Teacher Leadership: Leading Without Leaving

Teacher Leadership: Leading Without Leaving

The word “teacherpreneurs” makes me want to throw up.  It reminds me of a celebrity mash-up, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie become “Brangelina.” YUCK! The education world has mashed-up “teacher” and “entrepreneur” to become this strange lovechild.  While I believe the phrase itself is a miss match of words, I think the concept is genius.


I first encountered the word on my Twitter feed this past March.  Unfortunately, I did not attend this year’s SXSWedu conference in Austin, but in conversations on social media, “teacherpreneur” lit up my feed.  After I got over my visceral reaction to the term, I decided to look into the theory behind it.


Based on what I read, it appears that the concept was birthed by The Center for Teaching Quality.  What got my attention was the Center’s definition of a teacherpreneur: “Teacher leaders who lead without leaving.”



So often, once excellent teachers build up their skillsets, they are then encouraged to leave the classroom to become coaches, data managers, principals, deans, etc.  I have seen it with some of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered.  Don’t get me wrong – I think administrative leadership is a noble and necessary path for many educators to pursue.  However, I see a lot of value in flipping that notion on its head – leading does not have to mean leaving the classroom.


I believe that hybrid roles are the future of the teaching profession.  Teachers can also be coaches.  Teachers can also be data managers.  Teachers can also develop and consult on educational technology.  The role of a teacher does not have to be confined within the four walls of your classroom.


Let me be clear, I think adding responsibilities and obligations seems daunting to many educators, and in no way do I think this hybrid role is appropriate for every teacher.  Nevertheless, there is a subset of excellent educators throughout our country who are yearning for more responsibility and opportunities.


This past spring I attended many events at the DC-based tech startup hotbed, 1776.  They developed and produced a weeklong competition called The Challenge Cup.  During this event, 64 of the world’s most promising startups competed for prizes and growth opportunities.


I attended all 16 Edtech pitches.  I was enthralled me by all of the creative thinkers who are developing amazing technology to benefit learners of all ages.  In networking sessions after the pitches, I was surprised by how difficult it was to find another current educator in the audience.  By that, I mean someone who was still in the classroom.  I saw many of the former teachers at the event had left the classroom to join this phenomenal world of Edtech startups.


This experience confirmed for me that teachers need more avenues to expand their impact.  Teachers yearning for new opportunities deserve the chance “lead without leaving.”  Instead of a being teacher “or” having another role, I want to be a teacher “who leads without leaving” my classroom.


Written by Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson is a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade science teacher at Center City Public Charter School-Brightwood Campus and a 2014 CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellow


  1. Greg Gentle

    Great post. I also had a visceral response to the term teacherpreneur the first time I saw it. Point taken. After 13 years as a classroom teacher in Minneapolis I joined the administrative side as a Principal with another district. For me, I was ready for new challenges within the profession. I think part of the challenge in keeping strong teachers in the classroom is to provide a professional climate where teachers are/feel respected, expertise is recognized and compensated, and career ladders within the classroom are developed (like you pointed out).

  2. Carrie Kamm

    Please check out two books “Teaching 2030” and “Teacherpreneurs” to learn more from teacher leaders who work with the Center for Teaching Quality about leading without leaving the classroom.

  3. Wonderful post. And i am agree with your words. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Josh I love the post and truly appreciate the work that you are doing! Like you I am from the very same mindset. Unfortunately due to the economic landscape of the teaching profession back home I was forced to live out this practice of “teacherpreneurship” outside of the classroom in more of a hybrid role as you have just explained. For over a year now I have been expanding and developing a nationally designed manufacturing workforce development initiative here in Chautauqua County known as Dream It Do It. It is going extremely well and I have developed a deep passion for the work. By no means am I confined as an educator by the “four walls” like you mentioned and it has truly been an amazing experience and helped me grow as a professional. The skill sets that you have identified in this post are critically important to increasing a teacher’s own level of professional development-through metric driven analysis, self fulfillment of the job-through creativity and consulting on educational technology, and greatly impacting students-through coaching or mentoring. I don’t know if i could ever find myself going back though.

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