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An Interview with Paul Reville

The following interview is shared with you by both Paul Reville and Isaac Graves. To learn about this interview series and reproduction, citation, and copyright information, please click hereTo find out more about Paul Reville, click here.

Paul Reville

Paul RevilleIsaac Graves:  What does community mean to you? 

Paul Reville: I think of various kinds of communities. There are communities that we all have in our lives. There are geographic communities where we live. There are religious communities, that have to do with being communities of faith, where we worship. There are friendship communities of various kinds in our lives. From the standpoint of my profession, I think about education communities, first and foremost. How we work in the policy work that we do, and the leadership work we do, in the realm of education to create communities of learners.

IG: How does community play out in your life?

PR: I'm just going to focus on the professional piece, because this is not so much about me, as it is about my work. As we go into different schools, and we work with school folks about how we educate young people, and how we close achievement gaps, you find a lot of variance within and between schools, but mainly between schools, and sometimes between school districts, in terms of the kind of intentional community or unintentional community that gets created in the school.

While some attention has been paid to this in our field, my own belief is, not enough attention has gone into how you establish your community. For example, it's characterized by high expectations for everyone. It's characterized by a commitment to hard work. It's characterized by a kind of caring involvement between teachers and students, where teachers not only own the academic performance of their students, but care about the students in a personal sense, and are willing to do what it takes in helping the students through personal challenges in their lives, so that they can concentrate fully on the academic tasks at hand. Those are some of the kinds of challenges that we face.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about community?

PR: Where students feel respected, and where they feel that the adults in their community, not only have high expectations of them, but are committed to working with them to realize those expectations, no matter what the obstacles, then you have, typically, very high functioning kind of community. Where you have the absence of that, where you have students passing through school largely anonymous, where they don't really know an adult, let alone have an adult who is an advocate for them, or somebody who embodies the school's expectations for them, then that lack of community is unhealthy for students. It means that they've lost an opportunity for achievement that they might otherwise have.

I guess what I'm saying is, in the high-performing schools that I encounter, there is a tremendous sense of interconnectedness among the people who work there, both in a professional and a personal sense, that they're making a go at this together, that they're a team, and that they hold one another in high regard. Going along with that is a sense of professional and personal accountability; that there are norms that are established in the school that far exceed in their power, any external norms we might propose with mandates or legislation, or dictates from on high. Those kinds of, for example, professional norms and expectations that teachers have of one another, or that students have of one another, with respect to their behavior, those come about from a sense of community.

IG:  What's missing in community? [What is an ideal community to you?]

PR: I said a little bit about what I think the ideal community is, and so therefore, what's missing in some schools, that sense of high expectation is missing. In other schools, that sense of deep personal and professional commitment that teachers have to students is missing. For example, sometimes schools are just serving too many students to be able to get personally involved in that way. In many schools, the structure of the schedule and the way in which students and teachers interact with one another is absent. In many schools, there isn't a real culture of student involvement and student ownership of the education environments. Students don't feel part of it. They don't feel connected to one another. They don't feel an obligation to the next generation of students coming along. Those are the principal things that you find missing. The flip side of that is, those are the characteristics of an ideal community.

IG: What does a democratic education mean to you?

PR: It's an education in which everyone has some kind of voice and involvement in shaping the community of learners. It doesn't necessarily put everyone on a par, but it says that we're going to run a school community here, in which everybody feels respected, considered, and consulted, as we build and shape this community moving forward. We have opportunities, forums of various kinds, advisory groups of various kinds, in which key constituencies tend to participate, and people who have opinions and voice to lend to particular issues, have the opportunity to share that in the development of education policy, and in the shaping of education communities.

IG: How does education play out in your life? 

PR: That's such a … I really don't know what to do with a question like that. My life is all about education. Education is possibility. My life is full of possibilities, and in my day-to-day work, I'm blessed with working on shaping communities of learners all across Massachusetts.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about education?

PR: It connects people to possibility. It connects people to opportunities for enriching the human experience.

IG: What's missing in education?

PR: Broadly speaking, we're not successful in education for all of our students. There are a great many students who are not benefiting from education the way that I described. They experience school, but they're not enriched as human beings. They don't feel connected to new possibilities. They haven't mastered a set of skills or a body of knowledge, that will help them be successful later in life. We have not yet discovered a set of strategies which enables us to educate all of our students at a high level, to optimize possibilities for all of our students. We've got a gap in terms of our aspirations and our actual performance. What's missing is strategies to realize those aspirations.

IG: What is an ideal education to you?

PR: An ideal education is something that broadens and expands a student's experience, that broadens their mind and their way of thinking about themselves and their place in the world. It's one that creates possibilities for students, both intellectual possibilities and practical possibilities. It's one that creates connections between students and teachers, between students and one another, between students and the world that surrounds them, so that their experience becomes meaningful.

In the end, it's an education that prepares them to be well developed, highly engaged young people, embracing the challenges that exist for our society. It enables them to get a 21st century job to support themselves. It enables them to be citizens in a democracy and leaders in that democracy. It enables them to be heads of families, with all the values and character traits we associate with that. It enables them to be lifelong learners, capable of addressing all kinds of intellectual and practical challenges that they encounter in the future, for which education has not specifically prepared them, but has generally given them the intellectual power and the discretion and the disposition to tackle meaningful challenges in their personal, and professional lives.

IG: What do you think people should know about the relationship between community and education?

PR: Community is about relationships; people being in relationship to one another, and being in relationship to the content with which they're working. Community is where people are attentive to those relationships and strengthen those relationships, and build high expectations into those relationships. That has considerable power in motivating both adults and students to do their best and to supply motivation. When we think about learning, we frequently think about teacher and student and curriculum. What's critical in that transaction between teacher and student and curriculum, is that the parties who come to the table are motivated. When they're motivated, they supply the energy and the effort that is an essential ingredient in learning. Relationships are powerful motivating forces. Building an education community that internally motivates all the various parties, all the constituencies, all the people to do their best and engage one another to benefit from being a team but to prosper individually, that's what we want to see in education communities.

IG: Is there anything else you would like to add?

PR: We have to be more intentional about creating education communities, and educational leaders need to be more attentive to how they're going to use the leadership opportunity to create genuine communities of learners. That will make all the difference, in terms of student learning, in the end. A great deal of our focus these days goes on the strategies of instruction. Those strategies are important, but instructional strategy alone will not be sufficient to close achievement gaps or to push people to their greatest possibility, if students don't feel motivated, engaged, cared for, cared about, and part of a caring community with high expectations. It's front-and-center important work to do, in education, and I welcome the focus you've been bringing to it.


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Educating for a Just, Peaceful and Sustainable Future (Videos)

"Educating for a Just, Peaceful and Sustainable Future" is a comprehensive humane education conference highlighting the power and promise of humane education as a key to fostering a generation of solutionaries committed to environmental preservation, animal welfare and human rights.

Presented by Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) and Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots, the conference featured a dynamic program of speakers including Jane Goodall, DBE, UN Messenger of Peace and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute; Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute; Zoe Weil, president of the Institute for Humane Education; and many other acclaimed speakers. It was held on September 21, 2013 at New York University. 

For more information, please visit

Jane Goodall:

Zoe Weil:

Arun Gandhi:

Lightning Talks:

Featuring an introduction by Zoe Weil and Sarah Speare and talks by:

  1. Green Maps: Think Global, Map Local!; Wendy Brawer, founding director, Green Map System
  2. Caring for Life: Humane Education in China; Pei-Feng Su, chief executive officer, ACTAsia for Animals
  3. The Light: Humane Education in Elementary Classrooms; Betsy Farrell-Messenger, science educator
  4. Is Education for the 21st Century and Beyond?; Victoria O. Chiatula, Ph.D., assistant professor of education and program director, humane education, Valparaiso University
  5. The Pollination Project: Supporting the Superhero in You; Stephanie Klempner, co-founder, The Pollination Project
  6. Social Issues Books Clubs in Elementary Schools; Jocelyn Chiu & Courtney Piotrowski, elementary school teachers
  7. The Solutionary Schools K-12; Marion MacGillivray, educator and charter school consultant & Pierce Delahunt, peace advocate in education and the arts
  8. Changing the World: A Simple Shift in Perspective; Karen Giuffré, director, Voyagers' Community School
  9. When 1.3 Billion People Sneeze, the World Will Feel the Impact. The Remedy, Humane Education, is Coming to China; Rosana Ng, director of Greater China Region, Institute for Humane Education
  10. Silhouette Statements: Creating Positive Solutions to Global Problems; Andrea Neiman, art teacher, Columbia High School, East Greenbush, NY
  11. Humane Education in Brazil; Nina Rosa Jacob, animal rights activist; founder and president; Instituto Nina Rosa
  12. Solutionary Congress; David Sidwell, Ph.D., educator and nonprofit leader
  13. ARTS+ACTION – Cafeteria Waste Reduction in NYC Public Schools; Debby Lee Cohen, director and founder, Cafeteria Culture
  14. ISMOTION; Kristina Stoney, director, ISMOTION

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An Interview with Zoe Weil

The following interview is shared with you by both Zoe Weil and Isaac Graves. To learn about this interview series and reproduction, citation, and copyright information, please click hereTo find out more about Zoe Weil, click here and visit her organization's website here.

Zoe Weil

Zoe WeilIsaac Graves:  What does community mean to you? 

Zoe Weil: Community has several meanings to me. The first revolves around where I live. I’m part of a specific locality in rural Maine where I know and interact with many people because we share this region, depend upon one another in various ways, and come together for both celebration and fun and support and sorrow. I did not experience this sense of local community growing up. I was raised in Manhattan, sharing the equivalent amount of space I now share with barely 1,000 people with several million. Outside of family and friends, relationships with my “community” in New York were primarily transactional. Just a few years after living in my chosen community in Maine, which had ten years earlier created an alternative, Waldorf-inspired school my son attended, the 18-year-old daughter of my son’s Kindergarten teacher was in a terrible car crash, paralyzing her. Our local community raised tens of thousands of dollars for her and came together to make their home suitable for life in a wheelchair. This was a revelation to me. It was possible to not only have a community of friends and family who would come to one’s aid, but also a community based specifically upon locality. But I still hold another, important definition of community that is not based on proximal relationships. I am part of a large and dispersed community of social justice, environmental, animal protection, and educational changemakers and I consider this far-flung community to be core to my life and sense of belonging. Finally, as someone who has never found love of country to be more powerful than love of planet, I feel an overarching sense of community with the intricate and entwined and interdependent web of life on Earth.

IG: How does community play out in your life?

ZW: My son’s elementary school was a key factor in my developing sense of local community. The school exists as much through parent and community volunteerism as through tuition. Ours is a vibrant community of engaged citizens, artists, and neighbors. We have a community steel drum band that plays free street concerts (requesting donations in support of local charities and schools) every Monday night all summer long. We have a couple of thriving and ongoing open mic nights where community members gather regularly to share their talents. We have a Last Night celebration every Dec. 31, which I know is growing more commonplace, but ours is quite a big event for such a small community with two schools, two churches, a fire station, a Town Hall, a Grange, and a Legion Hall packed with people listening to storytellers and musicians, watching theater and magic, and dancing to bands. Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) plays to a packed Congo Church when he’s in town on New Year’s Eve, and when he does, I think we all feel something rather extraordinary singing Puff the Magic Dragon out loud with a musical icon who happens to be our neighbor. Every year just before Christmas, almost two hundred people gather to sing Handel’s Messiah, brought to us through the leadership of the late Irving Forbes and the Bagaduce Lending Library, which furnishes each participant with the music. And everywhere there are people coming together to help, whether through our many volunteer fire departments, building and repairing homes, helping clear and burn brush, or digging out of the snow. Community means all this and more to me.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about community?

ZW: Everything I mentioned makes life where I live so rich and meaningful and connected, but maybe the most valuable piece is one I haven’t had to rely on to any large degree… yet, and that is this: I know that if I were ever in need, there would be people at my door eager to help. I also so appreciate that our community protects our gorgeous landscape. Between Acadia National Park (cared for in large part by the non-profit Friends of Acadia) and our local Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we have miles and miles of trails through some of the most beautiful land in the Northeast. 

IG:  What's missing in community?

ZW: I would like a thriving alternative high school. We did have a democratic high school for several years that served the needs of many kids for whom the local high school wasn’t a great fit, and we currently have a very small project-based alternative high school, but it’s got fewer than 20 students enrolled. I would love to see our local high school offer a couple of “schools within a school” to meet the needs and desires of students who would prefer a less traditional high school education.

I would also like safer and larger shoulders for bicycling. The downside of our rural community is that we have to drive a lot. I would bike more if it were safer, but living on a road where the speed limit is 50 mph and with no bike lanes in our towns, biking doesn’t feel like a viable transportation option.

IG: What is an ideal community to you?

ZW: Where I live is pretty close to the ideal. When we were looking for a place to raise our son we had four primary criteria: 1) a progressive, artistic, and engaged rural community 2) an alternative school that was aligned with our educational values for our son 3) a good food coop, and 4) a good library. We found all of that and so much more. I think that it’s difficult to create community in mega-cities filled with highrises, but communities can and do thrive in city neighborhoods. 

IG: What does a democratic education mean to you?

ZW: When I think of “Democratic Education” I generally think specifically of Summerhill, Sudbury Valley and other schools that do not have set or compulsory curricula and in which all decision-making is democratic with each student, administrator, and faculty member receiving a vote. But I think that democratic education does not need to be confined to only these specific examples of free schools. I can imagine democracy playing out in other ways that meld different progressive educational approaches.

IG: How does education play out in your life? 

ZW: For almost 25 years, I have been a humane educator – someone who teaches about the interconnected global issues of human rights, environmental preservation, and animal protection in an effort to provide students with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to be conscientious choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world. I co-founded the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) in 1996 in order to advance the comprehensive humane education movement and train people to be humane educators. At IHE we believe that we need to embrace a much bigger goal for schooling than our current national iteration (to produce verbally, mathematically, scientifically, and technologically literate graduates who can “compete in the global economy”), and that this goal should be to graduate solutionaries ready and eager to play a role in transforming unhealthy, unjust, and unsustainable systems into ones that are restorative, peaceful and humane through whatever professions they pursue. I believe that education is the key to solving all our interconnected problems, and I have dedicated my life toward creating not only a vision for a new kind of schooling, but also in putting legs on that vision by providing the resources and training for people to bring humane education into their classrooms, communities, and range of educational venues.

IG: What do you find most meaningful about education?

ZW: I’m an avid reader. I read about 100 books a year and I read lots of news and information online as well. I’m also a big fan of TED/TEDx and other talks which are now so readily accessible on the Internet. These talks often lead me to books and articles and websites and changemakers so that I’m constantly learning, constantly invited to make connections. It’s very exciting. The ways in which my learning was so compartmentalized in school, through subjects that didn’t interrelate in any obvious way, have given way to a whole new way of learning now, where information from one source provides links to another and to another and to another so learning is a web of interconnections. I love this!

IG: What is an ideal education to you?

ZW: I like to distinguish ‘education’ from ‘schooling.’ Education happens everywhere and is a lifelong process. We humans are learners, and so we are always being educated. Some pursue learning avidly while others may find their world view solidifying in such a way that they avoid learning anything new, but wherever we are on this spectrum of educational pursuits, we are always learning. Much of the time when we talk about education, we are really talking about a specific kind of education – schooling – in which we are consciously imparting certain information and skills for the next generation. Even homeschoolers and unschoolers and free schoolers are still talking about a specific period of life in which the young are provided with collective wisdom and knowledge to prepare them for healthy, engaged, and prosperous adulthood. So I will answer a slightly different question: “What would ideal schooling be to you?”

I do not think there is an ideal school, although I do think that in today’s world, all schools ought to embrace the goal I previously articulated: to educate a generation of solutionaries who have the knowledge, tools, and motivation to contribution positively to the creation of a more humane and healthy world through whatever professions they pursue. Once such a goal is embraced wholeheartedly, I trust that a variety of approaches and curricula will follow. I am opposed to a one size fits all approach to schooling because I do not think any one approach – no matter how good it might seem – would meet every child’s needs, style of learning, or personal ambitions. Nor do I think there is one set curriculum every child must learn. I do believe there is core knowledge every child must have in order to become a true solutionary, and these include what we refer to as “the basics” plus a couple of others. I think every child needs to learn how to:

  • read and write proficiently
  • compute
  • be technologically literate
  • think critically 
  • think creatively
  • work collaboratively

I believe that there are important factors that come into play in creating “ideal” schools, including the following: 

  • We need creative and useful assessment strategies to ensure that students are receiving the “basics” I described above, strategies that differ from the current NCLB national, standardized, multiple choice tests. 
  • Teaching must become the high status, highly creative, well-paying, sought-after job it should be and that it is in other countries where students are often better educated. 

In addition to embracing a bigger goal for schooling described above, there are some things that I can say would be ideal for all schools, including:

  • An atmosphere of excitement and passion for learning (rather than fear of failure or pursuit of reward)
  • Healthy, ecologically friendly school buildings and humane, healthy, and sustainably produced food (eliminating from every school fast food franchises and junk food vending machines)
  • An atmosphere of respect and a commitment on everyone’s part for personal responsibility for their actions (and zero tolerance for bullying and disrespectful behaviors whether by students, teachers, or administrators)

At the Institute for Humane Education we are working to open a Solutionary School in New York City in 2015 which will put all these ideas into practice for the first time. It’s very exciting! 

Watch Zoe Weil's TEDx Talk, "The World Becomes What You Teach" here:

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VIDEO: Re-Imagining the Experience of Education and Schooling

The MacArthur Foundation backed the Digital and Media Learning Hub (University of California Humanities Research Institute) to re-imagine the experience of education and schooling. In the last 5 years they have spent close to $100 million in research. Connected Learning is the outcome. Nic Askew made this film to articulate its findings and possibilities.

See the rest of the short films in the series at