Reflections on the 2021 Teach For All Global Conference From CEO Wendy Kopp

Publication date
Wendy Kopp, CEO & Co-founder, Teach For All

The central idea that I took away from our exploration of the question What Leadership Do We Need Now?  was that we need LOVE. In our opening assembly, 2016 Global Teacher Prize Winner Hanan Al Hroub shared that “we need to learn to love each other” if we’re going to build a world of equity, peace, and sustainability, and called on all of us to place a priority on this in classrooms. Through many sessions by extraordinary leaders across our network, we heard about the importance of leading with love and forging meaningful relationships. For example, Tooba Akhtar, Teach For Pakistan’s Director of Program, spoke to the need to find common ground even with those we disagree with: “That requires a belief that everyone has worth and value. We can’t really partner with someone without that belief.” And in one of the opening panels of our Saturday Sessions, GirlTrek Co-founder & CEO Morgan Dixon (a Teach For America alumna) shared that Civil Rights leader Diane Nash had recently advised her that what we need now is “Love and Truth.” Morgan reflected that to move beyond polarization and towards the inclusive world we envision we need to “love our enemies and hate the system.” Heading into the days and weeks ahead, I’ll be reflecting on the importance of centering love, and its implications for me personally and for our work.

As we kicked off our first day together, we had the privilege of hearing the perspectives of leaders across and beyond our network about the leadership we need. They shared that we need leaders focused on developing children who can shape a better future, and that we need collective leadership—meaning, everyone who plays a role in the ecosystem around children exerting leadership towards this purpose. It struck me that within all of the diverse provocations was a loud affirmation that we need leadership rooted in the core values that bring us together as a network—sense of possibility, locally rooted & globally informed, diversity & inclusiveness (particularly of the most marginalized), constant learning, and interdependence.

Day two began with a real gift: a conversation between an Indonesian ninth-grader named Nazma and Indonesia’s Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology, Nadiem Makarim. The minister shared his vision for emancipatory education that fosters the development of autonomous, creative, independent problem solvers with courage and integrity. And he shared his strategy for achieving this—by providing educators freedom at every level of the system, thus enabling them to live into this vision themselves as they support their students to do so. I left this session thinking about how providing all children with an emancipatory education would catalyze exactly the leadership we need.

Our third day together opened with our annual Network Breakthroughs highlighting innovations network partners have pioneered this year. Among the many inspiring initiatives shared TED Talk-style by partner staff members, alumni, and students was Teach First’s initiative to foster self-led networks enabling ambassadors to share, learn and collaborate with each other, and Teach For India’s “Fellows of the Future” program, through which fellows are learning to be better teachers from and with their students, while cultivating students to be future fellows. And the final day of the conference couldn’t have kicked off in a more powerful way, with two deeply thoughtful and thought-provoking panels of network alumni leaders (here and here). It was incredibly compelling to hear from these alumni who called for moral courage, for balancing empathy and rigor, for taking care of ourselves to be there for others, for leadership that is human and connected and that centers relationships and love.

Throughout the four day event, we gained further insight into the leadership needed in classrooms, communities, and our organizations. The World Bank’s Global Director for Education, Jaime Saavedra, called on us to be bold and operate with a sense of urgency given the stakes facing students. From author Amanda Ripley, we gained insight into how to move from “high conflict” which creates blinders and contempt to “good conflict” which advances understanding and maximizes divergence to generate new solutions. The OECD’s Andreas Schleicher shared insights from the first-ever international assessment of social and emotional skills, highlighting the interconnectedness of academic and social emotional development and the importance of student-teacher relationships in advancing both. And we learned from staff members, teachers, alumni, and students across our own network about The Leadership Mindset Shifts That Have Enabled Progress in Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, The Work We Need to Do to Make Collective Leadership a Reality (here and here), Leading in Uncertainty within our organizations, and Teaching as COLLECTIVE Leadership that grows students as leaders of a better future.

There were so many wonderful highlights beyond these, and I’d encourage everyone to check out the video archive and watch the sessions that look intriguing.  

Here’s to a world full of love!