Leadership Summit 3b: Wendy Kopp – Stand Up and Lead

Wendy KoppWendy Kopp is the founder and CEO of Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits the nation’s most promising college graduates to teach in America’s most distressed urban and rural communities. Kopp’s long-term goal—to build a force of civic leaders with the insight and credibility to make fundamental changes in all sectors—exists to provide every child with an equal chance in life. This leadership vision was recognized by U.S. News & World Report when Kopp was named one of “America’s Best Leaders.”


What did you see in the education system that just drove you mad?

  • Grew up in a good community.  Friend in college came from an impoverished community struggled, not because she wasn’t capable but because she wasn’t equipped.

What are some of the educational statistics?

  • 13 million kids living below the poverty line, half will not graduate from high school.

  • When kids are given opportunities, they excel.


  • It’s easy to be a leader if you’re pursuing something you deeply believe in.

  • She came out of college wanting to cast vision for people to teach the first 2 years after college in low-income communities.

You shamelessly stand in front of people and ask them to sacrifice.

  • No one has ever regretted serving.

  • People want to live a life of meaning.  We give them that opportunity

I ask pastors why they’re afraid to challenge people.

  • If we truly believe in what we’re doing, we believe we are giving them a gift.  Not taking something from them.

You said, “I want scale fast.”

  • My thinking was we needed to immediately be the thing to do on campus.
  • Building a movement… read the history of the Peace Corp… Peace Corp had to start with at least 500 people

Then it dawned on you that you had to have an organization, and you had to become an organizational leader.

  • Year one I had no experience… I had no idea how crazy the idea was.

You look for more leadership skills than teaching skills, why?

  • Effective teaching in this context is leadership.
  • It’s about investing in kids, motivating them to do more than they’ve ever done before, and making the most of every moment.
  • Ultimately the problem will be solved by leaders and policy, not teachers doing more.

Started by looking at what was needed and trying to raise that.  Then switched to basing spending on what she thought they could raise.

  • We would have never started if we started based on what we thought we could raise.

Had to shut down 2 divisions.  Did that feel like a failure?

  • We had gotten involved in other tangential things that were good, but not part of our original mission.

How do you challenge people to give for Teach America?

  • We can look in the places where we’ve been in place for a long time and see the difference it’s making.
  • A few million dollars or even a few thousand dollars can be the catalyst.

Tell us about the Gallop poll the reasons for poor education.

  • Public says lack of student motivation, lack of parent involvement, home environment
  • Teach America alums say poor teachers, poor principles, low expectations for students.

We know this is a solvable problem, so we have a moral imperitive to solve it.  Encourage your young leaders to give 2 years.  About half the participants in Teach America said their faith played a roll in their decision.


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