By Teachers, For Teachers
This July, I was fortunate enough to attend the Teachers Pay Teachers third annual conference. If you’re not familiar with the company, Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) is the first and largest online “Community of millions of educators who come together to share their work, their insights, and their inspiration with one another.” Teachers visit TpT every day to find high-quality, reasonably priced resources created by fellow educators who know exactly what is needed in the classroom. And it’s working. In the past year, two-thirds of teachers in this nation have downloaded at least one resource from the TpT website! In terms of things that actually impact instruction in our classrooms – it’s huge. Throughout the two-day conference, one thought kept popping into my head: “These people could actually fix public education in this nation.” As I left the conference, it wasn’t surprising that I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to improve upon as a Teacherpreneur. What did surprise me was how much I was thinking about how the insights I had gained could benefit public education altogether. Imagine if we empowered teachers to utilize the same “Best practices” I observed at this conference for Teacherpreneurs - if great ideas were shared openly and easily among educators in a district and beyond and if unsuccessful practices were discontinued quickly, rather than lingering on year after year because “It’s the way it’s always been done.” Imagine if teachers were offered professional development opportunities tailored to their unique needs as individual educators rather than being forced to attend cookie-cutter professional development sessions that were more insipid than inspirational. If we began to treat teachers in this way, we could truly change public education for the better.
Let me share just a few reasons why …
It’s important to note that this conference was not for teachers trying to improve their effectiveness in the classroom. The attendees were, by and large, “Teacherpreneurs,” or educators who are creating and selling resources for fellow teachers on TpT and/or on their own personal blogs. With this in mind, one might expect a certain amount of proprietary secrecy. I mean, who wants to share an idea with a colleague only to see that idea making money in that “Colleague’s” store page a few weeks later, right?
On the contrary, what I observed was an open culture of sharing insights, tools, and ideas unlike anything I have ever experienced. Unlike many of our politicians, who seem to think that education will improve if we rank our teachers by poorly designed teacher effectiveness assessments, the teachers and educators at this conference understood that when we all work together to make each other better, we all win.
While good ideas on how to boost sales flowed freely throughout the two-day conference, every session leader stressed that resources that utilized outdated or poorly researched methods needed to be phased out of people’s stores. “As teachers, we often think of the students we teach as our kids,” one presenter stated, “As a creator of resources that will be used all over the United States, maybe even the world, we need to make sure we are thinking of every child who might use our resource as our kid too.”
Do the huge textbook companies feel that way about their products? Do the politicians making educational policy? I’m not sure they do, but I do know that most, if not all, of the hundreds of people attending this conference, making resources that will be used in schools all over this country, believe that with all their hearts. And that means our schools will be filled with learning resources made by educators who truly have each and every child’s well-being and learning in mind.
A final take-away from this conference was how skillfully the planners were at making the event meaningful for everyone who attended. The conference was full of choices – choices of which session people could attend, choices about what level of engagement people were comfortable participating in, choices about what types of activities the attendees could participate in. No one was required to go to a session on something in which they were already an expert, conversely, no one was forced to sit through a session that was completely over their head. Why can’t teacher professional development be more like this? Of course there are times when every teacher in a district needs to hear the same information, but if districts could begin to think about their teachers like the TpT planners thought about their teacherpreneurs, imagine how much more productive professional development could be!