Despite being isolated in their own classrooms, the most effective teachers find every opportunity to collaborate. Whether sharing lessons or swapping stories, teachers make each other better. This is something that Paul Edelman realized when he started teaching in 2001. Finding that the best teaching materials were not district-purchased textbook but teacher-created and swapped resources, he founded the online marketplace TeachersPayTeachers (TPT) in 2006.
TPT has been a smash success, now with over ⅔ of U.S. teachers actively using the site and its 3 million resources. On it, teacher-creators can post lesson plans, activities, units, etc., then other teachers can come onto TPT and buy these resources directly from the teacher-creator. As CEO Adam Freed says, “A teacher can find a resource that can respond to almost any student need, classroom need… anything you can think of.” And who knows more about what teachers need than teachers themselves?
TPT operates on a seemingly-obvious but sadly rare belief: trust teachers. Teachers know what they’re doing and can create the best materials possible. And when teachers come together? They are truly unstoppable. TPT treats teachers as the experts they are. Teachers have always made brilliant adjustments and modifications to their district-supplied materials and TPT has created an avenue for this work to be celebrated and shared.
Noelle Pickering is a TPT seller who taught middle school math before she started selling her own materials in 2012. Pickering says “I had a common challenge. Like many teachers, the resources I was given weren’t quite adequate. This got me started creating my own resources.” After leaving the classroom, Pickering was able to use the curriculum development skills she had learned out of necessity to build her own TPT store.
Pickering started a blog called Maneuvering the Middle, where she posts about teaching and promotes the materials she sells on TPT. As the mother of two young children, Pickering is able to stay at home with her kids while selling materials on TPT (she even funded the adoption of her younger child through money she made on TPT).
Pickering enjoys creating engaging materials, but sees the biggest payoff when she hears about the impact her materials have had on the lives of teachers and students. She says, “One of the things I didn’t anticipate but have really enjoyed is the collaboration that comes from interacting with the greater teacher community.” Pickering is able to interact with teachers through social media, emails, and conferences, saying, “It’s a really neat community that I still get to be a part of.”
While teachers come to TPT for the resources, they often stay for the community. As TPT’s CEO Adam Freed says, “Community is the fire that fuels teachers.” Teacher-creators like Pickering and Matt Sutton, who runs the store Digital Divide and Conquer, echo Freed’s assertion. For Sutton, who is a full-time special ed teacher, TPT has allowed him to get a wider view of teaching. He came to TPT because of his love for creating materials that encourage kids to use their imagination in the classroom, but is motivated by the feedback he gets from other teachers. Sutton says, “You don’t always get an opportunity to talk to teachers who are outside your building. It’s great to see how it differs from teacher to teacher. Teachers from all over are able to take these resources and make them their own.”
TPT has hit on three giant areas of need that teachers have: the need for quality materials, the need for collaboration, and the need for extra money. By combining the three, TPT has created a community that teachers keep coming back to. TPT acts like a virtual teacher’s lounge for those who may not have the collaboration or resources they desire. Even more, TPT highlights teachers’ skills in a way that elevates the whole profession and shows outsiders what teachers are capable of doing.
Now even the administrators are listening. TPT unveiled a teacher-powered school purchasing platform earlier this year and currently 2% of the nation’s schools are using it. Freed says, “I think it really speaks to the recognition that these materials are engaging and rigorous. Because teachers are choosing them, they are excited to use them. Then the students get really excited and the learning increases.”
By harnessing the power of teacher-created resources, districts are able to increase teacher buy-in by acknowledging that they really do know best.
Article written by Lily Jones, Forbes.