ThirdWay convenes and manages teams of experts aligned to the goals of each engagement. Part of our model is to activate leaders within client organizations to meet their goals. This approach keeps TWS staffing and overhead costs low and maximizes the chance that changes continue long after the duration of our work.
Our team (in alphabetical order) includes:
Founder and CEO
Cami Anderson is a six-time chief executive of high-profile organizations who has spent more than 25 years leading systems change and supporting high-capacity CEOs and their teams to disrupt the status quo in pursuit of equity.
Cami has built and led seven teams, including two complete start-ups, two early concept-to-scale builds, two high-profile government turnarounds, and a campaign. Over the past five years, she has coached over 20 C-suite teams across a variety of sectors and around the country, helping elevate both individual and peak performance with an approach that provides technical support through an adaptive growth lens.
She served as superintendent of schools for nearly 10 years, first in New York City and then in Newark, where she received national attention for improving student outcomes and pushing innovation. She co-founded ROADS, a network of charter high schools and advocates dedicated to court-involved youth. Anderson was executive director of Teach For America New York, chief program officer of New Leaders for New Schools, and issues director for Cory Booker.
Cami is widely published—from the Wall Street Journal to USA Today—and is a contributor for Forbes where her column, In The Room, spotlights trailblazing female leaders. She’s a member of the Aspen Global Leaders Initiative and served as a scholar in residence at Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. She won the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership, received a national Points of Light award for service and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. In 2022, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change for her leadership in making a more “just, humane, equitable, and peaceful world.”
She is the sister to eleven, a former middle school teacher, a volunteer soccer coach, a Title IX activist, a youth theatre director, an amateur triathlete, and a TEDx speaker. She, her partner, and her son love outdoor adventures, board games, and road trips.
Managing Partner, Corporate Services and New Initiatives
April Dinwoodie is an accomplished corporate marketing and branding professional who turned nationally recognized thought leader on adoption and foster care. From creating a mentoring program for youth in foster care to
April Dinwoodie is a nationally recognized thought leader on adoption and foster care. From creating a mentoring program for youth in foster care to becoming the CEO of the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), April is fiercely dedicated to creating connections and insisting on a more transparent conversation about healthy identity development, as well as recognizing the power of integrating systems that support children and families.
During her tenure at DAI, April launched Let’s Adopt Reform, an initiative to spark a national conversation about adoption and foster care that included a Town Hall Tour, a large-scale public opinion survey and a comprehensive qualitative report. For over 15 years her specialized mentoring program, Adoptment, has been creating lifelong bonds with adopted adults and young people in foster care. April is also an accomplished corporate marketing and branding professional who engages audiences and connects with consumers, and has worked with a number of high-profile companies, including Nine West, Kenneth Cole, J.C. Penney and JetBlue. She has brought to life large-scale activations, including the 84th Annual Academy Awards fan experience, a “Joining Forces” event for teens with Michelle Obama and The Ellen Show, as well as the launch of JetBlue’s A321 Aircraft. You can learn more about April’s work at Aprildinwoodie.com.
Jen has spent her career supporting education reform leaders and their initiatives—from concept to implementation. She served as a program manager and director of special projects for the largest after-school initiative in the country, The After School Corporation. She was the deputy director of New Leaders for New Schools’ New York City program, where she coached aspiring principal residents in developing partnerships for their schools. She also served as president of the board of trustees for Morningside Montessori School. Jen has a B.F.A. from Clark University and an M.P.A. from New York University. She lives in New York City with her family.
Billy is an expert educator and change agent in schools. He brings 20 years’ experience to the ThirdWay team, providing executive coaching to principals and their leadership teams in Memphis, Los Angeles, and districts throughout Louisiana. He was the founding executive director at both Teach For America in Atlanta and New Leaders for New Schools in Memphis. For more than a decade, he held leadership positions in D.C. Public Schools, including principal of the Charles Hart Middle School, director of school leadership on the Chancellor’s Transition Team, and deputy chief of innovation. Billy combines his strengths as an effective listener and talent developer with a deep commitment to race and equity, to develop the skill and will of adults working with children.
Ruben served as the Executive Director of Community Affairs and Engagement at Newark Public Schools and lauRuben served as the executive director of community affairs and engagement at Newark Public Schools and launched the district’s first Family Support Center. His strong belief in stakeholder engagement and partnership development enabled him to collaborate with elected officials and philanthropic partners. Prior to his work in Newark, Ruben served as a director for several nonprofits, serving as a site-based coordinator for organizations connecting families to schools. During the small-schools movement in New York City, Ruben supported 10 design teams from concept to launch. Ruben continues to add value to conversations while bridging the gap between families and the organizations that impact them.
Contributor and Coach
Kavita Singh Gilchrist is a connector and an organizer with 18 years of experience leading teams, designing programs, delivering technology access and training initiatives and facilitating diversity and inclusion efforts. She served as program director at New Visions for Public Schools in New York City, the Marcus Foster Institute in Oakland and at the NYC Department of Education, and was executive director of both the Community Technology Centers’ Network in D.C. and Computers for Youth in New York. Kavita has a B.S. from Drexel University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is an active volunteer and works to build more inclusive communities through diverse books. She lives in Harlem in New York City with her family.
Jared Robinson is an expert in corporate culture and teambuilding. He is a professionally trained improv performer, actor and Division I athlete turned social entrepreneur, event producer, facilitator, and coach. Jared brings insight into organizational and interpersonal dynamics, coaching adults to work across differences – of opinions, race, class and other identities – and to respond to change. Jared’s professional experiences, facilitating learning for diverse teams from Fortune 500 companies to homeless shelters, has given him unique insight into how to improve the productivity of teams.
Insightful, patient, nuanced and motivating, Jared inspires trust and actively creates safe spaces for adults to engage in difficult conversations, learn new skills, and build cohesive teams. He has lived all over the country – from Akron, Ohio to Harlem, New York. A proud father, he and his partner now reside in Santa Monica, California.
ThirdWay Solutions is part of a movement to ensure every organization in the public, private, nonprofit, policy and advocacy sectors reflects the gifts and voices inherent in America’s racial, gender and other diversity — especially in leadership and positions of power.
ThirdWay Solutions is part of a movement to ensure every organization in the public, private, nonprofit, policy and advocacy sectors reflects the gifts and voices inherent in America’s racial, gender and other diversity — especially in leadership and positions of power.
ThirdWay Solutions works with leaders across all sectors to overcome their organizations’ most intractable internal and external challenges in service of racial justice and social equity by providing customized strategy, coaching, and implementation support — and by envisioning focused initiatives to push change.
We believe in being B.O.L.L.D. in supporting our clients and partners.
- Be the change: We believe change starts from within. Leaders should be willing to question everything, including their own biases, tendencies and past decisions.
- Operate with integrity: We believe leaders should align values with actions, even when it is uncomfortable. Achieving equity means confronting uncomfortable truths about racism, sexism, and other -isms.
- Listen and learn: We believe people and organizations only grow if they listen to feedback and embrace change.
- Laugh and connect: We think work should be fun and joyful. We build relationships based on trust, authenticity, and personal connection across differences.
- Do: We get things done and help teams move past admiring problems to solving them. We help organizations set bold goals, create roadmaps and remove barriers.
Across diverse sectors, we support leaders focused on one and/or more of the following:
- The 20% Project: Putting the 20% of students, families, employees and/or communities who have been the most marginalized at the core of innovative, cross-functional solutions.
- ABAR Organizations: Envisioning and defining, in concrete and actionable ways, what it means to be an anti-biased, anti-racist (ABAR) organization, and enacting the hard changes, from people to policies and strategy, to make concrete progress.
- The Discipline Revolution Project: Radically rethinking how to build psychologically, emotionally, and physically safe cultures and decriminalizing how we handle incidents, conflict, and struggle in schools.
- Collective Action: Bringing together local leaders — across “types” of schools, departments, and organizations of all kinds — to define and solve issues related to equity and marginalized young people.
Our team puts the 20% of students and communities society has failed the most at the center of design and transformation efforts. In both nonprofit and for-profit companies, we help organizations define their ABAR vision and operating principles — and pull them through all the core elements of their work. We create virtual and in-person collaboratives focused on decriminalizing the way we think about young people.
Since launching, we have worked in 25 districts and 6 states, impacting approximately 2,000 schools and over 3 million students. We have provided services to dozens of non-school clients from nonprofits to philanthropies, advocacy organizations and corporations across the country. Our team’s expertise in leading and coaching leaders to realize transformational change makes us unique. We are not traditional consultants. We are catalysts, elbow partners, capacity-builders, and — ultimately — focused on making a tangible impact on every organization we support.
What a challenging school opening season this is. We are sending you strength and well wishes as you navigate impossible decisions and try to build a new plane mid-flight. We’ve been busy, like many of you, and wanted to catch you up.
- What “Defund Police” Means for Us: Calls to defund police and to examine racist and biased policies are becoming even more urgent in the education sector. Cami appeared on Bloomberg News with a panel of experts to talk about what the defund police movement should mean for schools — emphasizing the work is about much more than kicking police officers out of buildings.
- A Blueprint to Remove Police from Schools: In this piece, ‘Police-Free Schools’ Vs. ‘Chaos’ Is a False Choice. Here’s What Districts Must Do to Implement Real Discipline Reform — our team lays out a specific plan of action that goes beyond slogans. We feel the urgency to help systems tear down discipline systems that over-police Black, Latinx, and LGBTQQ students and students with disabilities. And, we know we have to replace it with something better while keeping kids physically and emotionally safe.
- Discipline and Inclusion During COVID: In the age of COVID, we are seeing systems that have not critically examined the dire consequences of exclusionary and biased discipline systems doubling down and making terrible choices even in virtual and hybrid environments. Cami talked to the Huffington Post about the fact that we are likely to see more, not less, struggles and incidents right now and that we need to be more prepared than ever to respond in ways that keep kids learning.
- The Long Tail of Change: DRP is lucky to work with Tangipahoa School District in Louisiana for several years — both on creating more anti-biased, anti-racist cultures in all schools and reexamining policies and practices with an equity lens, but also in radically rethinking their approach to “alternative schools.” Shout out to recent press about the continued progress there, even in the face of enormous challenges.
- The Intersection of Instruction, SEL, and ABAR work: Instruction Partners — a partner organization with whom we collaborate — is doing exceptional work helping districts, states, and CMOs transition to high-quality hybrid and on-line instruction. Cami recently talked to their CEO, Emily Freitag, about the need to think about that work alongside supporting students’ social and emotional well-being and building anti-racist and anti-biased cultures.
We hope you and your team make time to ask yourselves some critical questions:
- Are you rethinking what “discipline” policies should look like in a virtual, hybrid, or in-person environment? Is your team prepared to be even more skillful in handling the increasing amount of conflict we are likely to see in face of collective trauma?
- Have you taken time to work with administrators, central teams, and teachers to process and embrace how their jobs have changed — beyond issuing new roles and responsibilities documents? Are they invested in solving problems in a bottoms-up way?
- Everyone is in a learning space — and we can do so much more virtual learning for adults right now. Are we using this time to help adults get better at (a) building purposeful, trusting relationships with students, (b) responding skillfully to difference, struggle, and conflict, and (c) partnering with families in much deeper ways?
- Do you have MOUs governing how you work with police? Child welfare agencies? Are you eliminating or reinventing the role of school resource officers? How are you going about that process and what needs to be true for that to mean more psychological and physical safety for students? How is your security staff trained?
- Are you an actively ABAR (Anti-biased and Anti-racist) organization? What does that mean? Look like, sound like, feel like? Is your core team engaged in personal reflection about the extent to which they are critically conscious leaders? Have you reviewed all of your people, practices, policies, and partnerships with an ABAR lens?
If you read the list of questions and thought — wow, these topics are not getting enough attention right now, we can help. We fully appreciate why so many have prioritized instructional models and health protocols — but we deeply believe that you have to think about those things alongside culture and climate and equity.
Thank you for the work you do; we honestly cannot think of a more important time to be an educator than now,
Cami and the DRP Team
DRP Members and Partners:
Like many of you, our team experienced horror and sadness as videos and audio tapes revealed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd being murdered by police. Black Americans — sisters, fathers, friends, and partners — living their lives, sleeping in their homes, going for a jog, and running errands are no longer with us simply because of the color of their skin. These are not isolated incidents.
Black people were 24% of those killed by police last year despite being only 13% of the population. Indeed, we all breathe poisonous air polluted with anti-Blackness that manifests in so many ways, including in education. To our Black colleagues and friends, we are sending you extra love, knowing you have to show up for your students while taking care of your families and yourselves.
Our mission at The Discipline Revolution Project (soon-to-be-named The 20% Project) is to (1) support schools and systems leaders to build anti-racist/anti-biased, high expectation, high support cultures, (2) put in place robust family and student supports, and (3) actively tear down policies and practices that cement inequities. Our work has never been more urgent.
We are glad to see the outrage about racial disparities in policing and we know the same biases that exist in broader society play out and, in some cases are exacerbated, in classrooms and school buildings. This isn’t a time to point fingers, it is a time to act within our own sphere of influence. Many of you have reached out for ideas and resources and, in that spirit, our team is sharing what we call a “2x3x1.” In keeping with our EQUITY Framework and our organizational values, we are sharing two things we recommend you do now, three things you should think about over the summer, and one thing we hope you do personally to help realize racial justice.
- As educators, do not look away, don’t say nothing. All of your students are watching the news, scanning social media, and talking to their friends about the events that led up to this week and how things are unfolding. If you are still in school, create a safe container to talk about what is happening with your students — some good resources are from Teaching Tolerance and Morningside Center. If you are already out for this term, use the time to prepare so you are ready when you do reconnect with students.
- Combat existing narratives that Black residents are somehow to be “blamed” for dying at the hands of police or expressing outrage. White, Black and brown young people might be hearing this from the media, friends and family. I’ve had piercing questions about this from all the young people in my life — my son, nieces, nephews, students, and mentees — across socio-economic and racial lines. The narrative is prevalent. Read this piece by Adam Sewer that talks about America’s racial contract. Or, consider this piece about the context behind the rebellion in Ferguson. Facing History and Ourselves compiled data on the history of policing to help put this moment in broader content.
- Look at your discipline data, practices, and policies as urgently as you call for police to change their ways — build the skill and will of educators to de-escalate conflict, build healthy relationships with an understanding of how power and race plays out, facilitate community, partner with families, and actively interrogate their own biases; consider:
- Nationally, Black students are between 2.5 and 4 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers. Black families report that often the only time they hear from their child’s school is when they are in trouble.
- Black students are physically restrained in schools more than their White peers.
- These are life altering disparities as even one suspension dramatically increases students’ chances of being connected to the juvenile justice system and then, a racist criminal justice system for life.
- In recent studies, Black boys received far more negative attention than their White peers and Black girls were rated “less innocent” in a survey of teachers (from Black and White teachers, though the outcomes are worse with White teachers).
- Schools value kids who push back on authority, “think out of the box”, and march to their own drummer as long as they are White; Black kids with the same characteristics are too often feared, punished, and controlled. Psychological and emotional safety are just as critical as physical safety.
- Rethink “escalation protocols” and when and how you involve law enforcement — negotiate memorandums of agreement, engage in joint training about relationship building, de-escalation, and anti-bias work, build shared values and language around how to engage young people; consider:
- 50% of school-based arrests are of Black students even though they make up 16% of the student population
- The connection between school discipline and problematic policing is tighter than we think. It’s time for educators to step up. It is our moral imperative.
- School and systems leaders must be active in pushing law enforcement to take a proactive, developmentally appropriate and anti-racist approach to engaging young people, not simply call them when things get “out of control.”
- Overall, we should severely limit the amount of police interaction that occurs in schools (only when absolutely necessary) – and we should be working proactively to build shared value for our children’s psychological and physical safety.
- Actively examine your instructional practices — the who, what and the how — pick content that is pro-Black/Latin-X/Indigenous, recruit and retain educators of color, give all kids access to rigorous and culturally competent instruction and assignments, and prioritize building school and classroom cultures; consider:
- We see and hear Black (and brown) students less than their peers: in almost every school climate and culture study, Black students report they feel less safe, less connected to school, and less connected to a caring adult than their White peers. This can be soul-crushing for students and have profound effects on their school experience and their life prospects.
- We expect less from Black students: Black students are exposed to content and assignments that are far below grade-level. Black students report that adults underestimate their intelligence and expect less of them.
- Black students rarely “see” themselves accurately represented in history or in any materials. Little, if anything, is taught about great Black civilizations, leaders, and contributions. And, to the extent we teach about the founding of our country or the civil rights movement or slavery, our curricula too often leaves out the tough stuff about the role institutional racism has played throughout. Curricula, books, and supplemental materials present White people in a favorable light and Black people in an unfavorable light. We need to seek and create better and more pro-Black content.
- Having even one Black educator can increase a Black student’s likelihood of graduating by 13%.
To our White colleagues and friends: Let’s not make Black people do all the work right now, or ever. Let’s take time to further educate ourselves and others, reflect and “be the change”. I am happy to schedule a call if you want a thought partner, but here are some initial ideas. If you haven’t already (I know some of you have) let’s commit to:
- Continually educating ourselves about how our country has promoted a White-normative culture that has perpetuated White supremacy — and how that influences all of us. Kendi put together an anti-racist reading list here. Consider what we gravitate towards as we consume narratives, content, and products. Our choices could be causing “confirmation bias” (e.g., if all you read or experience is from a White perspective, you are likely missing something).
- If you are raising kids or play a primary person role to any kids, consistently practicing (you never “arrive” — I read and practice every single day) raising them to be race-conscious and anti-racist; some good and comprehensive resources (including readings, blogs, associations, children’s books, podcasts and more) are found here.
- Getting in the arena — pushing ourselves not only to be an allies but rather co-conspirators — and knowing the difference. Not just talking, but acting — including and especially when it is uncomfortable.
- Actively engaging other White friends, colleagues, and family in everything we are learning – and encouraging them to learn and discuss with their circle too. As educators, we cannot see this work as “nice to have” but as essential and urgent if we are going to do right by all of the students.
To all members of the DRP community: We believe biases exist in all of us and that we all have an obligation to understand how implicit biases are cemented — even in “good people.” Cumulative “micro aggressions” cause students to shut down, disconnect, or worse. Too often, Black students experience toxic or unsupportive school cultures and so do students who are LGBTQQ, students who are growing up in non-traditional family structures, students with disabilities, and students whose families are immigrants.
We need to make this a moment of real change. We also can’t make this only about police reform — because we have so much to do in education too. And we have moral obligation not just to critique and observe problems, but to actively solve the ones within our control.
As always, we are here to support you and your team as you navigate these rough waters.
In partnership, Cami and the DRP team
As our country and communities begin to pivot from the initial phase of fighting the horrifying impact of COVID-19 toward the future, we hope education and other leaders will remain focused on realities brought into stark relief over the past six weeks. COVID-19 has forcefully called our attention to glaring inequities in many areas of life, including education. We have two choices. We can ignore the obstacles that have only gotten more perilous for poor, black and brown students. Or, we can own up to inequities and forge new pathways rooted in racial justice and a genuine commitment to the well-being of all children.
Reforming the systems, practices and policies that were failing our children before COVID-19 should be at the core — not the periphery — of recovery and reentry planning. We hope states like Louisiana will continue their fierce commitment to the academic needs and growth of all children and make even deeper investments in their emotional and mental health as well, choosing leaders who will make that a key priority. We also hope that commitment to bold progress is sustained, and even accelerated, in the face of leadership changes.
In Louisiana, 71 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged and 41 percent are black. Before COVID-19, 22 percent of black students were mastering grade-level materials, compared with nearly half of their white peers. Black students were suspended at nearly double the rate of white students. Children with disabilities had a 22 percent gap in their graduation rates, English learners a 45 percent gap. Louisiana was making steady progress in closing opportunity gaps as compared with other states, but state and local leaders need to double down on strategies that were working pre-COVID and invest in innovative strategies to help the most struggling learners.
These painful statistics should motivate a new normal. As federal stimulus money begins to flow, resources are being dedicated to new devices and better instruction using technology. Policymakers are discussing adding time to make up for learning loss. Educators are focused on making sure they know where students are academically when they return. All these things are critically important.
But in order for all children to thrive, we must also and pursue bold new ideas. This is not a moment to rearrange the furniture and apply a coat of paint to the Titanic.
We must focus on the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and families — and to do so with care not to go back to old ways. We need to increase the skill of educators in building deep and trusting relationships with students. We need to ensure that our teaching force of mostly white educators working with mostly black and brown students are aware of potential biases and have the tools to truly see and hear students. School systems need resources to help students and families access high-quality, culturally competent, school-based and community-based mental health and social services. Schools will need to dedicate time to nurturing the social and emotional health of students, and board members, state leaders and superintendents must value and prioritize this work. School cultures need to have high expectations for students, and lots of supports to catch them if they struggle, academically or otherwise. The partnership between schools and families must be nurtured.
We also hope the state and districts will take this time to continue rethinking discipline and expand new approaches already underway. If we want to stem the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts black and brown students, now is the time to take a different approach. The data is clear: We cannot suspend and expel our way to a successful system. More is required. Boys and young men of color must be seen as assets and not liabilities. Students should get a fresh start, and we should aspire to support each and every one of them to succeed.
Attending to the well-being of all children cannot be left to the school system alone. Community and faith-based organizations, and neighbors can, and must, help schools. These are our schools, and our community’s children. We no longer have the luxury of blaming others or simply shuffling leaders. This moment presents the opportunity to recognize that some of the resources our children require are not found on school campuses. Access to health care, behavioral health services, support for families and caring adults must be derived from our larger community.
We should not go back to old ways of doing things that failed too many. Louisiana can continue to lead the way in putting the needs of our most marginalized students at the forefront as we rebuild.
Cami Anderson is the CEO of The Discipline Revolution Project, an organization working to realize equity across the country, including in Louisiana. She’s the former superintendent of alternative high schools in New York and Newark.
Raymond A. Jetson is chief executive catalyst at MetroMorphosis, an organization focused on transforming inner-city neighborhoods from within. He’s an Encore Public Voices and Forward Promise fellow.
TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL AND HEADLINES
- If you haven’t come across it, Wide Open School is a truly comprehensive culling of high-quality, safe, and approved on-line resources for educators and families fueled by Common Sense with 25 of the biggest content providers in the education space.
- An all-star panel of national, state, local, and school leaders (and lots of friends) wrote an incredibly thorough and detailed back to school opening plan for systems leaders; this is a must read for school and systems leaders
- An excellent article in US News and World Reports summarizing the big changes schools are likely to have to enact based on the new CDC guidelines
- An important article about the misuses of assessing and talking about childhood trauma; with “trauma-informed” education rightfully taking front-stage as we address student needs, it is critically important we don’t pathologize and label children, families, and communities
- Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion author and teaching guru (and friend), recorded a free webinar on what he is learning about effective on-line teaching; it’s a must watch. And while you are on his site, you will find on-line modules about good teaching overall.
PLANNING FOR RE-OPENING
- A set of equity questions for systems leaders to consider by the NYC Leadership Academy
- An excellent article about what we can learn from systems who successfully and quickly transitioned to distance learning
- A detailed reopening roadmap from a set of operations, public health, and education experts working together
- Catalyst Education released a comprehensive planning tool for systems. Including one focused on the social and emotional well being for students and families; note, we do not necessarily recommend all of the resources they link to, but the tool itself breaks down essential element that need to be considered alongside instruction, talent, and operations
- A excellent piece by Transcend Education about the three jobs systems leaders have right now: responding, recovering, and reinventing. Makes a strong case for not returning to the status quo
- A great article about assessing student learning right now
- School closures — a collaborative of over 20 organizations — is a one-stop website with a treasure trove of resources for SEL and instruction
- A Harvard Business Review article about the importance of balancing “task orientated” leadership with “people oriented” leadership; important reminder right now
- A Harvard Business Review article about the psychology of leading in a crisis; this one focused on how leaders create the right “holding environment” for people to be productive in times of uncertainty
- An excellent article about how Jacinda Ardern has been such an effective leader by exhibiting what leadership guru Ron Heifitz calls technical and adaptive leadership
- Clearinghouse of instructional resources by Instruction Partners
- 32 resources for preschoolers by Fordham
- YouTube resources for middle and high schoolers by Fordham
- Clearinghouse by Education Reimagined of academic resources
- Khan Academy made a sample home teaching schedule with links to lessons for all grades for a whole day over multiple weeks. The schedule is a great sample, and the Khan content is great for math and solid for other subjects. Self-directed and free.
- A high-quality teacher-made an incredible schedule complete with guiding questions and on-line resources
- Scholastic offers a full suite of all subject by grade level
- BrainPop offers all subjects but also has PE, Art, African AmericanHistory, and other topics all by grade level
- Zearn: This highly regarded math site builds off of the Common Core-aligned Eureka Math program to make online math lessons compelling and effective.
- GreatMinds: The publisher of Eureka Math, Wit and Wisdom, and PhD Science, will soon roll out free instructional materials, including videos of teacher-led lessons, for students nationwide
- The most comprehensive list of online education resources that are offering free services for families and/or schools right now. This is an online spreadsheet with hundreds of resources. If you are looking for something specific, you will find it here.
- Educators can also visit the Success Academy Ed Institute, for free access to the building blocks of Success K-8 curriculum, along with virtual professional development resources for teachers and school leaders.
- Penguin books has free on-line books, author talks, and other goodies for kids
- A comprehensive set of on-line resources for NYC teachers
- Audiobooks for kids are free on Audible
- On-line leveled books at Raz Kids
- This is a free K-5 on-line science courses— highly interactive and fun.
- Mark Rober, former NASA engineer: With over 10 million subscribers, Rober comes up with super fun and engaging ways to explore science concepts and engineering challenges. A good place to start is his “learn some science” playlist, currently at 26 videos, 10 to 15 minutes each
- Bill Nye the Science Guy: An oldie but a goodie—Nye’s channel offers 48 full-length, 23-minute videos, covering virtually every major topic in the science curriculum
- MIT is now delivering a weekly set of activities, video, etc. for K12 kids
- Embry-Riddie school of Aeronautics will start offering free online courses
- A readable, vivid article about how special education is playing out in Providence. Contains some good ideas and hard realities
- A National Geographic article about how to support Autistic children at home — helpful for teachers too
- An article by NSVF describing three technology-based tools for supporting student mindfulness and reflection
- Icivics offers games and lessons on civics
- For teachers, Morningside Centers has tips and lessons for adults to engage kids in SEL content and ReThink Ed has some good tips and lessons for adults to engage students; there is some content for kids directly (particularly teens)
- Also, Headspace, is now offering free services for K12 — this in everything from guided meditations, morning rituals, on-line counseling, and other mental health supports.
- A Trauma-Informed Approach to working with students right now from Teaching Tolerance
- The most popular class in Yale’s history on The Science of Happiness and Well-Being is now free
- A checklist on how to keep kids social and emotional needs front and center by the surge institute
- 10 ideas for keeping kids engaged who have diverse learning needs by The Ability Challenge
- Two places to find virtual tours of the world’s greatest museums, here and here. This one is called the ultimate guide to virtual museums.
- Kid-friendly news articles can be found about on just about every topic
- Liberty’s Kids: A fun-filled and age-appropriate cartoon that first aired on PBS decades ago. This is a fantastic narrative account of the American Revolution, spread over 40 episodes, 23 minutes each.
- Extra Credits Extra History: Boasting over 200 videos, this channel offers history lessons complete with compelling narration and cute animations. Each episode is around 10 to 15 minutes.
- Crash Course: This channel offers a huge library of videos across most major disciplines, including playlists of 48 videos on U.S. history, 72 on world history, and 50 on U.S. government and politics. Each episode is generally 10 to 15 minutes long and features John Green talking about the subject, mixed in with some humor and animations
- Coding content for kids
- Digital literacy for kids — and resources for parents to keep kids safe by Common Sense Media
- Fun activities at home by Fordham
- A comprehensive tool-kit for parents in setting up school by greatschools.org
- The Library of Congress is hosting an on-line series with author and youth writing ambassador Jason Reynolds aimed at engaging young people in creative writing and storytelling ideas on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- Making the most of this time by the 74
- Staying resilient right now by Harvard Business Review
- Summit Public Schools parent video link (in multiple languages) so students and families could get set up for in-home, on-line learning
- This article for families includes practical tips and a list of top and user-friendly on-line tools
- How bad times bring out the best in people by the Harvard Business Review
- A data visualization from The Washington Post is good for explaining why social distancing is so important
- A Trauma-Informed Approach to working with students right now from Teaching Tolerance — a MUST read
- Be A Learning Hero has a roadmap to help parents keep their children on track while school is closed
- Dreambox Learning is giving parents a 90-day free trial of Dreambox so children can learn at home. Sign up by April 30th.
- The Kennedy Center is offering art lessons called “Lunch Doodles” everyday at 1:00pm ET
- Reading Rockets has free resources for young children to read, write, and explore while they’re at home.
- ReadWriteThink has activities and projects, tips and how-to’s, printouts, and more to focus on reading and writing for K-12 students
DISTRICTS AND CHARTER MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS
Districts and Charter Management Organizations are putting their plans online; following are links to various plans:
- KIPP DropBox contains everything from instructional recommendations to operations templates and family communication
- Summit Public Schools Virtual School Handbook for Teachers
- Summit Public Schools Virtual School Handbook for School Leaders
- Esperanza CMO — High Quality and useful “lessons learned” piece from one charter management organization’s work to go virtual
- Chiefs for Change is summarizing the approach of all of their members’ districts and states on their website. Select exemplars include:
HOW TO BE AN EFFECTIVE ONLINE TEACHER
- The Chronicle of Higher Education compiled strategies about how to be a better teacher on-line
- Resources and tips for teaching remotely by MIT
- Short and sweet article with clear and useful tips about teaching on-line
- A comprehensive article about planing for and executing distance learning by ISTE
- Zoom 101 for teachers by We Are Teachers
- A thoughtful and practical resource with tips about how to balance synchronous and asynchronous learning in Education Week.
- Own The Room is hosting free zoom classes on how to use the platform to be an effective, engaging teacher — I recently took one of their master classes and it was awesome
- Mastering remote teaching and more by Doug Lemov
- Feedback and accountability on-line by Doug Lemov
- Taking a student-centered approach by Facing History and Ourselves
- PBS resources walking you through the brass tacks of virtual learning
- How to be effective on-line by the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Going on-line in a hurry by the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Advice for first-time remote teachers by Ed Surge
- Tips for online learning by ASCD
- Teach for All’s top 12 tips for online learning
BUILDING ONLINE CONTENT
DAILY OR WEEKLY CONTENT
- The Robertson Center will be sending out daily emails to interested educators and parents with a “Thinking Job of the Day” for students who are learning remotely. This will include a math activity that students can work on at home. Link to sign up to receive these resources here.
- The New York Times is publishing a daily set of learning activities for students and updates for adults — they have also taken down the paid firewall. It has writing prompts and kid-friendly articles.
- Jarrett J. Krosoczka, whose book Hey Kiddowas a National Book Award finalist, is going to have live, daily drawing lessons on Youtube starting March 16th.
- Ed Navigator is sensing a really helpful daily parent email
- Harper Collins: HarperKids is having storytime at noon ET on Facebook
- Weekly activities for little kids by Tinkergarten
- Weekly math activities by Stanford-based You Cubed
I bring John, David, Ana and Sally into every training, strategy session and decision-making room I occupy. Well, actually I bring their stories, to remind myself and others of the students we are still failing and the significant work we still need to do to ensure excellence for all students.
John’s family immigrated from the Dominican Republic and he was assigned to a bilingual class where his teacher spoke only English. He’s Black, so in his mostly Latino school, adults often singled him out for being disruptive even when he acted similarly to his peers. Daily, he dealt with awkward and misguided questions about his identity: Are you Black or Latino? Despite the language barriers between John and his teacher and classmates, it was clear he was functioning several grade levels above his peers in pretty much every subject. His family lived in abject poverty, using a camping stove to cook dinner and rationing money for gas and electricity.
Mark appeared to be Brown and, because he was adopted and spent time in group homes, no one seemed to know his race or ethnicity. He’d been in multiple homes by the time he was 8, experiencing immeasurable trauma. He suffered from a degenerative hip disease—and had experienced significant physical abuse—that resulted in over a dozen surgeries and made it hard for him to walk. His school had meticulously spelled out all of his defects and problems and special education needs, in what educators call an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). But nothing in that document got at the root causes or pointed out his innumerable strengths, including his deep conviction about right and wrong, and his seemingly endless kindness and positive attitude.
Ana was raped when she was 14 by a family member whose father spent the better part of his childhood incarcerated. When her demons caught up to her, she tried to tell her story only to be put out by her entire family and their extended friends. With nowhere to turn, she ended up on the streets, living in a friend’s car and dropping out. Ana found her way to an alternative school for over-aged and under-credited youth where she also came out as a lesbian questioning her gender identity. No one at either of her schools knew her secrets: that she was the victim of a terrible act of sexual violence, or that she didn’t have a home. She was a good student, after all—compliant and quiet.
Sally’s family isn’t wealthy, but they don’t struggle economically. It became clear early in her life that she wasn’t growing, physically or emotionally, at quite the rate of her peers and she suffered from bouts of extreme exhaustion and frustration. Eventually, she was diagnosed with diabetes and also dyslexia. The process to obtain the medical services necessary to manage her diabetes was, simply put, a nightmare. Her parents were sent in circles and Sally spent as much time out of class checking her monitors and navigating bureaucracy as she did learning strategies to manage her emotions and learning how to read. And, when she was in class, Sally became increasingly frustrated as she fell further behind. Few at school seemed to connect the dots between her physical challenges, her learning struggles and her outbursts.
THE PROBLEM WITH LABELS
We have names for students like John, Mark, Ana and Sally. We identify them as belonging to a “specialized population.” By this, we might mean English-learning, special education, LGBTQQ, court-involved, homeless, over-aged, under-credited, medically fragile or Title I. God forbid you belong to any of these groups and are also Black or living well below the poverty level, which makes your chances of excelling in school almost non-existent. In that case, we label you “at-risk”—for struggling in school, dropping out or worse. We count the number of “adverse childhood effects” (ACEs) you have and record them in databases.
In other words, we spend lots of time describing the defects of students and very little time diagnosing the systemic issues that make their odds of success even longer.
Many traditional schools struggle to support students with these labels. Even our best and highest-performing schools, including those in the charter sector, are struggling with these very same students. When we disaggregate data, we see tremendous gaps in academic achievement between students with disabilities and their general education peers. We see huge gaps in achievement between Black students and their White peers. We see that students who are homeless, in foster care or involved in the court system master grade-level material at much lower rates than their peers.
For years, education advocates called these “achievement gaps.” Recognizing this term could imply that students are the problem, many have recently embraced the phrase “opportunity gaps.” Proponents in favor of this framing point out that students with particular risk factors have fewer opportunities than their more advantaged peers and this makes it harder for them to master academic content.
Most school systems not only fail to provide students in need of it with extra support, but actually implement policies and practices that make their chance of success even slimmer. Worse, some implicitly or explicitly suggest “we need to sacrifice the 20% to ensure the success of the 80%.” (I’ve heard this, multiple times.)
We need to stop finding labels for the students and start identifying the systems that make it damn near impossible for them to achieve. By using words that better reflect what the real problem is, we will start to shift our attention to the source of the fire instead of complaining constantly about the smoke.
STUDENTS WHO SYSTEMS FAILED THE MOST
I think we need a new way of talking about students who face barriers erected by adults and sustained by broken systems. So, I have taken to describing students like John, David, Ana and Sally as SSFMs—Students who Systems Failed the Most.
John’s family moved because of lack of economic opportunity and they were left even poorer by a broken and biased American immigration system. He faced racism, lack of support for learning English, and low expectations in a school and system that added roadblocks to his success. David was trapped in the child welfare system that created trauma and was transitioned into a special education system that piled on by further pathologizing him. Ana’s struggles were a result of someone else’s action and she was ignored by schools because she was compliant. Sally started failing in school because of the poor systems to support students with specialized medical and learning needs.
But John, David, Ana and Sally are not outliers or students we should consider around the edges of education policy and practice. They are our students, our friends, our family. John is my former student, who eventually did succeed despite our school and the broader system. David is my own brother, who survived school and is now an amazing dad and change agent in his community. Ana is a student I met as superintendent of alternative high schools in New York City—she excelled in her transfer school and went on to thrive in a prestigious university. Sally is like the children of so many of my friends who, despite the advantages of racial or economic privilege, struggle every day to advocate for their child’s basic learning needs.
It’s time we embrace a new mindset about these students. By calling them SSFMs, we are forced to grapple with how we must change our approach in pursuit of excellence for all students. It’s time to stop admiring that we have a problem and start addressing it.
My column, In The Room, has given me and my readers a front-row seat to important and poignant lessons on leadership. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the first and only female president of Harvard University, the first and only African American woman to run the American Civil War Museum, the chief information officer of the CIA, the head of cybersecurity for Ernst and Young, and a national best-selling author and world-renowned psychologist.
I realized, though, during a recent run (where I do my best thinking), that everyone I’ve featured so far is American and either my age or older. Enter 31-year-old phenom, Larisa Hovannisian, founder of Teach For Armenia. Last month, Larisa co-hosted the Teach For All Global Conference in Armenia, which gathered 450 members of their community. Teach For All is a global network of independent organizations in 53 countries, whose shared mission is to develop collective leadership to ensure all children have the education, support and opportunity to fulfill their potential. We met for coffee to talk about leadership, lessons learned, and love.
‘Armenia Needs You Too’
While Larisa went to a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin and taught in Phoenix, Arizona, she spent most of her childhood in Russia. She shared vivid memories of her birthplace, Armenia, where she returned every summer to spend time with her grandmother. Her poignant stories about her early life reminded me of the challenging history of the region during that time.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia became an independent country. As the fledgling government struggled to become a self-sustaining country, the region suffered a devastating earthquake that killed thousands. The conditions, in part, led to Larisa’s parents moving to Russia to build a “more stable” life.
But Russia, too, was reeling from the break-up of the Soviet Union. Relationships with former satellite states of the USSR were naturally tense and the country was in a deep financial and economic crisis. Terrorism was spreading, and children were being abducted for ransom money.
“This sounds like a lot,” I exhaled. She admitted that her parents were very protective, and she had very little freedom growing up. She was grateful that her father was able to provide a comfortable life because of his work as a lawyer for an international firm. But, she was well aware of the broader context and strife. Many of her friends lacked access to basic services, like education and food.
“I knew I would come back to do something to help someday,” she said of her home country. “I just wasn’t sure how or when.” When she decided to join Teach For America she remembered her Mom saying, “You know, Armenia needs you too.” The seed was planted.
Discrimination in Many Forms
As an Armenian in Russia, she was considered “dark” and “other”—and she felt the effects of this regularly. The unstable financial situation in Russia led to a lot of finger-pointing and resentment. “Armenians are taking our jobs,” she and her family would hear on a regular basis.
She was incensed by the inequities and the scapegoating, and it helped her develop a deep commitment to “justice and fairness.”
We talked about what it was like to attend a mostly white college in the United States. Many people “could not figure out what I was,” she recalls, because she was, literally, the only Armenian on campus. Luckily, she found a band of other women who became her best friends and a personal support group. “The token people of color bonded together,” she joked, but adds, seriously, that the tight-knit circle helped make her college experience. “People didn’t mean to be offensive, so we had to take it with some humor.”
She also felt a responsibility to educate Americans about the Armenian genocide (which was recently recognized as a genocide by the House of Representatives on October 29, 2019) and other aspects of her culture and country. “I ended up [engaging] in activism whether I liked it or not because no one else would.” In a way, she explains, she was grateful because her college experience thrust her into a leadership position.
I asked how she would compare conversations about race here with those in Eastern Europe. “It’s not that there is less or more in different countries,” she reflected, “but at least we live in a country where people can talk about it. In countries like Russia, it’s tough for this to be even acknowledged.”
Having lived in multiple countries, she is deeply aware of how discrimination shows up in so many different forms. “Discrimination [happens when one group considers another] to be ‘other’ or different or minorities…this includes race but also religious beliefs and sexual orientation.”
Focus on Being a Good Teacher
Larisa and I are both proud Teach For America alumnae, having joined the corps right after college. We were both called by the two-part mission: do everything possible to provide students in schools with a game-changing education, and take the lessons learned from the classroom to fight for equity more broadly. Being a classroom teacher and joining a mission-driven organization had a profound impact on my trajectory, so I wanted to know if it was the same for Larisa.
She initially was overwhelmed by the stories of her students, many of whom were living in abject poverty. For some, “the only hot meal they got was school lunch…so I started bringing bags of juice and sandwiches just to make sure my kids weren’t hungry.” Some would describe violence they witnessed in their neighborhoods in great detail. “I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she told me, because her heart would break a little every day.
“One day I talked to my dad,” she remembered gratefully. He gave her some simple and yet profound advice: “Focus on being a good teacher.” He helped her see that she was expending a lot of energy on things she couldn’t control, as opposed to investing in the one thing she could. “I had to reframe my mindset…and that is when I started having an impact.”
We talked about what a critical leadership lesson that was on two levels. First, it is important to focus on what is in your control and your own efficacy in fixing it. Second, the ability to shift your own mindset can, in fact, produce different results.
Her eyes lit up when she told me about her former students. One boy in particular had severe autism and entered kindergarten having not spoken any words other than reciting lines from cartoons. Within six months of being in her class, he started talking in short sentences and could hold a conversation. His mom told Larisa, “You’ve given my son an opportunity to talk to me and our family—and that is always something I’ll love you for.”
Asking Men to Be Allies
Shortly after her two years in the classroom, Larisa decided to start Teach For Armenia. She wrote a business plan, started assembling a Board of Trustees, and looking for money—at the ripe age of 23.
It turns out this was even more audacious than it sounds. “Back in 2013, not a lot of young women started companies in Armenia,” she tells me. “The idea of a young entrepreneur and underdog is an American thing…[Armenia] is very patriarchal and ageist.” But her own childhood adversity, college, and teaching experience gave her confidence, drive, and leadership skills. She laughed and shared, “Being young and naive—not arrogant or overconfident—I thought ‘the sky is the limit, why not risk it.’”
She tells me about many “nasty” attempts to prevent her from succeeding—from usurping her intellectual property to attempting to discredit her in key circles. She recalls plenty of meetings where prospective donors, policymakers, or powerbrokers cut her off in mid-sentence, posed questions to her male colleagues even though she was the CEO, or didn’t acknowledge her presence at all.
I got mad just listening to her, remembering my own battles. Like me, she learned how to advocate for herself. “I’ve gotten good at saying things like, ‘you cut me off, I need to finish my thought or it’s going to be tough for us to have a productive conversation,’” she tells me. “This may come off as me being curt or even mean, but we have to do things to make our voices heard.”
She also shares the important role others have played in addressing inequity. “I am lucky to have male colleagues who are real partners in the work…in one meeting, [my male colleague] said, ‘Actually I’m going to have my boss answer that for you.’”
Personally, I was struck by this example. I am hard-pressed to remember many times when a male colleague was this overt of an ally. Larisa reacted to my surprise. “Sometimes I have to ask or explain,” she said. “The men in Armenia often only shake the hands of other men. I now tell the men I work with that I’d like for them to shake my hand. They weren’t aware it was a problem.”
This exchange makes me wonder if I have been explicit enough with male colleagues about what allyship looks like—I always just felt it was my responsibility to figure out a way to be heard. “Maybe this is a sign of progress,” I remarked, “both that men have been such clear allies for you and that you are so clear about how they need to show up.”
Embracing Meditation and Love
I can’t help thinking about how much is on her shoulders, so I asked her what she likes to do outside of work and how she takes care of herself personally. She shared that for her first few years starting and running the company, she didn’t think much about this and she felt like she paid for it.
“At one point, it caught up to me,” she admitted. Like others I’ve interviewed for In The Room, she started to struggle with anxiety, and eventually experienced full-blown “panic attacks that would come out of nowhere.” They were so profound that the first time it happened, she actually called the doctor because she thought she was having a heart attack.
She came to cherish and prioritize people in her life who gave as much as they took. She embraces and understands the importance of sleep, which she said she took for granted when she was younger. And, she found transcendental meditation. She said she tried yoga, mindfulness, and other things—but meditation was what finally worked for her. It’s become an integral part of her day.
Our most intimate moment came when we talked about our respective life partners. Larisa married someone she describes as her soulmate, who deeply inspires her. She was “introduced” to him on the shelves of a Phoenix bookstore, where she spontaneously purchased a memoir he had written about his family.
Moved by his story—and the cute photo of him on the book jacket—she connected with him briefly online, but they never met. (I admit this highlighted for me the generational divide between me and Larisa!).
Three years later, while pitching a funder, she ran into him at a coffee shop in Armenia. The rest, as they say, is history.
They make time for each other, by scheduling calls and date nights, even it if is just 30 or 45 minutes. They make it a point not to get disconnected even as they are both working on literally solving the country’s biggest problems. “Like me,” she says, “he doesn’t distinguish work and life. It’s not one and then the other—just one big thing.”
Larisa makes me hopeful that the next generation of leaders is up for the task of solving big things.