I am so excited to be part of a collective discussion at Davos about the need for Transformation and New Models, as all my experience over the last two decades has reinforced that this is what we need in education.
If we are going to stand a chance at achieving the sustainable, inclusive, growing societies we seek, we will have to address the fact that in countries all over the world, at every stage of development, millions and millions of marginalized children are not attaining anywhere near the kind of educational outcomes necessary to participate productively in today’s economy. This is true in the United States and in Europe, it is true in India and China, it is true across Latin American and across Africa, it is true in the Middle East.
And yet I have seen through my work at Teach For America and now across the growing Teach For All network that it is possible to provide our highest need children with the kind of education that changes their life trajectories. It has always been possible for a small fraction of children to “beat the odds”, but now we know it is possible to change educational outcomes dramatically for the children of whole classrooms, schools, and communities.
Achieving these outcomes takes transformational leadership. This is true at the classroom level, where transformational teachers set a vision for educational accomplishment, get their students on a mission to reach it, and work purposefully and relentlessly to get there. It is true in transformational schools, where principals are always individuals who themselves have been transformational teachers and therefore know what is possible and what it takes; they successfully rally teachers and students around visions of educational and life attainment.
Achieving meaningfully better outcomes at the level of whole school systems and communities is also a function of leadership. Ultimately, it requires school system leadership, political leadership and civic leadership that, acting on the lessons learned in transformational classrooms and schools, rejects incremental change and pursues the bold system and policy changes to cultivate the talent and leadership we need and empower them to achieve success.
Fostering the leadership necessary for transformational outcomes in education is hard work, and in countries around the world there is a constant search for easier solutions. The problem is that there isn’t one – every other intervention, whether it be better curriculum or enhanced technology or more money – fails without the leadership capacity necessary to make the most of it.
What gives me optimism today is that all over the world, countries’ most promising future leaders are beginning to channel their energy towards improving educational outcomes in their nations’ highest-need communities. Growing numbers of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic disciplines and career interests are joining the growing number of programs in the Teach For All network to commit two years to teach in their highest-need communities and become lifelong leaders for educational change.
I am hoping to help everyone at Davos embrace an all-out commitment to providing marginalized children with transformational educations. We can do this, and every day we delay in building the leadership force necessary for this change is a day we postpone a genuine effort to achieve inclusive growth and improve our global welfare.
Wendy Kopp, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Teach For All, USA; Social Entrepreneur, Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum