Entrepreneur: a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk
I’ve started seeing various mishmashes of the words education, teacher and entrepreneur on Twitter and at conferences a lot lately. Certainly, it seems to be one of those buzzwords in education that suddenly everyone is talking about and hailing as a new vision for the way schools should operate. I think I first came across it at the 2014 ACEL Conference in Melbourne, where English principal and now policy advisor Richard Gerver talked about principals being ‘edupreneurs.’ Richard is a wonderful presenter, and he is capable of filling the audience with energy and enthusiasm. In particular, he spoke about the way that principals (or headteachers, as they are called in England) have the kind of skill set that is often greatly desired in large companies. They are capable of managing disparate groups of people in challenging circumstances, undertaking a range of different projects and turning a vision for better education into reality. They can, Richard argued, ‘seize the agenda and lead their communities with a new sense of energy and empowerment; it is the age of the ‘edupreneur’.
So far, so good – and I don’t think that I disagree with Richard in that respect. Certainly, according to the definition above, most principals do manage enterprises, and yes, schools are places where considerable initiative is required, and there are significant risks involved. Perhaps not financial risks to the principal herself or himself, but to the wider organisation, perhaps.
But I get the feeling that Richard wants to use it in a much more ‘innovative’ sense – that is, an edupreneur is someone who does something different. This premise is probably based on the assumption that education is failing – certainly that’s the argument that we hear on an almost daily basis – and therefore we need to change what we’re doing and that’ll fix all the problems. There’s a little too much of the neoliberal cant there for me – I haven’t seen a problem in education that can’t be fixed by setting high standards for teaching courses, providing appropriate and precise ongoing professional development for teachers and paying teachers what they’re actually worth, rather than the pittance they’re currently on, but that’s just my opinion.
This idea of ‘doing education differently’ is picked up by David Orphal, an educator and speaker who uses the term ‘teacherpreneur’ to describe teachers who are doing things differently in their classroom. According to Mindshift, Orphal explains:
the concept of “teacherpreneur” involves giving classroom teachers more of a voice in educational leadership, while allowing current educational leaders and policymakers opportunities to spend a part of each year working in a classroom with students.
Again, there is much to like about this idea, too, and you can see how it is a development from Gerver’s ideas. Gerver was in the favour of empowering principals and school leaders. Orphal argues that we should increase the responsibility of classroom teachers to lead, too. He continues:
In this ideal world, teachers spend part of their time in the class as co-teachers, part of their time researching and writing curriculum and assessments for schools, part of the time mentoring new teachers (who have a reduced work load while they’re being trained), part of their time innovating ideas for teacher development, and part of their time drafting educational policy.
The great thing about Orphal’s work, I think, is that he’s got a vision for how it might actually work; that is, you can’t expect teachers to do more without taking away some of their work load. Thus, teachers become ‘part-time’ classroom practitioners and ‘part-time’ researchers and academics. Meanwhile, school leaders can pick up the slack – that is, they go back to the classroom for part of the time.
Now these are big ideas – and none of them really address the challenges faced by schools and educational systems from the attack by neoliberalism and the increasing insistence on performance pay and standardised testing. Nor do they address the challenges raised from charter schools or academies. But, and this is a big but, I’m not sure what educators – even principals – can do about those challenges.
On a final note, I hate the use of the term entrepreneur in educational circles. To my mind, and this might only be my opinion, it has connotations of business and commerce. I worry that, by using the term, we will begin to associate schools with businesses, whether that is conscious or unconscious. Schools are businesses, I know – they have to be – but they are far more than that, too, and it belittles the work of all who labour in schools to suggest otherwise.