I first heard Wendy Kopp speak nearly seven years ago in a crowded Long Beach convention center at the dawn of my career with Teach For America; a ceremony in which the phrase “…and that’s why I teach for America” was first christened as it began its steady overuse into new levels of hilarity (in the same way that Steve Carell’s “that’s what she said” has).
Last evening, seven years later, I got to hear Wendy speak again, only this time to a much smaller crowd filled with a few corps members, a few TFA alumni, an incoming superintendent, and a professional philanthropist whose building we were borrowing for the event. Interviewed by the golden voiced Warren Olney, Wendy expounded on her new book, but mostly advocated for continued TFA’s influence and development as a “leadership pipeline”, citing her (somewhat seemingly “new-ish”) epiphany that making transformation in students lives can only sustainably occur through “transformational schools”, i.e. schools with an amazing leader.
And while I am certain that Wendy and I would not see exactly eye to I on a number of pragmatic issues, I absolutely agree with her fundamental premise: school leadership matters. I’ve been lucky in the past seven years to work at a school where we have very competent leadership that has often times not only allowed, but encouraged teachers to “think outside the box” when it comes to working with and advocating our students here at Cochran. Yet, I think of my countless former TFA colleagues who worked at other schools who reported horror stories of incompetent principals, disorganized schools, and mismanaged communities and eventually left the classroom. Yikes. We clearly need good leadership in schools.
So how does one get this to happen? Let the debate begin.