This is the beginning of a series on Rebel Teacher Journeys, starting with a story from our CEO, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair.
From Rebel Teacher to CEO
Two years ago, when I was still a classroom teacher, I had turned a small idea into an app for teachers to help them discover great resources, easily organize them, and connect with other teachers who also wanted to teach outside the box. Essentially, Curio is the “Pinterest for teachers,” but with a social network to empower great teachers to lead with ideas. It was a weird identity shift that I was in the process of making – Teacher to CEO – and I didn’t feel fully confident in the title.
So like any English teacher would, I read books about startup life. Lots and lots of books. Then #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso fell into my lap and I read it cover to cover in a matter of days. Her story of having little business experience and creating an empire from her own creativity and ambition inspired me.
Rebel Teacher Takes the Win
Fast forward to two years later to last fall when Sophia (whom I follow on social media) posted an application for a pitch competition targeting female entrepreneurs sponsored by Uber and Girlboss. I immediately applied.
The application was easy for me to write because I tapped wholly into my own story as a woman, as an educator, and as a first generation college student who had carved her own path.
When asked how Curio was innovative, I wrote…
Curio is innovative because it is built around innovative teachers. I know this personally, as an educator who just left the classroom. I would spend hours searching for new ideas and honing my ability to think divergently in order to innovate in my classroom. I spent years learning how to organize and refine those ideas. And I spent over a decade learning and perfecting the craft of radical collaboration, so that my ideas could grow alongside the ideas of others. Curio was developed from my own process for creating inspiring and engaging lessons in the classroom, growing from taking the risks to try them, and being vulnerable enough to reflect upon and change them.
When asked about how my company improved the lives of women, I explained…
76% of teachers in the U.S. are female. The teaching profession was built by women in this country, as it was the primary opportunity for women seeking work outside of the home. It should be of no surprise, that the strikes and resistance seen in several states over the last year (including my own in Kentucky) pertaining to low wages and abysmal benefits and retirement opportunities, are a direct result of the fact that the profession still faces public scrutiny and lack of respect because it is a profession of women. It is impossible to separate teaching and gender dynamics (I wrote a piece about this in the Atlantic here).
In fact, while women make up the majority of the teacher workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in higher-paying leadership positions in schools and districts (77% of school and district leaders are male). Curio’s goal to empower educators is a goal to empower women. We want to change the way the world views educators, and as a result, elevate women as experts, creative leaders, and powerful change agents who have cared for and led young people in our society for centuries.
I was selected as one of five finalists out of 2,500 applications to head to the Girlboss Rally in NYC and pitch in front of a panel of badass female leaders. I was humbled, honored, and pumped as hell. When I pitched, I just told my story. I talked about a former student who inspired me to teach him in a way that inspired him.
I will never forget what Erika Wykes-Sneyd, Head of Brand Relevance, Planning & Integration at Uber said to me as soon as I finished my pitch. She said, “I love that you are democratizing education!”
Before that moment I had never phrased what I envisioned for Curio in that way, but she nailed it. And apparently, I nailed the pitch because the next day, Sophia Amoruso and Erika Wykes-Sneyd announced me as the grand prize winner.
Rebel Teachers Create Movements
My journey from teacher to edtech entrepreneur and winning the Uber Girlboss Pitch Competition only matters for this reason: It is possible for teachers to create movements, organizations, businesses, products, and services in a system that strives to keep them quiet and servile. I see my colleagues and Curio Rebel Teachers every day who are literally building empires that will drastically change the way school works, students learn, teachers teach, and education policy forms.
Since winning the Uber Girlboss prize money, Curio has gone from 300 teachers in the platform to almost 2000. We’ve added features to help rebel teachers better find one another, connect, and collaborate around inspiring ideas. And we’re excited to announce #CurioHappyHour — social gatherings of rebel teachers around the country to innovate and take action on issues that matter in education — thanks to the funding support from Uber.
But the truth is, there are 3.9 million public school teachers in the U.S. right now. They all have ideas. They all make powerful decisions each day. They all deserve a chance to lead. Their voices, their ideas, and their actions deserve attention and respect. I’m grateful and excited to use my experience as a teacher leader to elevate the work of my peers.
Check back over the coming weeks as we launch #CurioHappyHour and share the work of amazing teachers from around the country!