Leadership Summit 2008 | WENDY KOPP: Stand Up and Lead

Posted on August 7, 2008

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SESSION 3b. Summit Page. Teach for America.

(interview with Bill Hybels. Due to the nature of the interview, blogging about it was difficult. These are just scattered notes and excerpts, and in some cases, personal summary notes.)

AS CHURCH LEADERS, WE OFTEN OVERLOOK THE GREAT INJUSTICES OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM. GIVE US A SNAPSHOT OF WHAT YOU SAW WHEN YOU WERE IN COLLEGE.

I ultimately had no idea that where you were born does affect your ability to receive education. It ultimately determines your life’s prospect. Then, it was at Princeton while rooming with a roommate who struggled, not because she was incapable, but simply because she wasn’t given the tools. I (Wendy) came from a suburban context where financially we were privileged.

We also see that the stark realities don’t need to exist. Ultimately, we, as a society have not given the kids what they deserve.

LET’S GET AT THE LEADERSHIP PIECE. GREAT LEADERS HAVE SOMETHING THAT BURN INSIDE THEM. WHAT IS IT FOR YOU?

It’s easy to be a leader if you’re pursuing something that you deeply believe in. This [Teach For America] is a vision that magnetizes many people. I knew people were searching to make a significant difference in the world.

Being involved with Teach For America is not just about two years of your life. It’s about the rest of your life.

Sacrifice adds value to someone’s life. It’s your own personal level of conviction in this work that makes the difference. If we truly believe in this, then it makes it easy. Then we know, that we’re giving people a gift; the opportunity to contribute to something fundamentally important.

YOU WANTED TO ACHIEVE SCALE, RAPIDLY. TELL US YOUR THINKING.

I knew that we immediately needed to become “the thing to do” on campuses. It couldn’t be a “teacher training program.” We were building a movement to take on this injustice. It was after reading about the beginning of the Peace Corps, when the founder needed 500 people minimum to convey the seriousness of the organization. So, that’s what we started with, a minimum of 500 new teachers.

YOU HAD THE DISCIPLINE. YOU “WILLED” YOURSELF TOWARD LEADERSHIP.

It was either that or collapse.

WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR LEADER-TYPES AS OPPOSED TO TEACHER-TYPES?

When we think about our mission, effective teaching, in this context, is leadership. We actually don’t believe that more teachers alone going above and beyond will change the system. We also need policy leaders, systems overseers, and leaders at every level of society, so that we have a well-informed solution to the problem. When you look at what these teachers are doing in the classroom, it’s teaching, but really, in the face of the sometimes really stark reality, it’s leadership.

ANOTHER STRATEGIC DECISION WAS A RE-BUDGETING.

It’s a tricky balance. As a college senior, it had to happen that way. Sometimes you’ve just got to take risks to follow your passions. If I had tried to figure out how much I could raise, and build the organization from that number, it never would have happened. But then later on, I matured into the management piece as it became a necessity.

THE GALLUP POLL 20 QUESTIONS.

Each year, a Gallup poll asks the general public why we have low educational outcomes in low-income communities. Out of 20 options, the public answers that the top factors are lack of student motivation, lack of parental involvement, and home-life issues. In answer to the same question with the same 20 options, our corps members respond at the end of their two-year teaching commitments that the top factors are teacher quality, school leadership, and expectations of students. So, in other words, this is within our control to solve. Will enough of our country’s leaders step up to the plate to change this problem, this injustice?

We know this is a massive, but a solvable problem. Therefore, it’s simply a moral imperative.

VIA:

My first impression is that Kopp has a clear, honest, and pure relationship with the window and the mirror discussed by Jim Collins. Kopp refuses to take responsibility for the success of Teach For America, and believes simply, and again, purely, in the vision and mission of the organization. She has very little to do with it.

Second, the ability to identify a staunch commitment to their “Hedgehog” concept, recruiting college graduates to teach in low-income districts. Distractions towards other endeavors once was a challenge for the organization, but they kept coming back to the original.

Third, I am astonished with her ability to change and evolve as the organization changed and evolved. What was required of her over the life of the organization became priority. She is clearly a disciplined person.

Fourth, in the example of her decision to sleep every other night, she was willing to sacrifice for the end results, to endure whatever it takes to achieve the goal. And while insane living is not recommended or advocated for, one must admire her passion.

One of my favorite sessions, and believe that there are several key nuggets that are critical. To recap:

1. The exemplification of the Good To Great principles in her life in their purest form.
2. The personal dedication and discipline for the sake of the goal.
3. The Gallup Poll 20 was huge in recognizing that our disciplined thinking is critical in identifying and fulfilling a vision.

In addition to the Summit links at the top of this post, Wendy was also on the Colbert Report in February of 2007 (part 1, part 2)

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