Featured Educator

Dr. Linda Powell, Professor of Education

"We can’t let the future of children be held hostage to personality problems." -Dr. Linda Powell

Linda Powell is a teacher of teachers, which makes her a leader of leaders. She lives in New York City where she is an educational consultant on school reform and an associate professor on sabbatical from Columbia University in New York. She has taught at Harvard University and at at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York, but she she started her education in the public schools of Chicago’s south side. Southside Chicago is not generally known for academic achievement, but Linda Powell is a living testimony that excellence can be cultivated anywhere and that every student can learn. And that belief also makes Linda Powell a revolutionary reformer. “It’s clear to me that the schools are utterly failing poor children of color. Utterly”, said this African American doctor of psychology. “It’s clear to me that systemically, schools are failing.” But Powell doesn’t take a self-righteous posture in calling educators to task about school reform. “I also say that there are some things you can do to help.” she said. “Money makes a difference. Cash - that translates into teacher salaries and books and computers.” But money is not the only thing that has an impact. “The big one is giving teachers a space to talk about their real work.”

What is the real work? It is giving teachers the opportunity to thresh out with each other the answers to questions such as - how to handle the troublemaker, where to get a new idea for presenting the same old subject, how to create a comfort zone for self and others in the classroom. According to Powell, when teachers have a safe space to share, that then the art teacher will tell the science teacher how she handles Johnny in her class which gives the science teacher new ideas on how he can reach Johnny, too. She also noted that a lot of educational theory is based on outdated concepts. “A lot of teachers were trained on models developed before TV and fast food and video games,” she said.

But not all problems in the classroom begin and end with the teacher. Some of society’s ills spillover into our schools. “Race is a big one. Gender is another,” she said. Sometimes it’s just the inability of people to get along with each other. “But we can’t let the future of children be held hostage to personality problems,” she said.

It is for this reason, that engaging educators’ emotions is an important part of the process for educators who study under Powell. “I think the quirkiest thing is that people think they can disconnect their feelings from their work,” she explained. “They think that learning is by definition ‘heady’ and factual and that in the field of education they will never have a feeling. Then they take my class where they have to think and feel at the same time. Their fuses get blown.” But Powell believes that wrestling with, working through and gaining insight into feelings is critical. “A multimillion dollar effort to improve schools gets launched and it fails because of a personality problem - and that’s the world of feelings and values and faith. I think that in the real world where educators work, feelings are really shaping policy and we’ve got to get better at integrating what we do.”