A must-read for teachers: The Creative Teacher and the Intrapreneurial Process

Reprinted with permission by Chuck Lavaroni, The International Academy for Educational Entrepreneurship

Quandary – a state of uncertainty; perplexing situation or position; dilemma


There exist today a very serious and terribly confusing quandary facing all people interested in the improvement of education. On one hand we say we want to encourage creativity on the part of teachers. On the other, we do absolutely nothing to translate that creativity into a program or product that will have continuing positive effect on the educational system as a whole. And, what even may be worse, what we do is discourage creative teachers to stay in the classroom working directly with children.

Yes, many teachers over the years have individually worked to invent new activities, new methods, new strategies, and/or new technologies to enhance learning for their students. These teachers were often singled out as being creative. Many were considered special. Sometimes, without an accurate understanding of the work, they were called entrepreneurial. On occasion they received positive recognition. Often they and their efforts were ignored. And, only too often, they found themselves in trouble with their peers, their administrations and/or the parents and the community.

At least three problems exist for these creative teachers. One, they frequently find themselves at odds with the school’s and the community’s general expectations. They find that what they believe to be important and consistent with their personal beliefs and values about education and learning are in fact in conflict with others who have equally strong beliefs and values. They find that the best way to improve their standing in their chosen profession is to leave the classroom and become administrators, college professors, or move to private enterprise.

The second problem is that even if there is little or no friction between the various parties involved in the school and home, the creative teacher’s contributions can all too easily stand-alone. If there is no preparation and or no follow through then the teacher’s energy and effort are at least diminished, if not wasted. To be of continuing value to the learner there must be opportunity to build, develop, and grow with whatever the creative teacher presents.

There must be a sense of continuity. Learning is a process that needs many occasions for practice and reflection. A teacher’s “great idea” without first having a foundation for it developed over time in the lives of students or the opportunity for student application and internalization in ensuing semesters and years can be a waste of time. Without consistency, there is the opportunity for confusion and bewilderment on the part of students. In the long run the “great idea” can be lost if it occurs only in the classroom of the creative teacher and does not become an ongoing part of the total school program.A third problem is that often the creative teacher forgets about the individual student. A creative teacher can become so involved in what he or she is creating that the needs, interests, and learning styles of individual students are ignored. It is possible that the teacher is so positive about the merits of the new program or product that the student and/or the expectations of the community are forgotten. Without careful, thoughtful and consistent assessment and evaluation the creation becomes the end instead of the means to improve learning for all.The perplexity of the situation, which the creative teacher faces, is two fold. First of all, problems frequently arise as a result of mistakenly thinking that creativity is simply an activity. The successful creative teacher recognizes that there is much more to the act of creating than merely “doing.” It is much more. Creativity is a process. That process must include at least four (4) categories of behavior: DATA COLLECTION (data about what is, who the students are, what are the expectations of the school and community etc.) DATA ORGANIZING (comparing, contrasting, prioritizing, looking for similarities and differences etc.) IDEA BUILDING AND USING (generalizing, model building, inventing, designing, applying, trying out etc.) EVALUATION (critiquing, assessing results, determining strengths and weaknesses, retracing steps etc.) And, while those four categories are listed above in what appears to be linearly, they are in fact used cyclically. This is especially true when one recognizes that as a result of assessment and evaluation, there is automatically new data generated, which will start the cycle again. The unsuccessful teacher frequently focuses on “idea building and using”, and ignores the interrelationship that exists with the other four categories. (See #1)

(The Creative Cycle for Teachers)
Student Interviews
Student Post Surveys
Post Grades and Attendance Records
Time Records
Retracing Steps
Reading and Discussing
Asking Questions
Who are the Students?
What Materials / Strategies Exist?
What are the Expectations?
What are the Needs?
Inventing, Designing, developing
Writing Papers, Reviews, Explanations, etc
Predicting Results
Trying out Ideas
Testing Knowledge, Understanding   etc
Keeping track of results
DATA ORGANIZINGComparing – what is with what could be
Looking for Similarities and differences
Checking usage
Determining strengths and weaknesses
Clarifying Specific Problems and Needs

The second difficulty, already alluded to, is the very real possibility that the teacher is forced to work alone. While the “system” says it respects and wants creativity, more often than not, it does nothing to encourage or support it. The creative teacher often has to literally fight for time, money, recourses, and/or equipment necessary to truly create and become involved in all aspects of the creative process. The “system” makes it difficult for teachers to share ideas, plan mutual activities, and build upon each other’s strengths and interests. While some of the creative process can and does take place in private, in a social institution such as a school, those processes must also be public. Without that public involvement and review, the products, programs and/or technologies created can easily become misunderstood, ignored, or even divisive. Instead of bringing new possibilities to learning to all they become cause celebres – bringing confusion, anger, and frustration to the creative teacher as well as to other teachers who feel left out.

As to the notion of the “entrepreneurial teacher”, by definition, it is impossible. Yes, teachers might have an entrepreneurial “style” in that they are willing to take a risk and try out new ideas without prior approval. Or, they might participate in what looks like an entrepreneurial “activity”, in that they are introducing something new to the classroom. In either case, they are not entrepreneurs. And, they won’t be until they risk their own time, energy and money to create a product, program, service, or technology that will stand alone and be self supportive.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s some creative teachers were able to leave the classroom, and with the help of government and private grants, develop some exciting new teaching and learning strategies. They successfully brought about programs for such varied interests and needs as critical thinking, new math, innovative assessment, individualized reading, inquiry training, and cooperative learning. They certainly appeared to be entrepreneurial in what they were creating. And, in a way they were entrepreneurial in that they were actively engaged in “finding” money, even if it wasn’t their own. But, except for losing a grant, or running out of funding sources, the personal financial risks were minimal.

Some people reading this might disagree with the very narrow definition of entrepreneur used in this paper. Through misusage, many people have disregarded the fact that the original use of the word was related to business and did require the risk of using one’s own money in the creation of that business. Regardless, the true entrepreneur is independent. His product must stand-alone. Entrepreneurs cooperate, work with others, seek help, and often share ideas. But they are autonomous and self-reliant. And, most importantly to be truly successful, they must engage in a process. That process is similar to the “Creative Process” described earlier in that it is cycular, it never finished.

The ENTREPRENEURIAL PROCESS, like the Creative Process has four categories of activity: RESEARCH AND PLANNING (determining needs, checking the industry, identifying resources, preparing a business plan etc.) DEVELOPMENT (developing prototype, testing prototype, selecting staff, developing product etc.) MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION (advertising, publicity, storage and warehousing, billing and collection etc.) ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION (surveys, profit and loss statements, customer comments, sales projections vs. sales) (See #2)

(A Cycle for Creating a Business)
Profit & Loss Statements
Sales Projections vs. Sales
Customer Comments
Staff Surveys
Check Industry
Determine Skills
Identify Resources
Research Government Regulations
Prepare Business Plan
Determine Organ. Structure
Billing & Collections
Storage & Warehousing
Training User’s Staff
DEVELOPMENTDevelop Prototype
Develop Product
Test Prototype
Select / Assign Staff
Identifying Time Lines
Identifying Sales Strategy

With very little thought, it becomes immediately obvious that this process is impossible for use in the existing education system. In reality, the only way a truly entrepreneurial teacher can function is by leaving the system he or she wants to positively influence. It is not the teacher’s fault. It is the system itself which has become so politicized and overly regulated that is at fault. Practically every decision as to what the public schools should be doing and how they should be doing it comes from the state – not the school or the teacher. With the exception of a few teachers, just a few administrators, and very few schools everything is designed to bring change into the system from the outside that system. Creative teachers are ignored and discouraged. What could at least be an entrepreneurial attitude is impossible to maintain in the current environment. That is why so many teachers leave the profession.

Where does that leave us?

As stated, we have a quandary. Like with any real problem the answer is not an easy one. This paper will not provide “the” answer. In fact, it will not even provide “an” answer. Instead, hopefully at least, it will offer a few questions that need to be asked. Also, it will provide an idea or two about what we must do if we are truly interested in releasing the creative energy of those special teachers who want to bring about a dramatic change as to how teaching and learning can best be institutionalized. And, most of all, it will describe a process that will make it possible for creative teachers to remain within the system. That process can be identified. That process can provide a structure for determining what changes must occur throughout the organization if that organization does ultimately live up to the goal of supporting the creativity of its teachers. Creativity can be exciting and rewarding in and of itself. It can keep teachers inspired, stimulated and energized. While these are all worthwhile outcomes, they alone do not justify putting the necessary commitment into the task of what amounts to a systematic change. The only justifiable reason for that commitment is the improvement of learning for all students.

Some of the first questions we must ask ourselves are; what is education? What role does training have? What are the differences between education and “going to school?” Who should be educated? How? What do we do about differences in students’ abilities, needs, interests and goals? Where can education best take place? Who decides what is taught and how should it be measured? What role does “choice” have in organizing learning environments? How can understanding and creative be assessed and evaluated? How should education be financed? How are decisions made for individual students and families? These and many other similar fundamental questions need to be asked and their answers publicly agreed upon. As of this moment in time, there are as many answers as there are people answering them. That condition is one of the main reasons why creative teachers are frustrated, angry, and disillusioned. They are forced to either act alone, in secrecy or to somehow put undue attention on “winning support” from administrators and the public instead of on teaching and learning. Today, the creative teacher is all too frequently put in the position of “us against them.”

One possible way to bring a dramatic change to “what is”, is to think in terms of “what might be.” And, what might be is a system that is purposely designed to support the creativity and autonomy of all those teachers who have an entrepreneurial bent.

The true entrepreneur functions in a free market. The public schools are not and never will be in and of themselves a free market institution. So long as they are entirely dependent upon governmental financial support they will be dependent upon political forces, not market forces. While public schools in the United States hopefully are, and should be, a reflection of free enterprise, that is all they are. They merely, and that term is not used pejoratively, mirror the goals and objectives of the society that sponsors them.

What is needed is a new construct, a new paradigm for the organization of any school system. That new organizational structure will be one that is purposely designed to support, and make public; a system established to unleash the power of the creative teacher. It will be conceived with a firm understanding of and belief in the energy and force inherent in the act of entrepreneurship. It will combine the elements of the Creative Process and the Entrepreneurial Process, in that it respects and pays attention to both. That process is the INTRAPRENEURIAL PROCESS.

The INTRAPRENEURIAL PROCESS, like the CREATIVE PROCESS and the ENTREPRENEURIAL PROCESS, has four distinct categories of activity: PREPARING (recognizing needs, collecting community data, identifying funding requirements, researching existing programs), DEVELOPING (identifying purposes, formalizing goals and objectives, sequencing activities, trying out segments etc.) IMPLEMENTING (field testing, finalizing funding requirements, disseminating materials, collecting ongoing assessment data) CONFIRMING (analyzing assessment data, identifying successes and problems, reporting, disseminating results)(See #3)

CONFIRMINGAnalyzing and evaluating

  • Portfolios
  • Tests
  • User Surveys
  • Observations
  • Anecdotal records
  • Follow-up activities

Identifying successes and problems
Recording and reporting all analyses, successes
and failures
Disseminating results
Identifying new users, clients, and/or markets

PREPARINGRecognizing problems and concerns
Researching existing materials and strategies
Preparing specific needs assessments
Identifying obstacles and support systems
Identifying related laws, rules, regulations and
Collecting community data
Identifying potential users
Recognizing cultural differences
Identifying hypotheses for testing
Identifying funding requirements
IMPLEMENTINGField testing of material / strategies
Training project staff
Identifying necessary interventions
Contacting potential users and settings
Implementing materials and strategies
Disseminating strategies and materials
Training user’s staff
Institutionalizing materials / strategies
Establishing funding guidelines and payment
Collecting on-going assessment data
DEVELOPINGIdentifying purposes and limits
Formalizing goals and objectives
Sequencing materials, activities and strategies
Trying out and chronicling possible activities
Finalizing funding requirements
Forming implementation plans and schedules
Publishing necessary materials and appropriate
usage guidelines

Again, these four categories are listed lineally, however they are applied cyclically. Obviously, truly creative people and/or entrepreneurial ones are never finished. Their joy comes from engaging in the process, not in the finished product alone. As of this time in history, there is little or no recognizable support for the Intrapreneurial Process to function in the schools. In fact, there is much to prevent it.

How would education be different if the Intrapreneurial Process was used to help make decisions about such important organizational issues as teacher preparation and certification, teacher pay, teacher scheduling, administrator responsibility, teacher assignment, school board responsibility, administrative structure, teacher support, and teacher evaluation?

As stated earlier, this paper does not have the answer. The only real answer can come from hard work and confidence in the possibility that a public institution can benefit from a thorough and continuing look at the potential power inherent in the concept of the “INTRAPRENEUR.” The entrepreneur can only function in a free society. Similarly, the intrapreneur can only function within a private or public institution. That institution must have in place a recognized structure calculated to utilize the creativity of human beings who make up that institution. The focus must be on the change and improvement of the organization; its’ products and services. In case of schools, the focus must be on the improvement of teaching and learning for all. Obviously, there must be a systematic change in how schools are organized and administrated as, by definition, intrapreneurism takes place within an institution. That change, if it occurs, will only occur as a result of a conscious resolve and commitment to establishment and maintenance of a system that subscribes to the belief in the human capacity of the individual in free society. That new system will be designed to insure the implementation of the INTRAPRENEURIAL PROCESS. Then, creative teachers will stay. Students and communities will benefit.

Charles W. Lavaroni, MS, has been active in education since 1949, when he first started teaching in California. In the ensuing years he has served as an elementary school principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent in the public schools of California. He has also been director of teacher education and dean of admissions and financial aid at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. He received his BS and MS degrees from California State University at San Francisco. Lavaroni was the owner-operator of the Kittredge School, a very successful, small independent elementary school in San Francisco. While at Kittredge he founded and was the first president of the National Independent Private Schools Association (NIPSA), recognized by the US Office of Education as the accrediting agency of for-profit elementary and secondary schools.

For more information, additional articles or to contact Charles W. Lavaroni, please visit The International Academy for Educational Entrepreneurship.

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