10 Years of Learning
is Just the Beginning
Dear Teach For All Community,
It’s been an incredible privilege to work with the thousands of dedicated individuals who have been drawn to the mission and values of Teach For All over the last ten years. I’ve learned so much working alongside all of you and, as we recognize our first decade as a community, I wanted to share my most salient lessons from our journey together. These lessons inspire and inform my optimism for the future of our work, which I hope to continue with all of you for many years to come.
We can move more quickly if we’re learning from each other across borders.
Eleven years ago, before anyone had considered the idea of Teach For All, Shaheen Mistri invited me to visit India to help explore the possibilities for a Teach For India. Shaheen and other social entrepreneurs from around the world had begun contacting Teach For America and Teach First (UK) about opportunities to utilize our approaches in their own countries.
As I boarded the plane to Mumbai, I was wracked with doubt thinking about the vast differences between the United States and India. I wasn’t sure what of relevance I would have to share.
I didn’t realize that I was beginning the journey towards a powerful lesson. On that first visit to India, I began to see that while there are indeed significant differences, there are also remarkable similarities from place to place in the roots of the inequities that face children. Poverty, discrimination, poor nutrition and health care services, inequitable distribution of resources, low expectations, schools that aren’t equipped to meet extra needs—these are just a few of the systemic injustices that hold millions of children back from fulfilling their potential all around the world.
For a long time, most of us have assumed that education is a local issue—that we can trade lessons across borders about everything from economic development to public health to environmental sustainability, but we need to solve the challenges facing children and education on our own. Yet given the similarities in the roots of these challenges, I’ve realized solutions are far more shareable than we’ve understood.
What I’ve also seen is that the differences in culture, experience, and circumstance generate new ideas and novel approaches. I never could have imagined the innovations that staff members, teachers, alumni, students, community partners, and others across our network have pioneered in a single decade.
It’s exciting to see the potential to move from separate, national learning curves to interlinked learning curves that are growing the collective wisdom around how to ensure all of our children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. To make the most of this possibility, Teach For All is facilitating Communities of Practice to bring together alumni from around the world who are working on shared challenges, like designing new schools, strengthening teacher development programs, and reshaping policy. And our newly forming Global Learning Lab is capturing and spreading lessons from classrooms and communities that are making the most progress, both within and outside of our network.
Who knew that my own home country and city would benefit as much from the learning across Teach For All as anyone else around the world? As one Teach For America alumnus and current New York City teacher shared with me, “I cannot stress this enough—having the ability to access diverse perspectives from around the global network is truly changing the way we teach.”
Our approach is developing the kind of leadership we need.
Ten years and 46 partners later, it’s incredible to see the strikingly similar results that our approach produces, even across extraordinarily diverse contexts.
As I look around the world at network partners that are close to 10 years into this journey, it seems as if the same movie is playing everywhere. From Chile and Peru to Austria and Latvia to India and Nepal, we are seeing young alumni lead in a way that is game-changing in their communities and countries.
At the outset of this journey, I wasn’t certain how our approach would play out across contexts. Now, however, I think we can safely say that recruiting cohorts of promising future leaders to teach in communities that experience economic and social injustice, and providing intensive support along the way, is a broadly effective way for developing lifelong leadership in pursuit of equity and justice.
One of my favorite things to do when I visit Teach For All partners is to ask alumni a simple question: What was their biggest learning during their two-year teaching commitment? Regardless of whether they taught in Dhaka or Dallas, Bangkok or Bogota, alumni share two things over and over. First, they gain a powerful sense of possibility that both they and their students have the potential to accomplish anything they set out to do. And second, they gain a recognition of the magnitude and complexity of the inequities facing children in their countries. I’ve come to think that the consistent nature of these answers provides important insight into the ways in which our network’s approach is foundational for lifetime commitments to taking on the obstacles that hold millions of children back.
Our understanding that the Teach For All network's shared approach cultivates this deep sense of purpose and commitment is informing our efforts to be a source of many more extraordinary leaders who can fuel progress in communities and countries around the world. This means supporting prospective entrepreneurs who are seeking to adapt our unifying approach in their countries, particularly in the regions of Africa and the Middle East where our network hasn’t grown as organically as it has elsewhere. It also means supporting current network partners in their efforts to scale with quality.
We need to orient our work towards developing collective leadership.
No doubt influenced by the American culture I grew up in, I’ve tended to think of our work in terms of fostering individual leadership. But as I’ve continued my learning journey with Teach For All, I’ve come to understand the power and importance of developing collective leadership.
From the beginning, our work has been about fostering the development of leaders who will take on the inequities that face children in their full complexity. Our theory of change rests on the recognition that we can’t ensure children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential from within classrooms alone; we’ll also need to strengthen whole schools and school systems, develop strong systems for child welfare, nutrition, and public health, take on systemic barriers to higher education and employment, and so forth. Teach For All has always been about developing leadership that is committed to working for all of these changes, and more.
This work to develop individual leaders at every level of the system and across sectors contributes to the collective leadership we need. But over the last decade, we’ve become more focused on two things that I’ve come to understand are also integral to the notion of collective leadership.
First is the imperative of ensuring that we’re developing leadership among those who are least privileged by the status quo and have the greatest stake in changing it. This means we must recruit and develop individuals who have experienced the inequities we’re working to address, as Teach For America has worked to do for years, and as many other partners are working to do today. It also means working to foster the leadership of students themselves, their parents, and other community stakeholders. I’ve been so inspired by people all across the network who are illuminating the potential in this—by Teach For India CEO Shaheen Mistri’s assertion that we “need to be doing everything possible to create 10,000, 20,000, 50,000” more students like Kusum, by the student leaders who stole the show at the Global Conference in Bulgaria, by the parent leaders in Memphis who took charge of the movement for educational equity in their city, by Panal, a student leadership initiative that was initially launched by an alumus of Enseña Chile and has now been adapted by social entrepreneurs in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
I’ve also learned how important it is for network partners to dedicate themselves to working in deep partnership with local stakeholders. I’m grateful to Teach First NZ: Ako Mātātupu, which showed our global community how unpacking privilege and undertaking the journey of self-awareness, relationship-building, and learning about local culture, history, and context is necessary for true partnership. I’m grateful to Teach For Nepal, which has been a pioneer in working with communities to develop and pursue student visions. And I’m grateful to the example that Anseye Pou Ayiti is building in Haiti, through scaling only as quickly as they can engage deeply in partnership with new communities, including through recruiting current teachers as fellows. When we orient our work around geographic centers and prioritize creating space for building relationships, having difficult discussions, co-creating shared visions, reflecting on lessons learned, and thinking together about what more we must do, we ensure that we’re growing the collective wisdom, leveraging each other’s strengths, and rowing forward together as quickly as possible.
Over the past year, we came together to articulate our ultimate reason for being. We stated our core purpose—to develop collective leadership to ensure all children fulfill their potential. It has been energizing to see our network grappling with how best to live into this. What does developing collective leadership require of us, as individuals and organizations? The thoughtfulness, reflection, and determination that is blossoming around the network to live into this purpose has inspired me and, I’m confident, will make our shared work that much more impactful.
We must dedicate ourselves to reimagining education, in addition to achieving equity.
Like so many in our global community, I was inspired by Teach For India’s students who staged the musical Maya. The production—and the impact the whole experience had on the students who participated—illustrated so powerfully the possibilities of a reimagined education, in this case one that integrated the arts, values, and academic rigor.
In India and across the network, I’ve been challenged by pioneering work to rethink education so that the students we’re working with can reshape the world they’ll inherit. Like many at Teach For All, I was personally drawn to our work by the injustice of educational inequity and the imperative to address it. Initially, this often led to a frame and focus around catching students up to their more privileged peers—but what I’ve seen from so much good work across the network is that this is insufficient.
The centrality of the imperative to reimagine education finally struck me a couple of years ago as I worked together with a diverse team of network partners and global organization staff to consider what we want to accomplish over the coming 25 years. We engaged experts to understand how the global economy is changing and the range of challenges today’s children must be prepared to tackle. Like many others, I was daunted by the recognition of what it will take for today’s children to navigate the changing economy and take on exceedingly complex problems, from conflict to climate change, in our increasingly interconnected world.
To help prepare today’s kids for the challenges of tomorrow, we need to ensure that students are growing as leaders who have the competencies, dispositions, agency, and awareness to shape a better future for themselves and all of us. This will take reimagining education altogether. The truth is, achieving equity within today’s system won’t do the students with whom we work justice.
Given the imperative to reimagine education, I’m excited about the work underway across the network and within our Global Learning Lab to reconsider what student outcomes we should be working towards, how to reach these outcomes, and what more we can do to support our alumni and others to pioneer the system change we need. I’m hopeful that our network can be a driving force in changing the way we educate children so that they are prepared to create a just, peaceful, sustainable world.
What a fulfilling learning journey this has been, inspired and enabled by thousands of members of our global community in ways we probably can’t even imagine. And yet, we are still just baby steps in.
I’m personally so excited about our work towards our shared Vision:
By 2040, whole communities in every part of the world will enable all of their children to have the education, support and opportunity to shape a better future for themselves and all of us. These communities will inspire and inform a worldwide movement to do this everywhere.
Realizing this Vision will require leveraging all the lessons above and many more that we haven’t yet discovered.
I look forward to continuing the journey alongside all of you.
A letter from Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-founder