I wish that someone would have told me how absolutely amazing, life-changing, empowering, inspiring and impactful ClearTheList would be for so many educators across the United States. There are nights where I cry the happiest tears seeing the effect that the movement has had on students and their enhanced learning opportunities and the relationships that have been built between teachers who otherwise would see each other as strangers.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Jones. She is the Founder and Executive Director of ClearTheList Foundation, a non-profit that connects schools and teachers with corporations, organizations, and community members looking to contribute to the enhancement of learning opportunities for all students. She is an elementary school teacher and public speaker who has been featured on the TODAY Show, Business Insider, and other national and local publications for her #ClearTheList movement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a teacher, I know first-hand the struggles educators face preparing their classrooms during the back-to-school season. For me, I found meeting the needs of my students often meant providing supplies out of my own pocket. In fact, a recent study by Clorox found that 90% of teachers have paid for school supplies out of their own pockets, spending an average of over 400 dollars each year, with the number increasing to over 500 dollars for teachers who report working in underserved schools. I knew there had to be a better way to ensure teachers received the resources needed so I founded ClearTheList in 2019 with the intention of teachers receiving assistance from their local communities. To my surprise, the movement quickly went viral with community members and even celebrities clearing teacher wishlists. It was incredible! To help ease the burden of an unprecedented school year and support teachers and their students nationwide, Clorox donated 1,000,000 dollars to ClearTheList Foundation to supply the resources teachers need to set their students up for success at home or in the classroom. I’m looking forward to supporting even more teachers all over the country as they prepare for the new, unique school year.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Upon founding ClearTheList, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to interact with senior executives, CEOs, celebrities and other influential people to help teachers in need. I’ve met such interesting people and worked with amazing companies (like Clorox) throughout this experience!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Part of being a teacher-turned-entrepreneur means I have had to go through a lot of trial and error when it comes to so many aspects of the organization and initial movement. From brand partnerships and media opportunities to something as simple as choosing our logo, I’ve had to make many major decisions. Since founding ClearTheList, I have had to really look myself in the mirror and ask myself some tough questions!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
ClearTheList was founded with the intention of creating a resource where student’s parents, friends and family could help teachers fulfill the items needed for their classrooms that didn’t fall within their school district’s budget. After the momentum of its first year, I started a hub for ClearTheList Foundation for the 2020 back-to-school season where teachers can create wish lists from thousands of retailers and share their stores seamlessly with family, friends and parents for fulfillment.
For parents and students alike, this back-to-school season presents unique challenges marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re planning to go back to the classroom or for virtual learning at home, teachers are one of our constants who help families adjust to this new normal. I’m thrilled to be able to provide a way for teachers — and their students — to get the varied supplies they may need for this unprecedented school year. I’ve heard from so many teachers on the positive impact this is creating for them and how much they value the ability to adjust their lists as needed based on their district’s plans during this pandemic.
Through Clorox’s 1,000,000 dollars donation, we’re actually able to help clear these needed supplies through grants of up to 500 dollars per wish list, which covers items that they — or their students’ families — would otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket. This gesture is enormous for so many educators and students nationwide who may not have the funding to set up a successful learning environment for the uncertain year ahead.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
At the start of the ClearTheList movement, I had thousands of teachers messaging me with their stories and saying that they finally felt heard. However, I will never forget one teacher who sent me one of the longest messages I have received and explained how I had saved her life. I was confused at first, as she was a bit vague until I dug deeper into her personal story.
She said that she was ready to end her life last summer because she felt lonely and worthless. When she joined the ClearTheList movement, she gained a community of like-minded educators that were working together to raise awareness for the funds needed for classrooms. The love, support, and comfort she felt, she says, changed her life and gave her a reason to live. It is her story that sticks with me even on long or rough days. I realize that this movement is bigger than any individual and that a collective group of humans truly has the power to save a life.
What are the three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
ClearTheList was created because of a lack of funding to cover classroom and learning supplies that teachers otherwise have to pay out of pocket. In its second year, we’re now facing the COVID-19 crisis, which has exacerbated issues with access to supplies. With this in mind, I think it’s imperative that teachers and schools, in general, receive adequate funding to continue teaching the next generation of leaders — whether students are learning remotely or in schools. Having these necessary resources can prepare students for a successful year ahead. I would urge school districts and politicians to prioritize educational needs, adequate pay for teachers and funding to not only cover supplies but a range of subjects — from arts to sciences and music.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership involves standing up for what is right, as well as thinking and acting with integrity, honesty, and vulnerability. Leadership is about deferring the power to the people and supporting others while tackling a goal or completing a task. Empowering others to know that they have the ability to succeed, lead, and change the world with their ideas is true leadership. Being honest with yourself and others, speaking with intent and being forthright yet caring is the mark of a true leader.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
The five things that I wish someone told me when I started include:
- How to prepare for an idea to become a movement. The ClearTheList movement was completely unplanned, and I was caught off-guard while handling the initial takeoff.
- How to use social media outside of Facebook. I haven’t had many other social media accounts outside of a private Facebook account, so when the movement exploded through social media, I had to adapt quickly. Even though our hashtag #ClearTheList was trending on Twitter, I didn’t have a complete grasp on how to maneuver that platform!
- How to manage my work/home balance. In the early days, I felt completely responsible and compelled to spend every minute trying to solve the classroom supplies issue that I skipped meals and didn’t sleep. Even though this is still a bit of a struggle, I’ve found that I’m improving every day.
- Lastly, I wish that someone would have told me how absolutely amazing, life-changing, empowering, inspiring and impactful ClearTheList would be for so many educators across the United States. There are nights where I cry the happiest tears seeing the effect that the movement has had on students and their enhanced learning opportunities and the relationships that have been built between teachers who otherwise would see each other as strangers.
- Create a support network. Our quick success meant we needed to quickly grow our team to scale up. Tapping the right teammates, aligning with great partners — like Clorox — and finding people to help keep things running is key.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The creation of the ClearTheList movement last summer happened completely by chance. However, if I were to create a secondary movement, it would be focused on the idea that education is the number one way that we can improve our world. Education gives power to the most powerless. To build a movement around education inevitably affects the majority of the world’s population. Helping one teacher has a ripple effect on every single student that steps into the classroom. There is no better achievement, in my opinion than giving a child a solid education.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan.
I make it a point to include this quote everywhere, from my classroom door to my email signature, and even written on loose slips of paper around different spaces of my life. It means everything to me. I crave knowledge, learning, growth, and evolution and the way to obtain all of these is by staying curious. Unfortunately, we can never know all there is to know about the world, but we can learn something incredible every day, somewhere.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private lunch with Elon Musk. His brain works quickly and effectively, and he knows how to capitalize on his ideas and change the world through his work. I would love for him to articulate how he manages his many ideas, executing those ideas and general business advice that impacts people and the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow ClearTheList on Facebook (@clearthelistorg), Twitter (@ClearTheListorg) and Instagram (@clearthelistorg). They can also follow me on Twitter (@support_a_teach) and Instagram (@support_a_teach).