"I was going to work incredibly hard at whatever I did and was just searching for something that would make a meaningful difference." - Wendy Kopp on developing her big idea


Today's skimmed from the couch presented by a._c. Hotels by mary it. It's a global hotel brand. That's dedicated to perfecting the essentials. I knew i was going to work incredibly hard at whatever i did and was just searching for something that would make a meaningful difference and i felt that i wasn't alone that. I was like one of thousands of people out there who are searching for something similar and that's really what led to this ideal. I'm karl. I'm danielle weisberg. Welcome to skim from the couch. This podcast is where we go deep on career advice from women who have lifted from the good stuff like hiring and growing a team to the rough stuff like negotiating your salary and giving or getting hard feedback. We started the skin from a couch so what better place to talk it all out than where it began on a couch. You may know today's guests wendy kopp as the founder of teach for america started back in one thousand nine hundred eighty nine which brought college grads into the workforce first teaching in underserved schools in two thousand seven when he took that concept and applied it globally founding and running teach for all she's been recognizes. This is one of time magazine's one hundred most influential people and was awarded the presidential citizens medal for her work wendy. Welcome to the couch. We're excited excited to have you here today. Thanks so much so <hes>. We're going to jump into it. Which i questioned. Skim your resume for us. Well my resume. A is not that long because as you just said <hes> i thought of an idea when i was a senior in college that has really kept me busy ever since i never would have guessed that i would still be going at it thirty years later that it would take me all across this country tree and really all across the world i through teach for america and now teach for all and that's really the extent. I don't even have a resume. I hope never to have won well. So what is not on your linked in <hes> that we should know about you. Maybe the other side is that i have four kids a loving loving husband and a wonderful family we talked about when i was looking at the names teach for america and then teach for all and i was thinking teach for all like do feel like career working down in america and now you're moving goodness <hes> no in fact green for many many years until maybe thirteen fourteen years ago i had my head down fully focused on the massive inequities and continuing challenges in the u._s. I had honestly i mean it's almost embarrassing to say now but it i'd never thought about the rest of the world. Is it related to this. <hes> what happened was that i started meeting. People i mean never something in the water and within one year i had met thirteen people from thirteen different countries who were just determined that something similar needed to happen in their our country and we're looking for help and that is what ultimately led to the launch of of teach for all twelve years ago now as a network of independent locally led organizations in now fifty soon to be more than that <hes> countries and growing walk us through what what it meant to to step down from teach for america to do teach for all like what that meant for you and your career <hes>. It's so interesting because i must admit admit. I don't think i thought about it. As stepping down exactly i think in the five years prior teach for america had doubled in size and teach for all had grown from zero to twenty five network partners <hes> and sort of as i have done and his anyone growing enterprise is does at every year along the way you kind of constantly. Ask yourself like what does this need. You know like what what teach for america need. What is teach for all need and it it just became came really clear that each of these organizations needed dedicated leadership and <hes> you know there was so much the amazing leadership at teach for america and it just felt like it was ready for <hes> you know lisa vian wave beard is an incredible bowl woman who really grew up in one of the communities in which teach for america works and then became a core member and then you know joined our team and really help build teach for america <hes> you know to to step forward and lead the organization which she now does so it it wasn't it wasn't hard like i didn't feel like i was giving something up. It just felt like this is great like she can take it to the level. It needs to go to an and i can put all the more energy and entities for all which it needed at the time. I'm as well so i'd be hard pressed to find another example of someone who senior year college project has received accolades and honor degrees that have income from it truly you have wind so many awards. You've earned fourteen honorary doctorates which one is the meant to most to you. I honestly just i feel so unbelievably privileged to have somehow found my way to this idea that has enabled me to you know work with such incredible wool hearts minds and souls all over the world who are kind of drawn to the same thing in to be part of something that's making such a meaningful difference <hes> <hes> and that's that's all i focus on honestly. Did you have a moment that when you got the presidential medal of honor where you're like. How is this happening not not really. I have to admit i mean this. It's just not it's not just me going this far. What does a typical day look like for you. Do you have a routine then. Is there consistency in your days. There's so much variety in my days. I mean i just got back from two weeks across you know visiting teach for afghanistan and and teach for nepal and teach for india and teach thailand <hes> and then went on a week of fundraising on the west coast and now i'm i'm in new york which is a rare thing we're actually live and i'm like just got my days packed with internal meetings and that's part of the beauty of this whole thing you know <hes> but i try to stay on a bit of a routine like i get up really early and look at what has creeped into my email box <hes> and you know gonna run women and then get my day going so and i go back to you as the college student. Who are you in college and when you think about looking back a who you were that in who you are now. How are you different. Oh gosh that's a really good question. I was in total funk my senior a year and i could not think of it these topic. I couldn't think of anything i wanted to do after i graduated and i think where did you go to school. I went to princeton and until hill my senior year i had been in overdrive from birth rate like but i think it was almost being in that funk that ultimately led to this inspiration like i was was just searching for something i knew i was going to work incredibly hard whatever i did and was just searching for something that would make a meaningful difference aunts and i felt that i wasn't alone that. I was like one of thousands of people out there who were searching for something similar and that's really what led to this idea like. Why aren't we being called upon. I mean at the time we were being called upon so aggressively to commit just two years to work on wall street. You know it's like why aren't we being recruited ended as aggressively to commit just two years to teach in low income communities like to address the equity and opportunity you know <hes> so that's what led me to the idea <hes> which i was the last senior to declare a topic. I couldn't even find an advisor anyway at from the minute minute. I thought of it. I just realized this has to happen and i've been obsessed ever since so anyway i don't even know how to explain all the ways which i have changed and evolved. It would be hard to rebuild pieces. I think i had little con. Have you ever read a <hes>. Honestly i skimmed <unk> skimmed it several years ago and realized yeah like i don't want to. I wouldn't wanna read. I know i mean you can just imagine the incredible credible learning curves on every front that i have con- through from first of all just the substance of the work i mean you know really what it takes to recruit and develop people who will be effective teachers for the kids facing the greatest challenges and who will learn the right lessons and then go onto effect systemic change. I mean just i had really no idea <hes> what would be entailed in that and then all the other aspects from how to build a strong organization to how to actually build a sustainable funding base to how to navigate the politics of of the world <hes> and i think i went through just massive learning curves with teach for america and then a whole new set of learning curves teach for all how do you build a network that you know has everyone united but also everyone encouraged to innovate and <hes> and how do you navigate the foreign aid system. I feel nothing but like incredible privilege to go through all these learning curves. I'd love for you to explain kind of the central thesis around teach for america for our listeners. Yeah and around teacher american also also teach for all really 'cause. It's there's a core purpose that unites all of us across the teach for all network from teach for america to teach for india to too many many any others in between i mean i think we have to start by thinking about the nature of the problem like we're all working to address the fact that the circumstances of kids birth predict kicked their educational outcomes and life outcomes and we view that as a really complex problem right. It doesn't start in classrooms. There are whole segments of kids kids in countries all around the world that face many extra challenges. They show up at schools when we're lucky enough for them to show up at schools that were really never designed to meet their extra needs. There's a whole prevailing ideology about the low potential of these kids that fuels the whole thing so it's a complex problem and in the face of a complex problem like that. There's no one solution right. We're not going to solve this problem with any one thing not with roic teachers not with a different curriculum not with a laptop happen. I mean this is gonna take so many changes to really address and and our whole belief is you know we we need to change the whole system and that's that's gonna take a lot of people at every level of the system at every level policy across sectors in communities you know coming together around a vision for all kids having the chance to fulfil their potential so we think of our mission as to develop collective leadership to ensure all children fulfill their potential <hes> and sharon approach to doing that which is all around kind of galvanizing a rising generation of leaders in any given country to channel their energy into the arena of working with the most marginalized kids initially commit two years to teach knowing that those two years can can be really important for the kids. They're working with and also knowing that what you learned through that process for the teacher themselves so transformation like it changes everything your understanding of the problem your commitment to addressing it and it becomes foundational for a lifetime of leadership and so we're trying to grow the force the people who throughout their lives working at every level of the system and and across sectors will be committed to working for change and who through their own leadership leadership will support and catalyze the leadership of others their students. The students parents other teachers in the schools others in their communities. You just talked about how big the issue is isn't. There isn't one solution when you think about doing this for thirty years. How'd you keep that passion up. Do you burn out. Do you ever feel like this is just too big. I think one of the things about this role of mine is that i mean every day a a c juxtaposed on the one hand the incredible disparities and inequities were addressing and on the other hand evidence evidence that it really is possible to solve them and i think that juxtaposition has kept me going for thirty years. I honestly don't think i've ever felt burned out. <hes> you know again. I feel like it's such a privilege to be able to see this at so many different levels like i can zoom in and be kind of somewhat proximate to the issues and and then zoom out and see real evidence. I mean honestly right now. What keeps me going just seen what's happening in communities where we've been working for in some cases thirty thirty years and to see you know if you have historical perspective despite the fact that yes. It's not anywhere near where we need it to be today. If you have historical perspective you realize oh my gosh but how much worse it was even twenty years ago. Is the school or study you went into. We started in in six areas of the u._s. In new york city los angeles new orleans <hes> some rural communities in north carolina and georgia when you skimmed your thesis or when you think back to the lessons of those earliest years. What do you think the organization and you were most wrong about that. You corrected over time. I think that we underestimated how much would need to go into the training and development of the teachers and their ongoing support not only during the two years but beyond the two years to really maximize their impact act as a force for change <hes> there were some things that we got right without realizing we were onto something i mean i have to say like they're these new studies that are about to come out that look at what happens to these teachers during the two years they look at how these people's everything from their career trajectories but also their mindsets their beliefs their understanding the nature of the problem the nature of the solutions evolve and i think what becomes clear from that is that we kind of landed on and i never could have known that this would be true but <hes> an approach to cultivating ongoing leadership. That's let's you know really almost unparalleled like it's it's really dramatic the the impact of those two years of teaching and i don't know if we could have fully predicted but i wanna talk about overcoming doubt and naysayers so i en- researching preparing for this <hes> i was struck by a quote wrote that i think one of your professors said to you when you had this idea and realize that you were on to something and you want to go out and raise about two and a half million dollars and i hope i'm not paraphrasing what he said but he said that you were deranged. You are around twenty two years old twenty one years old at this time what what made you not listen to that. What made you not blake okay. My professor told me i'm deranged like screw. You like. I'm going what made you have that naievety. I mean i. I do think that there's a real advantage in in in experience because you don't fully know what you can't do you know i think a lot out of the key to everything. Actually is is operating at kind of the right line between confidence and humility and there were certain things i was just absolutely absolutely convinced about and had had some reason to be confident about and other things that i was really open about and and trying to get feedback icon. I'm not sure what exactly he was referencing. I don't know if it was exactly the money issue. I think most people in the beginning the big thing. They didn't believe i believe was the college students would want to do this and that was the one thing i had any reason to have confidence about having bene- college student i was like no no no like we will show so people like call up on the college since two they will jump at it but there were other things where folks really pushed and questioned which which really helped us evolve our so you talk about college students will want to do this and obviously you've proved that to be true. I think that a lot of people feel a tag between lending lending their skills even in your case like being able to build something from scratch. There's a way that this could have probably with your skills had become something that was much more the corporate driven and made a lot more money and versus doing good and i think that's a struggle that we hear a lot from our audience from people that are starting getting out is. How do i make a choice. I mean i was in a position when i was graduating from college where i felt that i had nothing to lose by taking a risk and doing what i really wanted to do and i felt like if if it didn't prove to be the right thing i could moved something else later and not everyone has that luxury because there are all sorts of pressures on kids from financial to to the next thing and it wasn't that that i had money i mean i needed to like figure out some way to sustain myself and do this but i didn't have a ton of debt like there were things that enabled me to do it but but i guess my my thought coming from that vantage point is just you know <hes>. <hes> do what you what you love like. Do what you're gonna find really meaningful foale and if you can't do that right after you graduate from college. It's going to be really tough to ultimately make that choice so that's not a perfect answer. Maybe but it's i think it's the path of no regrets dive in you know and and do everything you can at the front end before you have just immense pressure. Are you know from kids and and life you talked about not having debt and were part of generation that has unprecedented amounts of student loans and it's it's a huge issue. Have you seen <hes> there been any impact on that with teacher. America teach for america has done so so much to try to make it financially possible for anyone to do teach for america from loan forgiveness to grant programs to many other arrangement i and teach for america's become more and more diverse over time in terms of you know everything from folks who come in with pell grants to people who grew up in low income communities <hes> so so i think but i think they find it a challenge for sure i mean you know and we need to put all the more into making it financially feasible. As as time goes on one of have the criticisms that's come out against <hes> teacher. America is ben that these are young individuals who are not trained or certified in a traditional way going into educate next generation of kids. How do you push back against it. Well i think so first of all we look at the evaluations valuations that show that the teach for america teachers are are having at least as significant an impact if not more impact than you know other teachers who would be in those classrooms <hes> if if that wasn't the case then we'd have to rethink everything and we also see you know really significant long term impacts wchs <hes> coming from the fact that these folks never leave the work right. You know these are people who probably never would have taught for the vast vast majority of them and not in low income communities. He's who eighty five percent of whom are are full time in the work you know two-thirds education another twenty percent in policy and other related endeavors in in the u._s. and they're working to change of really broken system that has never served are low income kids and kids of color well <hes> so i guess that's how i think about it like we need. These folks alongside many many others. <hes> you know to tackle system. That has never worked. Where do you think i think at this point. Now you know teacher america's thirty years old almost three years old teacher ause or you're spending your time. What aspect of your job are you uh able to provide the most value at this point. Is it on the policy side. Is it an organizational side where where's your kind of genius stone right. Now you know i'm spending spending my time on lots of different things i just got back from spending time with with teach for india and other network partners in asia <hes> <hes> and can help them. I mean there earlier on in the trajectory trying to figure out how do we how do we get bigger and better and of course i can see so many patterns from having seen these network partners all around the world and having lived the teach for america journey for so long <hes> so that's that's one thing i love to do <hes> at the same time. I spent a lot of my energy trying to marshal the resources necessary to do this work because there's actually not a very significant constituency for global education. I mean people think very locally and nationally about tackling clean education what we've seen across for all that we could be moving so much more quickly if we were in fact taking global approach and learning from each other across borders but finding the resources to that is super challenging so i mean i spend a lot of energy doing that. I'm not sure it's where my geniuses but it's just kind of what you need to do. If you're going to make this happen we'll get back to that in a minute but first let's talk about something bet every guest on this show deals with including us and that's traveling for business we calculate we are on like twenty three flights <unk> different hotel every night for the month of june and it was amazing book tour so happy we did it. One of the biggest takeaways is learning about 'bout what helps on the road and a great hotel is like the only thing we wanted at the end of the day and we found that with a._c. Hotels by mariot a c hotels. They really built the hotel with designers. I saw every hotel is equal parts just really beautiful to look at seriously look at their instagram but also functional everything from the guest rooms to the lobby to their lounge are designed to know what you need before you need it. It's intuitive which is really really helpful in the u._s. A._c. Hotels house has over forty five locations in cultural hubs <hes> with plans to double that not to mention their global expansion so visit a._c. hotels at a._c. Hotels dot marietta it dot com to learn more <music>. We saw an interview. I think with ink that you said my greatest asset was inexperienced and i love that you took what could be seen as a negative and you flipped it into a positive. It feels inspiring. What is your greatest asset now well. I've always thought that we need both inexperience and experience. I mean always and <hes> i think there is something super powerful powerful about an experience like we need people before they become jaded by the way things work and and you know to ask the crazy questions like we need to challenge the current paradigm and at the same time we do need the folks with experience and <hes> you know so. I try to keep both of those things in mind. <hes> you know a and figure out. How do we build an organization that unleashes leashes the leadership of everyone from the folks without experience to the folks with experience like i do think we need all of us so we started this company with absolutely no business or finance knowledge at all <hes> like none we have learned all of it on the way and sometimes people ask us like did you ever think about going to business school and i- depending on the day flip back and forth part of me is like it would be really nice at times if i had just just like a breakdown of one oh one what what are the things that have taken me so long to learn and other times. I'm like no. I think that would ruin and so much of how we think about things. Have you thought about teaching yourself. I went through a whole era where i was just down to get into the classroom. <hes> you know and i actually do believe pretty deeply that i mean there's a lot that i'm missing seen because i haven't taught and i feel it on an almost i mean almost daily basis like i think that the folks who have taught and particularly you you know in the context in which we're working have a different level of both insight and conviction about what's possible astle and a different level of credibility and i'll never have that like there's no way to do this through osmosis right <hes> but at the same time you know we all make our choices says and i've always felt like for whatever reason and who knows if it was even the right choice but that my greatest impact would come from from you know making a different choice so oh started this i asked you what was the moment that you were excited around the different degrees and honours and you said that that's not it gets you so it gets you. Why what what have been the moment or i am really proud of myself. <hes> yeah what what gets me is is is making an impact and seen things work and you know making the breakthroughs their you bet a moment where you're like. This is kgo me. There are moments all the time you know even last week you know like we've had a really really challenging year. This is the most boring thing to talk about but like you know any social entrepreneur will relate like if you don't have the money i need to do the work. It doesn't happen so we got to find a path to a diversified and sustainable funding base and we've just had a really challenging year and we pulled it off you know and i felt like go me and all the team <hes> and then there have been many moments i mean again. I feel so lucky to say this but <hes> you know where you just see like. It's working. I mean we are twelve years in fifty countries. <hes> this approach that brings us all together is it's like the same movie plane in terms of the people who are drawn to to this work and the impact they have in their schools and the degree to which they never leave the work so like incredible and that's not about how many i mean it's about like so many people in so many different countries and and so many colleagues but yeah i really constantly see evidence that what we're doing is is working. I also see plenty of evidence by the way that we're nowhere near where we wanna be and that's also what keeps me going like more more problems to solve you know with something as big as the mission of teach for all. How do you think about measuring success for the organization and i'm sure there's not just one answer but also for you personally well. We stepped back as a network three years ago and asked ourselves like what's what's the twenty five year vision like. What are we all working on together. We asked ourselves about twenty five years because of the big insight that we've come to along the way it does that this is a very long game aiming. This is not one of these problems that we can lake create a vaccine for or solve overnight <hes> it really takes going at it over time <hes> so we came together around a vision that and this is gonna sound really really lofty but there were certain choices that bat have been extremely orienting in the kind of inform the question of how we measure impact <hes> so the vision we articulated was that we would have whole communities communities in every part of the world enabling all their children to have the education support and opportunity to shape a better future for themselves and all of us super lodhi. That's beg previously we're all united by this idea that all kids should have the opportunity to attain an excellent education but there was such a good push across the network to say an excellent education to what end and we were thinking about. Where will the world be in twenty five years right like the economy's changing so much. The planet is falling apart. We have these increasingly complex problems facing communities facing our global society and it really did bring into stark relief. You know like if our kids today like the kids in classrooms. Today are not growing as leaders who have the proficiencies and dispositions mindsets and values and you know sense of agency and awareness to navigate avoca the changing economy and solve these increasingly complex problems. There is no hope for any of us so it really was a reorientation in that sense to say okay so we really we need to rethink education entirely and work towards a much broader set of outcomes for kids and i think the other piece of it was just realizing in order to make progress against the challenge we do really need collective leadership like we need people working together and the only way to see that has is to have people coming together within certain places so the focus on you know clustering our folks in certain communities and really working working in deep partnership with the folks in those communities to say okay what are we working towards for kids and to work overtime not only through the teachers who teach commit mm it two years to teach but through our alumni and through our partners and others in the schools and communities say how do we really move the needle for kids in an aggregate sense towards this broad set of outcomes so in order to measure progress against that we need to look at a lot at this and of course we need to see like for the teachers during their two years they making in an impact but we also need to see are the communities in which we're working making aggregate progress for kids depending on the country in the community. I mean the the measures are somewhat different but but are we seeing more kids graduate. More kids go into whether it's college or other strong post secondary options like are we. Are we really moving moving the needle for kids in an aggregate sense. We're gonna go to our last segment. Which is our lightning round. <hes> this is <hes> our favorite segment and basically we're asking you questions to answer as quickly as terrifying so this would be great now. This is the first job i worked in a craft store. Oh we're stopped filing things for a bank after my senior year in high school. What is the worst professional mistake you've ever ever made probably trying to do too much myself rather than just fine people who could do it much better last thing you binge-watch this uh-huh okay. I almost never binge-watch but i have to admit that this weekend one of my kids a sec. I watched at least he's five episodes and maybe more of veep oh it's very him. I call when you get good news. My husband richard. What about bad <music> news same thing if you had a bad day what should someone do for you. You like an ice cream person wise a white wine. Yeah who's your mentor. I have to say don't have one. I have so many people helping me every day and guiding me but i really can't point to to just one. When was the last time you negotiated for yourself this morning. I gotta go well meaning like people in the world and this work. We'll just take a one hundred percent so we have to be clear about our limits and this morning i was fully inundated and i was just like i gotta go on a run run so i did. It and i feel like my whole day is making decisions like that like what is the space that i need. What's your shameless plug. Either teach in or fund a teach for all organization ship w._w._w. Dot teach for all dot org wendy. Thank you very much. Thank you thank you. Thanks for having me. Thanks for hanging out with us. Join us next week for another episode of skin from the couch and if you can't wait until then subscribe to our daily email newsletter that gives you all the important news and information. You need to start your day sign about the scam dot com. That's the s. k. i. M. dot com chew. 'em spur little something extra.

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