Getting Hooked on Teaching and Hooked on KIPP

KIPPster spotlight on Liz Coughenour, Teacher Leader Program Manager

Liz Coughenour recently joined the KIPP Foundation as the Teacher Leader Program Manager. In this role, Liz designs relevant professional development opportunities in the areas of instructional leadership and team leadership for 140 teachers from across the KIPP network. Prior to joining the KIPP Foundation, Liz was an Assistant Principal at KIPP DC Promise Academy, a kindergarten teacher at KIPP DC LEAP Academy, and a 2006 Teach For America Corp Member in Washington, DC.

Before transitioning to her KIPP Foundation role, we sat down with Liz to ask about her experience as a teacher. Watch what she had to say:

Learn more about Liz’s career path to KIPP below.

Tell us about the moment when you decided you wanted to be a teacher.

I joined Teach For America (TFA) with the intention to teach two years before attending medical school. I had completed a pre-med concentration at Northwestern and taken the MCAT prior to joining the corps. While it was clear that I had a passion for working with people, I considered my calling to be much more in the area of science and medicine. That was until I began teaching first grade and realized that everything I had thought I wanted in the medical profession, was true about education – and then some!

I adored working with my 26 first graders in Washington, DC and seeing the tremendous gains they were able to make in just one year. If I had to boil it down into the moment when I realized the classroom was where I was meant to be, one moment in March of 2007 stands out.

It was halfway through the second semester and I was asked to admit two new students into my classroom. I was worried about what impact this would have on the culture we had worked so hard to build over the past few months. On the first day however, I overheard one of my students, Mercedes, telling the new students: “You’ll like it in here. Ms. Olson is really nice, but she wants us to work hard. If you aren’t working hard, she will make you. She knows when she has to be tough.”

Hearing the culture of working hard and the level of excitement and appreciation in Mercedes’ voice was all I needed to know that I was absolutely hooked on teaching.


How did you find out about KIPP and what made you apply?

During my second year in the corps, I signed up for an Excellent School visit (a professional development opportunity for corps members to spend a day visiting high performing schools in their region). I signed up to see KIPP DC LEAP Academy, the first KIPP early childhood school in Washington, DC.

The first thing that struck me when I entered the school was what I observed from the principal, Laura Bowen. She greeted every student and family member by name. She asked about personal events in the lives of her students’ families and knew about brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews.

At that point in my time with TFA, my own school had four principals. I could not think of one of those principals who knew my students by name or anything about their lives outside of the school. From that moment I knew I wanted to work for and learn from a leader who is committed to her students themselves as well as their academic success.

The rest of my visit was filled with moments that affirmed I wanted to work for KIPP – instructional vision, high expectations, teacher collaboration – but first impressions mean everything and that one literally changed my life.


Tell us about your current role at KIPP and why you made the transition.

I came to KIPP first and foremost to become an excellent teacher. I actively sought out feedback from my peers and school leaders and wanted to become the best teacher possible for my students. I also loved the collaborative spirit of working at LEAP Academy. It was not uncommon for me and my planning partner (who was also a kindergarten math teacher) to spend hours together hashing out the details of an awesome new center schedule or differentiated performance task.

I would never have been able to grow to the teacher I am today without the constant drive to get better each and every day. What I was surprised to find at KIPP is their commitment to the leadership development of their teachers. At KIPP, there is a clear belief that developing strong talent from within will propel our schools from the next level.

Throughout my years in the classroom I was provided with ways to also stretch and grow as a leader. From presenting professional development to observing new teachers and providing feedback, I slowly began to build a leadership toolkit that would be crucial to my future roles at KIPP. When I moved into the role of Assistant Principal it could have been a daunting change. However, I was eager to make an impact on teaching and learning at the school level and felt equipped to be successful with the tools I had from my own development at KIPP.

To learn more about careers at KIPP, click here >