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'Teacherpreneurs Can Lead Reforms': An Interview With Barnett Berry

This is a special edition of "Classroom Q & A" highlighting an interview I recently did with Barnett Berry about his new book.  Look for responses to this week's "question-of-the-week" (about Project-Based Learning) in a few days.


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I've been working with the Center For Teaching Quality, led by Barnett Berry, for years, and believe it's a national hot-bed for innovating thinking by teachers about education.  I leaped at the chance to interview him about the new book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead but Don't Leave (Jossey-Bass 2013) authored by Barnett and CTQ colleagues Ann Byrd and Alan Wieder.  In it, they document the leadership journeys of eight classroom educators (several who are regular contributors to this blog) who are spreading their expertise beyond their schools, districts, and states -- and even nationally and internationally.

In addition to reading this interview and the book, you might be interested in my post, The Best Resources On Being A Teacherpreneur.

LF: What is a Teacherpreneur?

Barnett Berry:  Teacherpreneurs are classroom experts who continue to teach students regularly (even daily) but also have time, space, and reward to lead reforms in pedagogy and policy. Imagine how many education problems would be solved if we could support our most accomplished teachers, without fully leaving the classroom and the teaching profession, also serve as virtual coaches, curriculum publishers and curators, student assessment analysts, edugame inventors, community organizers, policy researchers, and creators of their own schools.

LF: Can you paint a politically realistic picture of how the number of teacherpreneurs can reach a critical mass here in the United States?

Barnett Berry: In my first book, Teaching 2030, I suggested we needed 600,000 teacherpreneurs to serve the needs of students and 21st century public education. This is a reasonable number when one considers that there are about 6.2 million teachers and administrators (and other support staff). Imagine if 1 in 10 educators who now work in our K-12 schools and districts both taught students regularly and led in bold ways. We also could re-think the roles of many educators in serve in supervisory roles in state education agencies, non-profits, and universities. So what if some of these non-teaching educators also taught K-12 students for part of their workload? The ratio of those who teach and those who lead can get even smaller.

It is just a matter of policy leaders thinking differently about how we use our human resources and reallocate dollars so more of our effective teachers have a chance to teach and lead. When I was a professor at state-funded university, no one thought twice about me teaching and advising students about 12-18 hours a week -- and then conducting research and consulting for different education agencies and non-profits during the other part of my workload. If this is okay for university professors, why can't it be okay for at least 10 percent of those effective teachers who work in our K-12 system?

LF: In the book, you suggest that Finland applies teacherpreneurship already. Can you give some examples of what that looks like there?

Barnett Berry: First of all it is important to note that in Finland, policymakers as well as practitioners do not struggle at all with the notion of blurring the lines of distinction between those who teach in schools and those who lead them. Almost all principals (and assistants) teach students part of the day or week. And all teachers, extensively trained at high quality university-based education degree programs, are prepared to teach and lead. Each new recruit to teaching must demonstrate that he or she knows how to design, conduct, and present original research on a practical or theoretical aspect of teaching and learning. And then teachers have work schedules that mirror more of the work week of university professor here in the United States. They teach 16-18 hours a week, and the remainder of their work week includes developing curriculum, designing and scoring student assessments, working with after school programs, and the like.

Marianna Sydanmaanlakka, a Finnish teacher (and member of the CTQ Collaboratory) told me that "teacher leadership is built into (their) day" and she and her colleagues and "are educated to lead and have influence outside of (their) schools."

LF: How do you respond to the critique that the term "teacherpreneur" is too connected to the idea of business, and doesn't help the case that schools should not be run like for-profit enterprises?

Barnett Berry: I share this concern as well. However, we are constantly emphasizing that teacherpreneurism is not so much about running schools like businesses or establishing a new income stream for individuals. Instead teacherpreneurism 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 I am suggesting is that a group of professionals who have been vastly underused--teachers--establish that culture. What if the transformation of teaching and learning was built on creating demand for those who teach to continue to do so regularly and have the time and space to lead reforms and incubate and execute bold new ideas? What if teachers were rewarded - even handsomely -- for spreading their ideas (like I was when I was a university professor). As Renee Moore, one of our nation's finest teacher leaders -- and profiled in Teacherpreneurs -- tell us all the time, "Teachers should not be afraid for getting paid."

LF: You write that "technological advances...will soon free teachers of the bureaucratic obstacles and siloed classrooms that have gotten in the way of teacherpreneurial thinking and action." Can you give some examples of what that might mean?

Barnett Berry: This is another great question, Larry. Consider the following: We have technologies that connect teachers to each other so no one is responsible for developing lessons and scoring assessments. We have software that helps teachers more efficiently track student progress and communicate more effectively and efficiently with parents. We have online networks that help teachers find resources (including other expert teachers) so that no one classroom practitioner has to do all the teaching he or she once had to do. And we will have more and more virtual communities for teacher leaders - like the CTQ Collaboratory -- where teachers can develop rich perspectives on best practices and policies from around the globe. As a result, teachers will be less isolated from each other and have more time to lead in ways heretofore not possible.

LF: Thanks, Barnett!

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Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers. I'll be highlighting one particular publisher every two months, and am starting off with Corwin.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to this blog for free via RSS Reader or email.... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first two years of this blog, you can see a categorized list of them here. You won't see posts from this school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking in the monthly archives link on this blog's sidebar.

Also, Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form.  It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Look for responses to this week's question of the week (on Project-Based Learning) in a few days...

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