Teacher to Entrepreneur
by Willie Washington | 03.8.16
Willie Washington teaches business leadership at a middle school in Tampa, Fla. He is also a football coach and entrepreneur.
Cool Talks was birthed out of the ECET2 conference. [My wife and I] and a couple of others sat down and started thinking about how many challenges teachers have, but how few solutions are actionable. [We thought,] “How can we get down to the source of the problem and figure out a way to articulate a solution? Let’s establish that solution, make it actionable and let’s not take 10 years to do it.” Maybe there’s a solution in Tampa for a similar problem that they have in San Diego—the specifics may be different, but here’s something we can package and scale.
The big [Cool Talks] project I’m working on has to do with teacher branding. Having an entrepreneurial background when I came into teaching, I had a newfound respect for teachers. Most of the good teachers I saw would be good CEOs of any major corporation. We’re in the class managing personalities, keeping track of students’ progression the way you would an employee’s progression. [Teachers] are doing so much and having to wear so many hats on most given days.
There’s so much teachers could do and know from our skill sets and experiences that we could share with [others] and it would create some type of value. What I’m trying to focus on now is teaching teachers how to brand themselves: “You’re the go-to teacher for science lesson plans for the 7th grade.” If you’re good with student engagement—my wife is awesome with that–[there could be] whole workshops for that. There are many teachers who are great and people want to know about the things [they work on], but they don’t know how to get in touch with them.
I want to provide equity for teachers—we get offered opportunities all the time to work with organizations and companies, but there’s very little equity beyond a thank-you card. I want teachers to understand that if you feel you’re valuable, then you need to speak up and advocate for your value.
Willie’s top 3 tips for how teachers can brand and promote themselves:
1. Let people know what you know. Some teachers feel they need permission or need to be asked to share their expertise with others. I [have] experienced this frustration myself when feeling that I could have helped out with something, but was not asked. What I learned was that more times than not, my colleagues and administrators had no idea that I had such knowledge or that I was even interested. Sending out something awesome that you did in or out of your class via Twitter or on your school’s internal email system is a great way to share your expertise outside of your four walls. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn; it’s a disservice to others if you don’t. You will be amazed at how much people will appreciate your sharing.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. Get out and network with other professionals both inside and outside of education. Education, [like] any profession, is a “who you know” game. People would love to meet you, but they are not going to knock on your front door to do so. We are all pressed for time and have numerous responsibilities, but make a goal to attend some type of networking event or workshop outside of your school at least once a quarter. Education is a hot topic around the country, especially with elections coming up. People outside of education value the voice of those within it more than you’ll know, and educational tools have become a billion-dollar industry. I spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs who need expert feedback on the validity of their products or services within a classroom or educational environment.
3. Blog. I am no expert at it, but I found blogging to be “Branding 101” for educators. Many people have [fears surrounding] blogging such as not having enough time, not being a good writer or feeling they have nothing of value to write about. Write about anything. Just start writing. You will be amazed at who’s interested. It doesn’t have to be about education; write about the kayaking trips you take to unwind on the weekend or about the crafts that you do with your children. The point is, you are a person of value and as an educator, you have the gift of being able to articulate information. Use that gift in your blog.
As far as those other [fears], there are tools out there to help you be efficient with your time. You can write posts and schedule them to automatically be posted at a later time and date. There are also great resources such as the National Blogging Collaborative, which was started by teachers. I have an editor and blogging coach with them and they offer these services for free. There are even people who will interview you and write your blog for you. It’s a fun hobby and can even be lucrative if you put the time and effort into it.