value on the networked and collective leadership style promoted in Teacherpreneurs.

We encourage teachers to visit the Center for Teaching Quality’s website, connect and explore growing their own professional learning networks, and develop their own quiet leadership style.

Samuel Reed is a member of the Philadelphia Writing Project and is a teacher consultant and core member of Teacher Action Group. Peggy M. Savage is the outreach coordinator of Teachers Lead Philly. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors.

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