Why Teachers Should Crash Advertising Conferences

  • Middle School
Kristin Leong

Last week I drove from Seattle to Portland for the 3% Minicon to rally with advertising creatives for activism and inspiration. I was a lone Humanities teacher in a sea of stylish, innovative women looking to join the rapidly growing and increasingly influential network that conference founder Kat Gordon began galvanizing three short but prolific years ago.

Since the debut of The 3% Conference in 2012, representation of female Creative Directors in advertising has nearly quadrupled from an astonishingly minuscule 3% to 11% today.

Speaker Presenting in front of audience
3% Movement Founder Kat Gordon opens the event with a rally call.

In short, Kat Gordon has sparked a revolution with this 3% movement. And like all good revolutions, she’s inspiring more than just her intended audience of female Creative Directors and their “Manbassadors”.

Although this conference links in obvious ways to supporting my Advertising for Good curriculum, the inspiration I left with reached far beyond any specific curriculum planning. Here are my main takeaways.

1. Teachers Should Be Seen As Creatives

If we are going to expect teachers not just to deliver lessons but to perform them, to be leaders in education reform, innovators in curriculum, and role models for the community, then it is essential that we begin to see teachers as creatives.

Creativity is not a preferred quality in teachers. It’s required.

2. Teachers Must Create and Collaborate 

Teachers need time and freedom to experiment with new ways to inspire students and build original curriculum that links to the real world.

Pin with Message about Women in Creative Fields

We need frameworks like Common Core and TPEP as guides. But then we need fewer working lunches, fewer 7AM meetings, less pressure to advise clubs and chaperone events, and more unstructured time to collaborate with other adults doing interesting work both inside the education sphere and beyond it. TPEP Criterion 8 is all about this.

3. Diversity Fuels Creativity 

The 3% Manifesto nails it: Diversity = Creativity = Profitability.

In education, “profit” isn’t about money. Success in education should be measured by student success and teacher retention, which benefits us all.

As of now, education’s bottom line is, in the language of TPEP’s teacher evaluation rubric, Unsatisfactory. Graduation rates are drastically skewed by race.  Family income proves to be a reliable predictor of student test performance. And the teacher burnout rate remains at about 50% within the first five years in the profession.

Fixing these issues will require some seriously creative collaborative problem solving. Teachers are up for this, but we need a diverse team of educators doing the strategizing.

According to the Education Department, currently more than 75% of American K—12 teachers are female. And perhaps even more shocking, in today’s classrooms where the majority of students are kids of color, 80% of all US teachers are white.

Powerpoint Slide with Glossary of Female Prejudice
Slide from Filmmaker Sarah Shapiro’s charged 3% Main Stage talk on women taking back creative space.

So. We’ve got work to do. New units to create. Unexpected allies to seek out. Conferences to crash. It’s going to be overwhelming, and sometimes disheartening, but that’s when the collaboration kicks in. That’s when we call on our team of brilliant, colorful creatives all around us. From our schools. From our communities. From the advertising world which we thought was just trying to sell us things, but apparently has a few things to teach us too.

T: @kristinleong


  • Advertising
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
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