In the first of my ongoing Teacherpreneur Spotlight series on innovative educators who take initiative to experiment with new teaching practices and tech tools, we look at Ryan Kinser, 8th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL.
Ryan Kinser stumbled upon his passion for education the second time around. After an extensive career in the TV production world he found himself recruited into the DC Teaching Fellows Program. After an incredibly challenging first year, leaving school each day exhausted and emotionally spent, Kinser considered that maybe teaching wasn’t the right fit. But, for some reason that did not sit well with him. “I loved the few moments that I was teaching and not just trying to tread water.”
Like any good student, he decided to give it another try. After moving to Tampa, FL,. he started teaching at Walker Middle Magnet School, a school with strong leadership that recognized the value of his business background. And this time, his experience was different. “I started to find out what kind of teacher I could be and I loved it. A big piece of that was mentorship, which is SO critical to attracting and retaining the best teaching talent,” shared Kinser.
Kinser’s teacher turnaround story doesn’t end there. In 2010 he was a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year which helped him catch the attention of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ). Kinser joined CTQ as one of its handful of teacherpreneurs in a hybrid role, one where he continues teaching in the classroom during morning hours and spends afternoons focusing on his areas of interest: advancing teacher leadership, developing Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and Video Learning Communities (VLCs) to support the edtech ecosystem. (Check out his video on how teachers can make the most out of VLCs.) Thanks to CTQ, which negotiated with the school to secure Kinser’s release for second half of the day, he’s spending afternoons blogging, research, speaking at events, and advising local, state and national stakeholders on the importance of empowering more teacherpreneurs.
Sounds pretty amazing, huh? So how do we create more opportunities like this for teachers across the country? CTQ has been looking at various ways to scale its efforts through its virtual community which current engages 1500 teacher leaders nationwide. In his teacherpreneur role, Ryan will be working with other districts, and next year Tampa will be rolling out 15 new similar positions, supported with Title 1 funds.
Kinser teaches 8th grade English. So you may find it surprising his favorite edtech tool is Code HS, a platform for teaching high school students how to code. He became deeply familiar with the startup last fall as its mentor, while the company was part of the edtech incubator, Imagine K12. “We are rethinking literacy--what does it mean to write and create in an online world? Coding is a big aspect of that shift.” In 2012, Kinser received one of 10 Magnet School of America grants nationwide, which he used to conduct a mobile app-building project with his students. This game is an example of one what student created during that project. Creating this opportunity for his students illustrates how teachers can (and must) take the initiative on leading project-based learning exercises, rather than waiting on explicit instruction or professional development to guide them.
Beyond the tech, connecting in the offline world is equally important to supporting the teacherpreneur process. Kinser frequently travels to speak at various education conferences. (This alone could be a full-time gig.) I asked Ryan which ones he found most beneficial. “The scope and number of teachers at ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) really impressive,” he said. Another one that stood out was FETC (Florida Education Tech Conference.) Both of these have already passed for 2013, but looking to the rest of year Ryan will definitely be at ISTE in San Antonio in June. For Kinser, these events can be effective as a platform for “more teachers to publicize what they are doing. There is such a silo of education, we don’t step outside our classroom doors.”
Q&A with Ryan Kinser
With the explosion of social media tools no one has to wait to attend a conference to learn about a new tool or share their favorite trick. What are your favorite social communication tools?
I love Twitter and that’s how I get most of my information. I lurked around for 9 months before I sent my first tweet and often share that with teachers that are new to Twitter. It’s easy to be a lurker, which is low-risk and potentially high-reward. With my VLC work I am a big YouTube and Google+/HangoutsOnAir fan. Honorable mention to Edmodo, SlideShare and LiveScribe.
Who are your must-follows on Twitter?
What advice do you have to new teachers and/or aspiring teacherpreneurs?
They have to be their own advocate. Do the work and make sure it’s needed by someone else. Be a self-advocate. Get connected with other teachers. With social media it’s impossible not to connect someone that knows someone else. Once you’re doing the work you’re passionate about, find the people who can advocate with and on your behalf.
Also, teachers need to be vulnerable and learn alongside their students. If you’re not adaptable, then there is no use for you in the classroom.
What efforts would you like to see that would truly advance the role of teacherpreneurs?
Meetups are important in regional pockets but what I’d love to see is a widespread exchange program--teachers rotating through an edtech program that also allows entrepreneurs to spend time in the classroom. I’ve been working closely with CodeHS to connect them with my educator network and would love to see this type of edtech-educator exchange on a grander scale.
One program I created at my school to help teachers get more comfortable with tech is small group office hours. I get 10-15 people together and we have a casual and customized conversation about Google Hangouts, Dropbox, etc... They are optional but I invite specific groups of teachers based on their needs and discuss how certain tools can make their teaching lives easier. I hook them by asking questions like “Have you thought about expanding the walls of your classroom? Stop by for 20 min and I’ll show you how.”