5 Reasons to Thank a Teacherpreneur

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user | clockNov 21, 2012 | chat3 comments

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In the six months that I’ve covered education technology, I’ve talked to more than two dozen educators who are leveraging their skills and experience to contribute to their field both in and out of the classroom. Certainly a dedication to their craft compels these contributions, but something else seems to drive them too: a generosity of spirit.

Last week, Kirsten Winkler wrote about two kinds of ed tech startup founders, those from within education whose motivations are to solve classroom problems, and those from outside whose motivations are primarily monetary.

Either motivation, when unbalanced by the other, can prevent long-term success. But, what interests me most about this division is that educators, even when acting in innovative and entrepreneurial roles, put the good of others first.

I call these educators teacherpreneurs.

Kirsten also uses the term to describe educator startup founders. A broader definition comes from the book Teaching 2030; teacherpreneurs are:

“…teacher leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.”

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for both kinds of teacherpreneurs — those like Perry Samson, whose solution to the lack of interactivity in large lecture classes is now a commercial product and iPad app; and, those like Doug Ward, who takes time out of his crowded calendar to write two blogs and curate a Scoop.It account.

If you know a teacherpreneur at your own institution, or just follow one online, here are five reasons (each culled from my conversations over the past six months) why you should let them know you’re thankful for their work. In other words, return their generosity of spirit.

5 Reasons to Thank a Teacherpreneur

#1: They innovate from within. When teacherpreneurs see an unmet need within their institutions, rather than lamenting about it or leaving the classroom to tackle the problem, they use what they have to make a difference where they are.

Susan Nance, the blogger behind The Grad School Ninja, took to tech to remedy a problem that had bothered her for years. And, when Michelle Packansky-Brock realized that too many community college faculty spin their wheels in isolation trying to solve classroom problems, she hosted a “Teach and Share” Google+ Hangout to connect them to each other.

#2: They play well with others. Teacherpreneurs know what they do well and what they don’t. And being unwilling to limit the reach of their projects by their own skills and expertise, they’re resourceful enough to recruit colleagues, students and/or professionals who can help.

Samson calls it “having the grace to back away” when you’ve done all you can do, as he did when turning over the technical development of LectureTools to the professionals. Sometimes, too, the answer isn’t backing away, but instead joining forces, as Mark Frydenberg did when he partnered with an overseas colleague to provide his students a real-life learning experience.

#3: They keep on teaching. Given constraints of time and energy, it would be understandable if teacherpreneurs chose to innovate quietly; fortunately, most of them don’t. In videos and blogs and Twitter accounts, they’re constantly teaching others what to try in their classrooms based on their own experiences as early adopters of tech tools and new ways of teaching.

I found Rachel Baum via a YouTube video in which she shares with other educators why and how she uses Facebook to create community in the online classroom. On SlideShare, Corinne Weisgerber posts presentations on everything from online privacy to content curation. Alan Earhart is active on forums as he shares and solicits feedback on the flipped classroom. Jason Rhode’s blog is one of the best destinations online for best practices on using Twitter, SMS, or Blackboard in the classroom.

#4: They’re role models for younger generations. While great educators have always been clarions of service, creativity, and knowledge, it’s only recently that they’ve become models of entrepreneurship in a field known more for tradition than innovation. They’re inviting students to collaborate on entrepreneurial ventures, from apps, to e-books, to iTunes U lesson design.

#5: They’re guided by best practices, but open to possibilities. Teacherpreneurs are well acquainted with the academic literature around their fields of study; many of them have written it. Coursera instructors Al Filreis and Eric Rabkin relied on it when their classes exploded to tens of thousands of students. Samson let it guide his development of LectureTools. Angel Hoekstra created much of it in her years-long study of clickers in the classroom. But then, instructors like Jan Worth-Nelson conduct research studies with pre-conceived notions based on that literature, and are surprised (and delighted) to discover something new — and, like a true teacherpreneur, share that discovery with others.

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