A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 19 2011

3 Observations on the 20th Anniversary Summit

Though I posted the sights and sounds of the summit, I didn’t get the chance to reflect on last weekend’s events. Much of the floating thoughts that I’d had got lost, sadly, in the haze of teaching (this week, after such a busy weekend, was not easy).

But I do have 3 brief observations:

(1) TFA is alive and well.

Though there are legitimate reasons to view the emotional, “feel-good” mood of the summit with guarded (or unguarded) skepticism, there are also good reasons to celebrate this aspect of the summit. In every movement–for every organization that eventually seeks to take action that will change society–there comes a time when taking a minute (or a weekend) to bask in the emotional (over the substantive) is not only acceptable but necessary.

A social movement focused only on substance and not allowing the emotions to, from time to time, take the stage and re-energize is more likely to lose its momentum and burn out. That is to say, intense emotions often drive intense action. Thankfully, every plenary, breakout and small-group session was filled with the positive energy and emotions that I know will eventually inspire even more powerful action in the future.

Take a look at the “count-up” that began at 1990 and counted up the years to the present.

(2) Ample evidence exists of a “corps of change agents.”

People, for all sorts of reasons, like to criticize TFA because of its “revolving door” nature. Yet, these critics only see half of the picture. The other half is one of an alumni movement that, though not necessarily swamping classrooms across the country, is attempting to make positive changes in all areas of society in ways that, ultimately, improve the life chances of our youth.

I saw this evidence everywhere. Though I personally didn’t attend the summit with the intention of networking, many others did.¬†Every room I entered, every conversation I overheard involved a pair, a group, a swarm of people sharing their ideas about the future of education. The beauty of a gathering of like minds is that strong cross-disciplinary connections (read: creativity) can be created more easily. I saw current teachers brainstorming with former teachers; principals connecting with social service providers; lawyers informing entrepreneurs and policymakers connecting back with current CMs.

The event that symbolized this entrepreneurial spirit was the Social Innovation Pitch Competition. Hundreds gathered to vote on and evaluate corps member pitches on innovative ways to improve the educational landscape. Among the dozens of submitted ideas, five were selected to present to a panel of entrepreneurial experts (fun fact: Adam Geller, Teach For Us Founder and CEO, not only made this final cut, but also made a strong showing for his R3 Collaborative at Startup Riot–congrats!). The winner received start-up money as well as consulting support.

(3) TFA’s next big push is to bring its organizational principles abroad, through Teach For All.

That the room for the session, “Teach For All: Learning from colleagues who are building a movement to eliminate educational inequity around the world” was absolutely packed, is a sign of the type of impact that TFA, as an organization, and its CMs seek to have beyond the borders of the United States. More importantly, that Wendy Kopp would choose to attend the session and provide opening and closing remarks, instead of popping in and out of the many other amazing sessions that concurrently took place, shows where our organizational leader envisions taking TFA.

I’ve already talked about TFA’s international impact, but I finally saw, firsthand, how TFA’s principles have begun to shape education abroad. Although there are only 18 current Teach For All partners, Wendy Kopp shared the news that entrepreneurs from over 50 countries are already in varying stages of a pre-partnership stage with TFAll. Various founders of TFAll affiliates shared their local context and how stories about TFA inspired them to create TFAll partners in their home countries.

The power of this session, and the prioritization of bringing TFA’s principles abroad, comes from recognizing the universal power of education. Sure, a system of education can’t be viewed in isolation of its cultural and social contexts. But, an education is, across the world, one of the biggest equalizers, no matter where one is.

I am secretly ecstatic that TFAll is progressing well. One of my long-term aspirations (dreams?) is to return to Asia (either Hong Kong or Korea) and start a Teach For All affiliate. To test the feasibility of this idea, I sat down mid-week for coffee with Yusuke Matsuda, founder of Learning For All, to pick his brain about the¬†route he’d taken and the problems he’d faced in founding “Teach For Japan” (LFA is one of the 50 organizations still in the pre-partnership stage). For now, I’ll keep the idea a dream, rather than a concrete goal.


Of course, I had many more observations inspired by the weekend’s events. But I want to spend this long weekend catching up on other priorities, so I’ll save those for later.

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2 Responses

  1. Lest you think I am a total grouch, I had nice things to say about the SEI Pitch Competition.

    • Agreed. Very nice. Also, being viewed as a skeptic is not close to being viewed as a “total grouch.” I appreciate your views.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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