Happy 5th Birthday!
Written by Rebekah Schipper
Executive Director of Opportunity Thrive
In June 2017, I walked out, hands full of boxes of books and binders, of the doors of the school building in which I had been teaching and coaching for the previous ten years. I was moving out and moving on from a school that had been both my cocoon and my fire for growth as a teacher and a person. Over my ten years there, I discovered my voice as a teacher, my passion for coaching, my belief that we limit student’s potential when we measure them against the lowest common denominator instead of their own unique giftedness, and my commitment to the profession as a whole. I had also been forged through the fire of stress, toxicity, and loss of self at times over those ten years.
Taking those steps out the doors with the realization that I was about to embark on an unknown and unmarked path was scary (understatement of the year!), but five years later, as I reflect on the work we have been able to accomplish with Opportunity Thrive, I am incredibly grateful for the people who encouraged me to take the step and pursue my passion.
At that time, I didn’t really know what Opportunity Thrive would become. In fact, the organization didn’t really have a name. Opportunity Thrive came as a result of Googling different words to see what website options were still available, landing finally on a name that felt true to what I hoped the organization would be able to do for those it impacted. I wanted to give educators an opportunity to thrive in the classroom and in their schools. I witnessed myself, my colleagues, and my peers across the state suffer under the strain of workloads, toxic behaviors of peers and administration, and a lack of tools with which to navigate the world of education in healthier ways.
We are still very young as an organization. We have barely even begun to accomplish our purpose, but I cannot help but be proud of the work we are doing–coaching, training, providing data insights, and leading. Our small but mighty team of 3 staff members, 5 board members, and 48 coaches is accomplishing a lot. Along the journey, we have learned so much and not just about how to start a nonprofit, which is a significant learning curve.
Indulge me for a moment while I share two significant pieces of learning from these last five years:
Failure is always part of the journey.
I am not a big fan of the cliché, “When one door closes, another opens.” I think it’s okay to recognize that “when one door closes, it’s just closed;” nothing more or less is needed to make that statement okay. We don’t need to contextualize it with the hope that another opportunity is going to arise because that opportunity didn’t happen. Instead, when something falls through, it’s okay to be sad or frustrated because of that loss. We just can’t get stuck in failure.
Over the last five years, we have traveled many dead end streets. In January of 2021, we were written into Gov. Whitmer’s GEERs budget (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund) for almost $2million. We were discussing the opportunity to roll out our Educator Wellness Coaching Program statewide, and I was motivated to dream of how we could impact the wellbeing of thousands of educators across the state.
Then, I learned the hard reality of state budgeting. The GEERs funding was never approved by the legislature, and after many meetings with legislators from around the state, we never received funding to push out the coaching. I was crushed at first because I couldn’t imagine how I was going to be able to keep our organization moving forward without a sizable investment, and I was starting to fray at the edges because of the workload. Thankfully, though, I didn’t stay stuck in that failure.
With the support of our board, we reimagined the possibilities, took a risk to hire two new staff members, and dreamed of all the ways we could push the work forward. We recognized that the growth might be slower, but we believed that it would give us an opportunity to ensure the work was truly excellent in quality, care, and purpose.
Failure never feels good, but it is part of the journey.
Passion can motivate you, but purpose will be your ground.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I can talk about education, stress, and the need to support our educators for a long time. In fact, if you get me started on the conversation, don’t expect me to stop until you shut me up. I am passionate about the work.
However, it’s a sense of purpose that has kept me grounded. Over the last five years, I have experienced seasons of taking no pay; moments where the trainings fell just a little too close together, requiring me to stay up too late for too many nights in a row; and many quiet hours by myself with my computer feeling isolated and lonely. The passion does not always sustain me, but the purpose does.
The purpose has always been to help educators thrive, so that they can meet the complex needs of our students. This year, our team of coaches has supported 111 educators. Consider the impact. If they are secondary teachers, we are impacting about 120 students per educator. If they’re elementary teachers, we are impacting about 25 students per teacher. If we split our coachees in half, that means our coaching has impacted the wellbeing of close to 8,000 students this year alone. That’s incredible!
When you can stay connected to your purpose, even when the passion might fade for a time, you can continue to do incredible work. I believe this to be true for our organization, and I believe it to be true for educators around the world. The passion gets dampened by systems and structures that deny us our ability to teach and lead in ways that we believe to be most efficacious, but our purpose gives us the ground on which we can continue to fight for our students and our educators for years to come.
So, happy 5th birthday, Opportunity Thrive! Here’s to the next five. May we continue to fail, dust ourselves off, and walk forward in our purpose with passion.