Curious Colorado: Summit County Teacher Worked On Passion Project This Summer

Aug 15, 2018

In June KUNC posed a Curious Colorado question to listeners: "Are you a teacher - or do you know one - who has to get a summer job to make ends meet? Share your plans with us."

Ben Brown, a sixth grade science and design thinking teacher in Summit County, responded, saying he spent 20 years working in the private sector before becoming a teacher. He loves teaching.

His summer break essay follows:

Over my summer break, I launched a business.

The last bell of the school year rang. I watched students stream out of the school, excited about what summer will bring. Their excitement is always so infectious. I packed up my classroom, I completed my end of year checklist, high fived my colleagues and then headed out of the building myself.

If you ever hear a teacher say they don't like summer break, I think they're lying. I love summer.

Last summer began with a week decompressing with the family in Fruita, Colorado. We rode some bikes, hung out at the pool and watched my son run through the sprinklers. The official beginning of summer.

While soaking up the sun, I began to have an idea. Thoughts filled my head as I sat in on the porch. Well, where do the teachers in Fruita go in the summer? Are they travelling to the mountains? My house in Summit is sitting empty, is their house here empty? So an idea began to spring up in my head. Teachers love to travel, they have similar school breaks, they have similar values, wouldn't it be great to be able to share their homes and travel anywhere? I was inspired.

After a week of relaxing, I returned to Dillon with my new idea in hand. Between corn on the cob, watermelon and a couple s'mores, I had brought together some fellow teachers and we started to work on my idea. We used the design thinking process that I teach my students. We brought together focus groups, we built marketing plans, talked to some more teachers. We made prototypes, we tested, until finally we were able to launch a website that we call teacherhomeswap.com.

It's similar to an Airbnb or VRBO, but it's for verified teachers only and we built it for a teacher's salary. We figured that sharing or renting homes with other teachers means less money spent on lodging or accommodations which helps us stretch our teacher's salary for maximum fun.

Ben Brown got the idea for his website with on vacation with his family in Fruita, Colorado
Credit Ben Brown

Now it's been a year later, this summer brought new challenges and opportunities. The site is up and running, but it needed something more for us to meet the needs of the teachers. Our first website design wasn't exactly what we'd hoped for. So, in this new version we changed everything almost everything about the look and feel. I wouldn't say the first one was a failure, but it wasn't exactly what we were looking for. So, it required a redesign.

I tell my students often that, "Iteration is the key to the design process." We need to constantly revisit and improve our ideas. So, that was our plan for this summer. I focused on allowing teachers to browse the homes on the site, I wanted them to choose whether or not they wanted to rent or swap homes, and I wanted to increase our visibility on Facebook.

As with any new project, the learning process is challenging. Optimism can be blanketed by failure and patience is a necessity. So, whenever I become impatient or languished in my ideas, I remember how I explain the learning process to my students: Be kind, work hard, make good choices. Oh yeah -- and don't be afraid to take a risk.

So, after this summer's endeavors, Teacher Home Swap now has over 70 homes. We even have homes in places like California, Florida, Idaho, one in Holland and we have almost 500 verified members. So it's going well. The project combines my commitment to the teaching community with my excitement for travel. We have yet to make any money with Teacher Home Swap, we're really looking to build the community as I love the idea of connecting teachers to each other around the world and saving them some money in the process. So, I wouldn't call this a second job as much as a passion project.

Working on my business with other teachers has been an amazing experience; however, I can't wait to get back to my classroom, can't wait to get back to my students. I want to hear their stories from the summer. Just as they inspire me to take risks, I want to inspire them to take a risk, to learn something new each day.

This story was edited and produced by KUNC's Stephanie Daniel.