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Embrace Hybrid Roles to Keep Effective Teachers Grounded in the Classroom

Paul Barnwell

For the first ten years of my education career, I served as a full-time middle and high school language arts teacher.  The work was always challenging, rewarding (mostly), and kept me on my toes. I got involved in site-based decisionmaking committees, served as a Union Representative, PLC facilitator, and other traditional leadership roles.

But it was the "non-official" leadership work—the reading and writing professionally, Center for Teaching Quality webinars, interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues, building community partnerships for my students, and summer residential graduate work at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English—that really kept me energized as an educator. All of this work that helped expand and enrich my and my students' learning experiences was done on my own time. Sounds familiar, right?

Here's the bottom line: many teachers, like me, have managed to thrive and improve at our crafts in spite of professional responsibilities and time demands, not because of requirements and official leadership roles.  

Now I'm writing from a new perspective as a Teacherpreneur for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky. I'm fortunate to have been given the opportunity, time, and autonomy to employ the same drive that led me to participating in the aforementioned work.  

I teach morning classes at Fern Creek High School, and the school district pays for my release time in the afternoon to work on designing and implementing opportunities for teacher leadership and engagement in virtual spaces, among other projects. My teacherpreneurial focus is a tiny blip on the radar of challenges teachers should be given the time to help solve, and the room for expanding hybrid educator roles is staggering.

JCPS is a large urban/suburban district with over 100,000 students and 6,000 teachers. Like all districts, our greatest professional resource is our teachers, yet too many teachers are faced with an either-or scenario: continue working in the classroom full-time or leave to become instructional coaches, counselors, or administrators.  

Let's expand the number of hybrid roles to keep effective teachers grounded in the classroom while working to solve a multitude of challenges. A half-time English-language learner teacher could also work to develop programs to engage ELL parents in schools. A half-time science teacher could design field experiences for students across the district, recruiting reluctant teachers to engage students in real-world science experiences. A half-time social studies teacher could network with city government to create internships and work-study programs. A half-time communications teacher with a penchant for thoughtful social media engagement could coach teams of students to help spread the word regarding all of the positive things happening in our schools. The list could go on and on.

Teacher experts with big ideas worth trying are out there; it's up to district leadership to recognize the untapped potential of teacherpreneurial roles to improve and enrich teaching and learning for all.

Read more of this edition of Teaching Ahead: Restructuring Teachers' Time.

A New Hampshire native, Barnwell is in his 11th year teaching in Kentucky public schools. He's currently an English III and digital media teacher at Fern Creek Traditional High School in Louisville, Ky., in addition to serving as a teacherpreneur for Jefferson County Public Schools. When he's not working on education-related work, he enjoys traveling with his wife Rebecca, gardening, bow-hunting, and reading.

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