Release to refresh
The future of Education
CEO & Co-Founder, Teach For All
Welcome everyone! I’m looking forward to engaging with all of you to discuss how we can expand educational opportunity throughout the world. Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working to build Teach For All, a growing network of independent organizations in 38 countries that are developing their nation’s most promising future leaders to expand opportunity for their nation’s most vulnerable children. I started Teach For America 25 years ago, and it’s been inspiring and deeply thought-provoking to now work alongside social entrepreneurs from India to Peru who are pioneering this approach in their countries. I believe the only way we’re going to achieve educational opportunity for all in our lifetimes is through making a greater effort to develop leadership in education, and in turn ensuring those leaders are learning from each other across country lines. Looking forward to discussing this issue more next week!
This Q&A took place between 10/21/15 and 10/27/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
11 questions
Girls often have more limited access to education than boys--especially in underprivileged/under-resourced areas. At the same time, women are often the backbone of societies, and are responsible for passing down knowledge and culture. How can we tailor education strategies to empower young girls?
In parts of the world, education for many girls ends soon after primary school—sometimes even earlier. They may have to work to help support their families, or they’re married early and expected to start families of their own at a very young age. In countries where girls’ education is less valued, parents—and often girls themselves—cannot imagine a future that holds possibilities beyond what they see in their communities. In places like Lebanon, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, the staff, teachers, and alumni of Teach For All network partners are working to address these barriers to girls’ education.

In the classroom, our partners’ teachers put a great deal of effort into developing strong bonds with students and their families, and through these trusting relationships are able to encourage them to keep their daughters in school so they’ll have as many options as possible in adulthood. In India, for example, where two thirds of illiterate 15 to 24-year-olds are girls, Teach For India fellow Pooja Chopra is determined to see a different outcome for her students. Pooja taught 30 fourth-grade girls in one of the city’s poorest communities, but rather than temper her expectations, their reality only fueled her commitment to helping her students realize their dreams through education. She set out to foster their personal leadership and to ensure they would always be able to learn, regardless of their circumstances. In the process, she developed relationships with the girls' parents and helped their mothers launch a small business that would enable them to help support their daughters’ educations. You can learn more about Pooja’s vision to set her students on new life paths in the article I wrote for the Huffington Post (

Efforts like Pooja’s are happening in classrooms and communities across the Teach For All network. I wrote a piece for our website ( not long ago about two teachers in nearby Pakistan who taught high school English to girls in a patriarchal community where it is not uncommon for a woman to go years without ever leaving her home. Inspired to show the girls and their families what could be possible for them, they introduced them to female leaders in a wide range of careers and taught them to use technology and think critically. The teachers also met with the girls’ parents to discuss their aspirations for their daughters’ futures and to emphasize the opportunities that would be available to them if they were able to pursue a higher education.

Finally, another important strategy is ensuring we have more female role models in communities. Earlier this year, Teach For Nepal began recruiting teachers for a new region they were about to begin working in—a part of the country where girls often leave school at young age to work or marry. With the aim of bringing diverse female role models into these students’ lives, Teach For Nepal launched a recruitment campaign ( female graduates and professionals to become teachers in this region. Thanks in part to this campaign, women comprise 40% of Teach For Nepal’s current teaching cohort, as compared to the broader female teaching population of 13.8% in their placement schools.
Over the last couple years, TFA's growth has slowed dramatically and even reversed, prompting a retrenchment and staff layoffs throughout the organization. Are you worried about this trend, and what do you think the organization needs to do to confront it?
We’re encouraged to see continued high levels of interest in joining Teach For America, and an applicant pool that’s more diverse than ever. Last year Teach For America received applications from more than 44,000 individuals seeking to expand opportunity for the highest-need students. This said, we need many more of the rising generation to choose to channel their energy towards expanding opportunity for our country’s most vulnerable children.

Teach For America grew really quickly in recent years in part because college students and recent graduates jumped at the chance to make a difference after the collapse of the financial markets a few years ago. Its corps has shrunk slightly in recent years as the economy has come back and the competition for talent has become tougher than ever. Of course, the organization did the responsible thing and cut its staff and costs accordingly.

Over the last 25 years, we’ve seen things change for children in the U.S.’s lowest-income communities, in part thanks to the leadership and energy of the Teach For America corps members and alumni, two thirds of whom remain in education and another 20 percent whose full-time jobs relate to improving education or the quality of life in low-income communities. In many communities, we’ve seen dramatic increases in high school graduation rates. We’ve seen the propagation of hundreds of whole schools that are having transformational results for whole buildings of children, putting them on a path to much higher college graduation rates. We’ve seen dramatic change in the way teachers are recruited, selected and developed. We’ve seen these changes and many more, and we wouldn’t have seen nearly as much progress if we took all the Teach For America people out of the equation.

So yes, I am personally very focused on the need for many more of the U.S.’s most committed, talented recent graduates to decide to channel their energy in this direction. We’re not beginning to meet the demand for corps members and alumni within our communities and partnering school districts. We need the rising generation to channel their energy into this arena in order to build on all that has been done and pioneer and lead us into the future.
Are you currently including efforts to standardize and steer programs using an online format, and to simultaneously push for internet access to be provided in underdeveloped regions? Globalization and technological advances have reduced the limitations of geographic proximity while significantly improving information sharing. How has your strategy adjusted to account for this?
Across Teach For All we are thinking hard and experimenting around leveraging technology to advance our work. Many of the alumni of Teach For All network partners ( are working to leverage technology to improve education, whether through differentiating instruction or engaging parents more effectively in the educational process. Moreover, network partners are experimenting with maximizing the potential of technology for teacher development purposes; as just one example, Teach For India is developing “firki,” an online teacher development platform that will be accessible to any teacher and teacher provider in India.

At the same time, we’re also very aware that when it comes to helping students overcome the obstacles to realizing their potential—particularly those who are most underserved or have the greatest needs—there are limitations to what technology can do.

I recently read a piece in the Washington Post ( that articulated these limitations well. In this op-ed, Kantaro Toyama, a computer scientist and former technology executive, shared his journey in coming to understand that in our most under-resourced communities, technology can be a hindrance rather than an enabler. He wrote, “In education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.”

This is all to say that we need to continue building the human capacity necessary to ensure opportunity for all, while also leveraging technology wisely. I think we’re in the very early days of understanding how best to do this. To pioneer the future, we need many more leaders who deeply understand the needs and potential of children and, particularly, the circumstances in our least advantaged communities.
We Iraqis face a challenge in maintaining talented educators in Iraq. Many of them have already left, or died.
But having achievers contribute back to Iraq is something many of us are willing to do from abroad online.
As an Iraqi, and the co-founder of an Arabic online video based training platform, would you recommend orgs like ours work with orgs like Teach For All to increase the number of 'online' educators, instead of traditional educators who might stop giving back after they leave Iraq?
Your statement about the loss of much of Iraq’s most promising talent is echoed by many of our partners in countries where graduates often choose to attend university abroad and never return. Several Teach For All partners have campaigns to recruit expatriates studying or working in other countries and encourage them to return home to improve education and expand opportunity for their nations’ future generations.

To your point about adapting our approach to unique contexts, at the moment, in addition to our 38 official network partners, Teach For All is working with 30 social entrepreneurs in regions all over the world who are considering establishing Teach For All organizations in their countries. Our staff support them on their journey to build support and capacity to launch organizations that adapt our leadership development approach into their unique contexts. You raise a very interesting question about the challenges of establishing a sustainable effort to expand educational opportunity in Iraq, and we would be happy to connect you to our team in the Middle East if you’re interested in further discussing. You can read more and contact us here:
Writer / Podcaster Co-Host of Part Of The Problem
Everyone agrees that education is one of the, if not the most important thing for a child. Many kids learn in different ways though. It seems to me that one of the biggest flaws of teaching is the standardized, agenda driven, top down style where both teachers and students are expected to answer to measurable results. what can we do to make sure that each child is given the opportunity to fully express themselves in a creative and intellectually stimulating way? what are some new ways that are getting kids excited about learning in and out of the classroom?
In our work, we’ve seen time and again that among the most critical elements to helping all children succeed is a strong relationship between teachers and students built on trust, love, and a deep belief in every child’s potential. I’ve just come back from Auckland, New Zealand, where Teach For All hosted our annual global conference (, and there we learned how a culturally responsive, relationship-based approach to teaching—where teachers focus on students’ strengths rather than their deficits, demonstrate that they care about and value students as individuals, and hold high expectations for them—has been key to helping the country’s indigenous Māori students, who have historically fallen behind their peers of European ancestry, succeed academically. The achievement rate of Māori students in schools where this approach is integrated into classrooms and curriculum has improved at three times the rate of Māori children in comparable schools using a more traditional approach.

Also, I believe it is important for teachers to have a vision for the ultimate outcomes they’re working toward for students. Ideally this vision should be informed by our global understanding of what the world is going to require of students when they reach adulthood, of the parents’ and students’ hopes and dreams for the future, and of the actual challenges and opportunities facing students in the local community. If teachers center themselves in such a vision, they will be focused on more than academic standards and will be working to foster their values and mindsets, exposure to the world, and the social, political and cultural consciousness necessary to help their students fulfill their potential as they grow into leaders for their communities and our society.

Finally, while measuring students’ results is not a solution in itself, I do believe that measurement is a critical tool for achieving and demonstrating progress toward one’s ultimate vision for students. Having access to the results of annual statewide assessments against rigorous standards is a matter of empowerment and transparency. It allows teachers to do meaningful analysis of their students’ progress and helps them get their students where they need to be. It allows students to see how some of their skills compare to those of their peers. It allows parents to understand what their children are learning—to celebrate success and to advocate for change if they feel their child isn’t learning enough. It also makes the problem clear for policymakers—with data, the disparity is impossible to ignore.
Founder and CEO at Swift Interpreter Inc.
Is there a plan to expand tech teaching to kids in Palestine? And how can we help in accomplishing this task in the case you do have one?
We support and engage with promising social entrepreneurs who are exploring the development of the Teach For All approach, and have a vision of how to apply our approach to their context. We currently don't have a social entrepreneur or any meaningful activity in the Palestinian territories.
Researcher @ Harvard | Parlio community manager
Thank you Ms. Kopp for doing this Q&A with the Parlio community.

What are some tangible ways that students in the TFA programs can learn about leadership from a young age? Personally, I started to learn about leadership -- at both the individual and organizational level -- in college and then in graduate school. How does TFA teach young students about leadership, and how can other educational systems learn from TFA?
This is such a timely question! We’re currently in the process of developing a campaign around student leadership to inspire and support teachers and alumni across the Teach For All network to foster the leadership of students. The campaign, which will launch in early 2016, was catalyzed by our excitement about what we’ve seen from our teachers and alumni around the world who are integrating a focus on academics, values and mindsets, exposure to the world, and social and political consciousness to cultivate student leadership. .

We’ve seen powerful examples from across the network of what’s possible—from the remarkable development of the student-led production of the Maya musical in Mumbai (, to the young community advocates and activists of The Intersection in Baltimore (, to the students leading change in their Buenos Aires neighborhoods through their work with Lider.Ar ( We’re excited to support our partners in fostering student leaders inside and outside of their classrooms. I hope you’ll take the time to watch these inspiring videos and that you’ll follow our #1000StudentLeaders campaign when it launches next year!
Hi Wendy, one of the major challenges in marginalised communities is that normal education is often neither enough nor relevant in helping the children face the social challenges they live in. Is this your experience? How do you see this impacting the curriculum, teaching process and teachers training in order to ensure learning is emancipatory rather than functional/technical
As you say, many education systems are designed to achieve a set of academic outcomes that, while essential, are too narrow for the needs of the students they serve. The most inspiring teachers I’ve encountered are rooting themselves in a deep understanding of the historical context of the communities in which they’re working, and of the challenges their students will need to overcome to fulfill their true potential. By building on their students’ understanding of this context and of the strengths in their history and heritage, they’re helping them become empowered citizens and arming them to take on the obstacles that threaten their success. For a compelling example of this kind of intentional work to ground students in their context and history in order to open up the doors to their future, I highly recommend this video ( about Teach For America alumnus Wisdom Amouzou and his middle school students in Denver, Colorado.

At Teach For All, we believe it’s important that each of our partners immerse themselves in their local communities in order to deeply understand the context and history and work together with the community to develop their visions for students. In this video (, Shisir Khanal, the CEO of Teach For Nepal, explains the importance of developing a contextualized vision with rather than for a community. Engaging in this process to develop such a vision helps ensure that our teachers and alumni are working towards ends that will make a meaningful difference for children.
Hi Wendy, Recent figures estimate that of the 70 million children out of school 40% are children with disabilities. How can teach for the world help usher in a more inclusive approach to education around the world?
Truly achieving educational equity means we must reach every student in each classroom, which means understanding how each of our students learns best. To this end, in partnership with the Oak Foundation, Teach For All launched a Learning Differences Fellowship designed to ensure that educators across our network have the knowledge, skills, and mindsets to hold all students to high expectations and support them in reaching their full potential. Through the two-year Fellowship, 15 teacher coaches from nearly as many Teach For All partners have been engaged in developing a deeper understanding of learning differences, as well as creating tools to coach and support teachers to address learning differences in their classrooms.

This initiative is based on the concept of “neurodiversity,” where the brain, our learning muscle, is defined as a highly complex, non-linear, and self-organizing ecosystem. As an approach to learning, neurodiversity emphasizes differences and diversity rather than “deficiencies.” Many children who have been labeled with a disability are not set up to succeed in current educational systems. Our Learning Differences Fellows center their work around the belief that all students have strengths, and we need our systems to foster those strengths while providing the support they need in other areas.

The Learning Differences Fellows have now been working with each other and with the teachers and staff of their organizations for a little more than 18 months. Their current focus is on investing and equipping others within and beyond the Teach For All network to embrace the idea that every student learns in a unique way, to honor and address these learning differences in the classroom, and to support students in advocating for their own learning. This video ( we produced during the Learning Differences Fellowship’s recent gathering and workshop in Manila does a good job of illustrating their collective efforts to help educators reach all of their students.
Hi Wendy, can you talk about the importance of diversity in both teachers and education leaders and what TFA is doing in its diversity efforts both for recruits and in helping bring diverse leaders into education?
I’ve seen firsthand the profound additional impact that teachers who share the backgrounds of their students can have, in serving as role models for what’s possible, holding high expectations for them, and relating to their particular challenges. I’ve also seen that we can move further faster when we have people who’ve experienced the inequities we’re addressing at every level of the education system, as well as in developing policy, and within our own organizations.

To your question, Teach For America has made a particular effort to recruit individuals who share the racial and economic backgrounds of the students they’re working with, who are predominantly African American, Latino, native American and low-income. Through allocating recruiting resources toward the personal cultivation of these candidates, Teach For America has made great progress in this regard. Today 49% of Teach For America’s incoming corps identify as people of color, with 20% being African American and 15% being Latino. One in three are the first in their family to graduate from college, and close to half are from low-income backgrounds.

At the same time, I’ve seen the benefits that come from a great diversity of people—including from the most privileged parts of our society—working to expand educational opportunity in our highest need communities. We need the energy of every additional person who has the commitment and ability to make a difference.
How is TFA helping to get more diverse talent in the STEM pipeline and what support is needed?
Another timely question! Since Teach For All was founded more than 35% of the teachers fielded by our partners are in STEM classrooms. But we know that increasing the pipeline of talented STEM educators, and developing them effectively, is crucial to preparing students for today’s world, and that there is much work to be done toward this goal in many countries. To this end Teach For All has recently launched a new STEM Initiative with a focus on helping our partners expand their efforts to recruit, train and support STEM teachers and develop alumni to expand STEM opportunities for children in countries around the world.