ForeverMissed
Beloved Friends, Family and Colleagues,

We are still in the shock and surprise of Richard’s untimely and rapid passing. Thank you for the tremendous outpouring of love, support, and memories you’ve offered already. We cherish them.

Please join us here on this website to contribute your stories, tributes, and photographs of Richard, so we can all connect around this abundance. (This site will also be an ongoing gift to Richard’s grandchildren.) We invite you to share liberally--no need for formality. Your anecdotes, humor and anything you wish to say about Richard are all welcome.

We intend to convene a Celebration of Life for Richard this spring, and will connect further about details.

Those wishing to make a donation in Richard's honor please direct your good will towards Artists For Humanity, a Boston-based social justice organization centered on the idea that engagement in the creative process is a powerful force for social change, and provides adolescents and young adults the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design. 

Thank you for helping us to celebrate Richard, and grieve his passing.

With love,
His Large and Many-Branched Family

*In order to contribute to this site you will have to enter an email and create a password. We apologize for this inconvenience.
Posted by Monica Higgins on February 24, 2021
So sorry to hear the incredibly sad news of Richard's passing. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work with Richard since joining the HGSE faculty, starting in 2006. He was the person who graciously invited me into the fold, as I was new to education -- inviting me to watch and co-coach with him in the Public Education Leadership Project and join the team working on the emerging EdLD program. He helped me grow into the career I have today. In both spaces, I remember how Richard was extraordinarily creative -- running through walls with his ideas and at the same time, demonstrating his deep commitment and compassion for the work. Such a brilliant person with an outsized legacy in learning. My warmest wishes to you all - his family, friends, and colleagues.
Posted by Anna Kusmer on February 23, 2021
I first started going to Kirsten and Richard's house as a teenager, after becoming good friends with Cole at around 17 years old. I was fortunate to be welcomed back year after year. It's hard to express how special I find this family - sparkling with ideas and warmth, laughter and great conversation.

As I rake through my mind, I can remember being over at their house last year, and Richard asking me questions about my interests and work, as if I (and not he) were a world-renowned thinker. As I read through his amazing accomplishments following his passing, and understand what a great intellectual he was, I feel even more grateful for how he treated me with so much respect as I worked through my passionate yet unformulated Big Ideas.

I didn't know Richard well, but every interaction with him I had I was left feeling like he was a good and special person. Always a great listener, always interested in those around him, really respectful and kind. I'm sorry I won't get to know him better, but I'm so glad I met him, and I send a big hug to everyone who loved him.
-Anna Kusmer
Posted by Kim Marshall on February 23, 2021
In this week's Marshall Memo, I paid tribute to Richard, a powerful thinker and doer who had a major impact on K-12 education. From the nine articles of his that I've summarized over the years, here are a few quotes that capture his wise and iconoclastic spirit:

“If you walk into a classroom and sit down next to a student, ask him what he is doing and why, and you don’t get a clear answer, it is highly unlikely that any powerful learning is taking place.”

“Not surprisingly, schools and school systems that do well under external accountability systems are those that have consensus on norms of instructional practice, strong internal assessments of student learning, and sturdy processes for monitoring instructional practice and for providing feedback to students, teachers, and administrators about the quality of their work. Internal coherence around instructional practice is a prerequisite for strong performance, whatever the requirements of the external accountability system.”

“Improving schools pay attention to who knows what and how that knowledge can strengthen the organization.”

“Successful leaders have an explicit theory of what good instructional practice looks like. They model their own learning and theories of learning in their work, work publicly on the improvement of their own practice, and engage others in powerful discourse about good instruction. These leaders understand that improving school performance requires transforming a fundamentally weak instructional core, and the culture that surrounds it, into a strong, explicit body of knowledge about powerful teaching and learning that is accessible to those who are willing to learn it.”

“Most politically alert citizens, of whatever ideological stripe, work in organizations that have already internalized performance-based accountability. They find the complaints of educators about accountability to be out of touch and whiny.”

“I have to work hard not to show my active discomfort when graduate students come to me and say, ‘I have worked in schools for a few years, and now I am ready to start to shape policy.’ Every fiber of my being wants to say, ‘Use your time in graduate school to become a better practitioner and get back into schools as quickly as possible. You will have a much more profound effect on the education sector working in schools than you will ever have as a policy actor.’”

“I now care much less about what people say they believe, and much more about what I observe them to be doing and their willingness to engage in practices that are deeply unfamiliar to them.”
Posted by katherine merseth on February 22, 2021
One of my earliest memories of Dick, who later became Richard Elmore, was when Tony Alvarado, Robert Schwartz, Dick and I taught a doctoral seminar at HGSE. It must have been around 1992 or 1993. This was a time when Dick (with Burney) had studied Alvarado’s successes in District 2 in New York. In this context and ‘performing’ before adoring doctoral students, the conversations between Alvarado and Elmore were particularly lively as both, in their characteristic ways, felt they had the answer about how to move schools toward improved student learning. I recall cacophonous arguments, shouting and intense debates with some astute doctoral candidates including Sean Reardon adding to the mix. One thing was clear: there wasn’t much oxygen left in the room after class was over. Nonetheless, I learned more from Dick about schooling in co-teaching that class than in any previous course or teaching experience I had had.
Many here have spoken about what they learned from Dick/Richard, but few have talked about how he taught. He seemed to enjoy teaching by the case method and watching him lead a case discussion, either in doctoral courses or in Programs in Professional Education Programs, was always enlightening. Richard/Dick studied the case method with Chris Christensen who held a visiting appointment at HGSE after he retired from HBS; and seemed to relish asking just the right, most powerful and insightful questions at precisely the right time during the discussions. His opening question for the cases were always a zinger and his ability to listen and follow the discussion, was a thrill to watch. 
Dick/Richard and I also worked closely on one of Neil Rudenstine’s interfactulty initiatives called the Harvard Project on Schooling and Children, later known as the Harvard Children’s Initiative. Dick/Richard served as co chair for the initiative’s faculty steering committee. In my role as Executive Director, I was witness to Elmore’s stature among faculty members from other parts of the university. Those from KSG, HSPH as well as HBS and the FAS knew him and respected his work. We also worked together on a PPE Institute called Reforming America’s High Schools. Once again, I learned much by watching.
Ricard’s work was powerful and most importantly, accessible (think of the 4 questions in Instructional Rounds). I will remember him as a generous soul, one who laughed easily and engaged fully. He also loved my dog Sophie and greeted her fondly whenever we showed up at school. Along with the loss of his colleague David Cohen this summer, I feel there is a void at HGSE that never will be filled.
Posted by Joanne Marshall on February 22, 2021
I am sad to hear of The-Professor-Formerly-Known-As-Dick’s passing. Thank you for setting up this page. Like others here, I learned so very much from Dick, and regularly use some of those lessons in my own teaching and research. My students analyze cases using some of his A-024 questions (“Who are the actors? What are their interests?”) and write short pre-class analyses of weekly readings (but on Canvas, so there are no last-minute hallway sprints to turn them in). 

He was a master teacher, and the best person I have ever seen at weaving student perspectives into the points we were discussing for the day. He was also consummately gracious, making us sound smarter than we were (Dick: “___ is like Joanne said…” and I would sit there thinking, “I *wish* I’d said that”). 

On his CPRE research team, I learned much from him and Charlie Abelmann on the topic of accountability as well as how to coordinate many different researchers (mostly: give them a task and let them do it, unless there’s a problem, and meet regularly to check in). Dick also encouraged my interests. When I wanted to do an alternative field experience assignment, and explained why, he signed off on it immediately. When I wanted to do a dissertation related to religion and suggested I go find an outside-HGSE committee member who was religious, he gave that big, big laugh of his, and said dryly, “GOOD idea. You’ve currently got an agnostic and a secular Jew.” I am grateful for all that he taught and, even more, for the good and kind and brilliant person he was while he did it. 
Posted by Tom Buffett on February 21, 2021
I sat in on the “four-hour class with a twenty two-hour break,” Richard’s legendary politics and education course, then held in the basement of Larsen, two years before I would take it myself. I remember Doug Wood bringing in language from the original Land Grant legislation (not on the syllabus), to shed light on decisions made by a university president. Seeing this and visiting with Dr. Elmore after class in his 4th floor Gutman office—left off the elevator to the end, right to the end of the hall—I felt immediately welcomed into this grand sticky conversation, fraught with challenge and contradiction, about how to improve classroom instruction at scale. 

In my first semester at HGSE, no class garnered more attention that A-024. Hitting the deadline for submitting your brief reliably elicited a sigh of relief, and no assignment generated more eagerness in the anticipation of feedback than his, at least for me. Richard, Dick then, would select two students to share their briefs as a means of starting discussion. He would alert the students during his context-setting preamble, and—after a few, long wipes of his brow, glasses dramatically removed, he would turn it over to us. We were then off to the races, an intimate and impassioned conversation with 50 participants and an expert helmsman to guide, provoke, and push us to consolidate, clarify and indeed understand our thinking. I know people experienced A-024 in diverse ways but it absolutely made my intellectual g-spot tingle. I remember the words he wrote on my first brief, after we read Orwell’s Politics of the English Language—“Yes! No prefabricated chicken coops,” he wrote. After becoming proficient in the art of sounding smart I now actually had to consider what I was trying to say. My chicken coops were rendered meaningless! The only other comment I remember came on the brief from week he selected me to lead off (“tour de force,” he wrote), which lifted me up just enough for me to overcome my own sense of not belonging in this esteemed community of learners. In a letter he wrote to that class at the end of the semester, he shared that it had become unclear who was teaching whom. Though I had the good fortune to take a small seminar, TA for A-024, facilitate at a few summer institutes, and get to know Richard socially, nothing was more powerful than that first course in Larsen. Oh how lucky we are to have learned with and from this beautiful, funny, generous, and talented man.

Posted by Karen L List on February 21, 2021
I was stunned and sad to hear of the death of Richard Elmore. My work as an educator was influenced significantly by this brilliant man. I met him at the Harvard Principals' Center summer programs in the 1990s and continued to learn from him while he worked with us in Connecticut's Superintendents' Network. I often refer to him as my education hero. His work appears in all I do to develop instructional leaders. His legacy of greatness will live on. A few years ago at a retirement event, I reveled in hearing his joy as a painter and time spent studying art in museums. My heart breaks for his family and friends. I pray that joyful memories will bring peace and laughter.
"And when great souls die after a period peace blooms slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be better.
For they existed."
Maya Angelou
Posted by Russ Romans on February 20, 2021
I never had the honor of meeting Richard Elmore in person but I have read and been astonished by his writings and was thrilled to take his EdX course. He was my educational hero and I am grateful to have discovered him and learned from him during my own journey as an educator. I mourn his passing and send my deepest condolences to his loved ones
Posted by John Willett on February 19, 2021
I’m proud to join everyone in celebrating Richard’s life; like you, I was surprised and saddened by his passing. But I have vivid memories of his friendship and collegiality, of his leadership of APSP, and especially of how he helped me personally when I was a junior faculty member. Like Julie Reuben mentions in her tribute, I would most like to celebrate his incorrigible humor. In that spirit, I’d like to share a warm memory of him. It was the most important day of our academic calendar, years ago – the APSP doctoral-robing ceremony, held to celebrate the achievement of our new doctoral graduates. As Chair of APSP, Richard was Master of Ceremonies. He was surrounded by all of us -- his faculty, in academic regalia -- on the stage of Askwith Hall, and was working hard to be formal, inspirational and leaderly. However, after a colleague robed an advisee and complimented her not only for a superb thesis but also for getting married while completing her studies, Richard could contain himself no longer. He strode authoritatively to the podium in his voluminous robes and with a stern and official look on his face -- but a twinkle in his eye – he intoned solemnly to the hundreds of students, parents and faculty present that “Marriage is not a requirement of the program.” It brought the house down! And it still brings a tear of joy to my eyes today, remembering it after all these years! So, au revoir, Richard, and thank you. You made a difference in so many lives, including mine. I’m sure we’ll meet again, in some far-off future … perhaps in a mysterious robing ceremony in the sky where we will reminisce with joy about it all?
Posted by Michelle Flores on February 18, 2021
I wanted to take some time to gather my thoughts about Dr. Richard Elmore..
Then these words came to me.
Compelling, Quiet demeanor, So willing to share.
It was enlightening to learn beside him and my HONOR to learn from him.
He will be missed.
Michelle Hayes
School. District of Philadelphia Leadership Coaching Cadre
Posted by Richard Lemons on February 18, 2021
My most recent blog post, in honor of Richard:

https://ctschoolchange.org/thank-you-richard-for-everything/

Thank you, Richard, for everything.
In Memoriam: Richard F. Elmore (1953-2021)

Last Wednesday, the field of education lost one of its most energetic champions as well as one of its most insightful and constructive critics. Richard F. Elmore, retired professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, passed away last week, leaving behind a rich and lasting legacy.

Among his many contributions to the field is one that is rather immediate for some of us in Connecticut. Two decades ago, he accepted an invitation from the CT Center for School Change to work with a small group of superintendents passionate about becoming more effective instructional leaders. What began as an informal discussion turned into a structured, fifteen-year partnership that gave birth to the CT Superintendents’ Network and the practice of instructional rounds.

Every month, Richard would drive down from Cambridge and spend a day with the district leaders. Some of those months were spent in the common area of the Graustein Memorial Fund, with Professor Elmore holding court, provoking discussion with powerful questions and biting critique. In the other months, Elmore oversaw visits to classrooms. As he experimented with the early iterations of instructional rounds, he was unrelenting in his charge for superintendents to quiet their assumptions and gather low-inference, low-judgement evidence. What he saw in classrooms astounded us all, and soon he taught us to look beyond our culturally-embedded lenses to see what was happening in the instructional core.

Richard Elmore also kick-started a long-standing tradition–a spring leadership institute at Harvard, where public school superintendents worked with some of the world’s preeminent scholars studying leadership, change, improvement and culture.

As Executive Director of the CT Center for School Change, I am in his debt. His facilitation of the network and his vast scholarship shaped the cultural DNA of the Center and guided our practice as a capacity-building organization.

Yet it was as his student that his impact on me was most profound. In 1997, I arrived on Harvard’s campus as a young and naïve educator suffering from imposter syndrome (many of us secretly felt we had been admitted by accident). That first semester as a master’s student, I shopped Professor Elmore’s course on politics, policy and political action in education. First-year doctoral students in the program were guaranteed a seat, as it was a requirement for graduation. The rest of us were hopeful we might obtain a seat through his random lottery. I was one of the lucky few.

In the first post-lottery class, I took my seat and participated in an analysis of a video taken from Katherine Casey’s NYC Community District 2 classroom. Later that evening, when my then fiancé asked me about class, I told her, without hesitation or exaggeration, it was the single most effective lesson I had ever experienced as either a student or an educator. It was. It still is.

For the better part of the next decade, I was blessed to spend significant time with Professor Elmore. His letter of recommendation helped me secure a spot in the doctoral program, and he served as my advisor. When he led executive education programs in the summer, I served as a facilitator. When he and Leslie Siskin launched a study to understand the impact of state accountability on high schools, I joined as a research assistant. Ultimately, he invited me to serve as a teaching fellow for his course on large-scale instructional improvement, and it remains one of the great honors of my teaching career.

And as I toiled on my final work as a student–my dissertation–Richard was there as a thought partner, cheerleader, and promoter. On one special occasion, he invited me to present my research on distributed leadership within one of the first Superintendents’ Network visits to Harvard (which was most likely the catalyst that ultimately brought me to Connecticut).

Drafting this post has proven challenging. I intended to write something the evening I first learned of his death. Yet my emotions were too raw. Moreover, I found it intimidating to write something worthy of a human being whose prose were so rich, pointed, and brilliant. It is not an overstatement to say he moved the field every time he picked up a pen.

Richard’s family created an online memorial at forevermissed.com, and I’ve read many of the posts. My story is just one among hundreds of former students and colleagues who have been inspired, provoked, and humbled by Richard’s presence in our lives.

Thank you, Richard, for everything.


Richard W. Lemons, EdD
Executive Director, CT Center for School Change
Posted by Kristy Cooper Stein on February 17, 2021
I am so saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Richard F. Elmore. What a tremendous loss to the world! I can't help but think of the insights he had yet to share, the brilliant comments he had yet to utter, and the minds he had yet to transform. I feel so blessed to have been impacted by his thinking and his teaching style.

I can't fully know or understand all of the ways that "Elmore" (as we always referred to him) contributed to my thinking, research, teaching, and life trajectory. I think his contributions to my life and scholarship are actually immeasurable. So many of the ideas, concepts, and ways I think about schools came from being a student in Elmore's classes, watching his annual presentations at HGSE's Professional Programs in Education, and hearing his thoughts on my dissertation. I always felt so affirmed by his nod of approval or crack of a smile, and I have carried so many of his ideas forward in my own work.

And the contributions of his scholarship are so profound. When recently preparing the syllabus for my spring semester course, I can recall saying aloud to myself, "Well, they have to read Elmore." And they always will! 
Posted by Sarah Fiarman on February 16, 2021
This is such sad news. My heart goes out to Kirsten and Richard’s whole family. I’m grateful for all I learned from Richard. About ten years ago when I was a school principal, I wrote a letter of thanks to Richard because I was struck by how often his words and thinking guided my decisions and actions. In the last year or so I started thinking that I should write to him again to let him know how much I continue to learn from the lessons he taught. I suppose that’s one of the reasons so many of us are here -- his insights into learning and leadership are enduring. As my vantage point on the process of learning changes, his lessons continue to help me understand what I’m seeing and what my role is.

Two lessons are top of mind for me these days. One is that Richard was committed less to any particular idea he had and more to learning and developing his thinking. That feels unusual when so many of us carve out our own particular niche of expertise and cling to it. Richard was a model to me of continually questioning his own thinking and inviting the expertise of others to shape his understanding. Even though he started the practice of instructional rounds, he was never proprietary about it and welcomed continual experimentation and development of the process.

Richard also truly believed in empowering learners to lead their own learning. This was evident in grad school classes where we watched videos of classroom learning and analyzed them in small groups week after week to the instructional rounds process where he prioritized the practice of educators building their own theories of learning. I came to understand how radical and transformative this belief was when Richard applied it to me and my own learning. When we had opportunities to plan and facilitate together, Richard trusted me to lead long before I felt ready. It would terrify me when he would leave the room while I was in front of a group. And of course those experiences deepened and accelerated my learning by leaps and bounds.

As so many others have written, Richard profoundly shaped who I am as an educator. What a legacy he leaves behind. I hope his family can take some comfort in knowing how much he lives on in teaching, learning, and leadership practices around the world.
Posted by Liz Stosich on February 15, 2021
Richard—What a mark you have left. Somehow you were both Mr. Doom and Gloom but also one of the most hopeful and imaginative people in education I have known. You surprised me endlessly because you were always learning. And yours was a deep and joyful learning that I am only beginning to truly appreciate. Working with you could at times be maddening because you were more focused on the next idea than the plan for the next minute.

Thank you for your encouragement. You have been very generous with your insights and ideas, encouraging others—including me—to run with them, build on them, and find out where they can go and how they can serve educators and kids. You had a gift for distilling the complexity of teaching and learning into clear principles for improvement. And these ideas were grounded in both ambitious expectations and deep empathy for educators. You are deeply missed.  
Posted by Romina Carrillo on February 15, 2021
In the last few days since I learned the news of Dick Elmore’s passing, I have been recalling memories from the past 25 years. When I met him on the ferry ride back from Thompson Island in the fall of 1995, he was relaxed and genuinely curious about the new doctoral students resting from a long day of tree-climbing and ropes trust-building activities. I got to know him on Gutman’s 4th floor while working for the Urban Superintendent Program. The following year, I enrolled in his A-024 class, “Politics in Education” where he pushed my thinking about policy-making. At the end of the semester he asked me to be his Teaching Fellow for the course the following year. I was thrilled and looked forward to learning case method pedagogy from him, but he told me he hoped that I would coach him on small group instruction. He had been spending time in elementary classrooms observing literacy instruction and wanted to try out some of the strategies. He figured with my years of experience in elementary schools I could help him. On Wednesday mornings, just before we’d head out to Larsen for his class session we would review the one-page briefs submitted by everyone to determine who would be selected to tee-up that day’s discussion, I would ask what he wanted me to look for in his instructional moves. His eyes would widen and he’d purse his lips before bursting out with a hearty laugh, “Heck, if I know!”
We, his students, were very observant and took note of all his signature moves --the clearing of his throat, arms crossed with one finger on his chin, the moment he opened his soda can and took that first swig, taking off his jacket to emphasize a point or rifling through his pockets for coins [usually quarters] to fidget with before leading into a thorough explanation. When we saw the quarters, it was a sign to sit back in your seats and take notes. Jose Martinez coined the term, “Relax, Elmore’s doing laundry.” When Dick heard about this, he was thrilled. At the end-of-semester course party, a group of students did many of Dick’s signature moves with quarters, Coke cans and sport coats to the tune of “La Macarena.” No one laughed harder than Dick.
That’s what I remember most about him. His laughter. His thoughts and ideas will live on in the instructional improvement work that his students will carry on.
Posted by Ben Sanders on February 15, 2021
Such a huge loss. Richard was a true role model--a rare combination of great thinker, great teacher, and dedicated mentor. Like others, his influence on me was profound. Beyond essentially teaching me how to write, he nurtured my interest in two areas that remain, 25 years later, central to my professional work: a) the relationship between schools and democracy (timely, no?); and b) the school organizational structures and cultures needed to improve instructional practice.

Others have noted Richard's generosity, of which I was an almost unfair recipient. Beyond his willingness to serve on my dissertation committee, I was afforded a rare glimpse at the inner workings of this great teacher's mind when he invited me to serve as a TA for a new course he had decided to design (because, that's what great teachers do, right?--they constantly innovate). This modest little scheme sought to integrate three guest co-instructors: Bob Schwartz, Kay Merseth, and yes, Tony Alvarado. Not sure if the course ever actually jelled, but as a professional learning experience for me, it was a golden ticket. 

In the almost two-page single spaced letter of rec he later gave me, Richard referred to me as a "generous colleague"--one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. Of course, I (and probably most of you) have long way to go to ever match Richard's level of collegial generosity. It is something to aspire towards, however. 

Two other words I would use to describe Prof Elmore are courageous and visionary. An early advocate of Standards-based accountability, he became a fierce critic of its weak implementation. Channeling Dewey and Sarason before him, Richard was one of the few high profile theorists willing to acknowledge that when it came to school improvement, the "Emperor wore no clothes" --i.e. that conventional, modest approaches to reform would never spawn the truly equitable world class schools this nation urgently needs. That we can't "tinker" our way to greatness.  Sadly, even as education policy-makers and leaders nod their heads in tacit agreement, they remain unwilling or unable to actually do anything about it--e.g. to fully implement "radical" approaches to reform that Elmore advocated such as "Instructional Rounds." I say this as I sit through yet one more of a an endless stream of "equity" discussions, which, like the many before, will do little more than perhaps assuage educators' guilt over the abhorrent academic inequities we allow to persist.

Perhaps one way to honor Richard's memory would be to actually act upon (not just talk about) his visionary ideals.




Posted by Susan Fuhrman on February 15, 2021
I mourn the loss of an exceptional co-author, collaborator, colleague and friend--and one of the most insightful scholars I've known. As is the case with so many others, Richard Elmore had a profound effect on my thinking and I am forever grateful.
Posted by Susan Moore Johnson on February 15, 2021
When Richard Elmore joined the HGSE faculty in 1990, I was fascinated by his writing about policy implementation, especially backward mapping and his analysis with Lorraine McDonnell of alternative policy instruments. To this day I use both sets of ideas with respect and appreciation. Since I learned of his passing a few days ago, I’ve thought a lot about his intellectual legacy, which is preserved both in his many publications and in his students’ lives and ongoing work. He and I taught many of the same students over the following 25 years, often serving together on their dissertation committees. As I hear from many of them now and read their tributes, I’m struck not only by their gratitude for all he contributed to their lives and learning, but also by the profound resilience of the ideas, concepts, and practices, such as instructional rounds and internal coherence, that he introduced and developed in partnership with many of them Just a few weeks before he died, Richard was interviewed for the Podcast, One Thing Series: The Learning Leader. In that interview, he was quintessentially himself, forging ahead in his intrepid search for answers to some of the most challenging and enduring educational questions. He will be deeply missed as a colleague, mentor, and friend, but he has left us with the gift of powerful insights and compelling issues that will fuel our field for years to come.   
Posted by Jason Harris on February 14, 2021
I was often moved by the way Richard delivered his very thoughtful and wise commentary during our professional development sessions.  His delivery was very intentional, measured, and purposeful. You could tell that before he uttered a word he had carefully considered how it may impact the audience. He always contributed to our learning as coaches in a profound way. I recall while on a zoom conference with him and the team him mentioning that he liked to paint. I remember thinking to myself that his paintings must also be very deliberate and intentional. I was intrigued by the very thought of it. I thank you Richard for your profound contribution to education . I thank you for challenging educational practitioners with your relentless curiosity and inquiry so that we may do better by all children. I am sending you light and energy as you begin your transition to your next journey.  
Posted by Eileen Coppola on February 14, 2021
What a sudden, sad loss of a scholar, a teacher, a generous soul, and a “small-d-democrat”, which is critical now more than ever. Richard was my HGSE advisor from the moment I stepped into the Urban Superintendents Program in summer 1994 until I walked up to the stage in Longfellow Hall for doctoral robing, a new baby in my arms. I was assigned to him at the beginning, and it stuck. On graduation day, Richard began his description of my research by saying: “When Eileen came to me with her dissertation topic, I thought it wouldn’t amount to much.”  I glanced over at my family, and not knowing his sense of humor, they were appalled. But I knew him and smiled. He went on to say that my research had convinced him of certain things: he had learned from my work. And I knew fully that -backhanded compliment though it was– having convinced Richard Elmore of something was high praise.

These past few days, I have found myself reflecting on Richard’s life as an intellectual and a teacher, and while profoundly sad for our collective loss, I’m left feeling optimistic that a life’s work can demonstrate how intellect and teaching can still make their marks on the world. 

I recall a great many classroom conversations from those days quite clearly, and will attribute some ideas to Richard in this moment, although of course I know that others contributed to building these bodies of work. We learned about instruction being more important than structure to move the quality of education within systems. We learned about “backward mapping” in relation to policy, to always connect policy to its enactment and impact on the ground.  I recall heated debates about the value of the British School Inspectorate, and Richard’s introduction of nascent thinking about using medical models in education, which would eventually yield the practice of instructional rounds.

Years later, working in the New York City public school system, I would find myself fascinated (and still do) by how some of these ideas became reified, accepted components of our conceptual system as New York City leaders, and smile to myself (as if in on a secret) because I can trace their origins to particular debates within the classrooms of HGSE. In our work now, we all talk about the “instructional core” as if it always existed, but it did not. Richard Elmore pushed that idea from Harvard, as others did elsewhere, and it fanned out through educational systems to become a central concept in our field. I remember when one of Richard’s students, Doug Knecht, was positioned in New York to build internal accountability for schools, and what emerged from his design resembled the Inspectorate we had discussed at length during those years, as we grappled with what an accountability system that was solely quantitative would do to schools. This resulted in what we in NYC now call the “Quality Review.” Looking at student tasks and student work, ensuring classroom visits (not just observations, but visits) became key components of educational leadership practice was new back then. Tony Alvarado was around, and Richard connected his practice to the university and amplified it. Now, watching these practices play out a couple of decades later, we can see how ideas matter. Universities matter. Research and conceptual scholarship matter. I learned this by seeing how central ideas that changed our field emanated from the consistent work of respected scholars over decades, and was privileged to observe one scholar in particular up close.

This brings me to Richard’s power as a teacher, which I have thought about a lot as I’ve read the many tributes from his students here and elsewhere.  That Richard’s teaching was intertwined with values of justice and democracy offered a valence beyond the professional, fueling passionate debates and intense work many of us have pursued in the years following our HGSE experience.

It’s no small thing, having an impact that emanates broadly in a large nation and beyond, seeding ideas that wend their way here and there, fundamental enough to adapt to many different contexts.  What I gained as a student was not only learning about these core ideas, but that deep understanding was accomplished through argument, weighing evidence, assessing research findings. These ideas were not presented as givens: this brought me to grasp them with a depth and flexibility that would allow me to employ them in the future. And there was another aspect to Richard’s teaching that I wish we could somehow codify within our educational systems. He made us feel that our ideas and arguments mattered by bothering to engage with them. Engaging meant he would likely challenge them, which could be scary, but in the process we gained the strength and techniques to deepen and defend. I can’t say I know exactly how this happened. But I do know that from the beginning, I would try out an idea in a class, and he would highlight it, repeat it in his own language, and it made me feel smart. It elevated my small idea into something that I could see fitting into a broader theoretical picture. It was fun, learning like that. But more importantly, I learned how to define concepts and develop theories supported by data and observation. In the process, I grasped something about myself: that I have a talent for seeing beneath the surface in educational contexts, and that I should learn to leverage that talent.

I learned some other things about myself from interacting with Richard, which I hold to this day. In one meeting of a CPRE research group, without thinking much about it, as a grad student I took on Martin Carnoy of Stanford in an extended debate about the value of school accountability.  Afterward, as we walked through the parking lot, Dick, as he went by then, said to me, “You are not afraid to make a strong argument, no matter who you’re going up against. I see it as an asset, but you should know that not everyone will.”  I still remember and laugh at that one. I’ve thought about that insight countless times, as what my Italian family would call “my mouth” gets me into trouble with those who don’t want their ideas challenged, who see it as a threat, and in their power respond accordingly. But I agree that it IS an asset – I see it in myself – and having an advisor and mentor identify this allowed me to build my strength as a scholar and practitioner. I had many irreplaceable, exceptional learning experiences at HGSE. Having Richard Elmore as advisor, mentor, and teacher provided some of the best.

So in the end, I believe Richard lived a life that exemplifies how intellectuals and teachers continue to have impact beyond our superficial measurements of achievement, beyond the development of frameworks that become products, and in ways that have impact in the best traditions of scholarship and fine universities. When someone passes out of this world, we think of all the things we might have said, and now I wish I could say these things to him, perhaps offering one of those moments teachers love, when we can see how our work lives in our students. Sadly, I can’t now, but his spirit and work will continue to matter through his students and his many lasting ideas. Rest well. Job nicely done.
Posted by Bonnie Boothroy on February 13, 2021
On his many trips to work with the Iowa Superintendents Network, Richard wasn’t shy about calling out our “Iowa nice” tendencies as a barrier to the real work of Instructional Rounds. Of course he was right. We weren’t accustomed to many of the things Richard brought our way: challenge, candor, discipline in practice and thought, intellectual rigor, and impatience with the structure of systems we were leading. Of course, it was just what we needed.

When Richard was present, we reveled in the learning, the stories and his sense of humor. To be with us, Richard had to take two flights and drive two hours in a rental car. More than once, flights were delayed or his GPS led him in the wrong direction on gravel roads going nowhere. At one memorable event where he (the main attraction) was especially late, we adjusted the agenda and did a bit of tap dancing until he arrived. As he entered the conference room, he ran down the center aisle with his coat draped over his shoulders as the speakers blared the theme from Rocky. And there he was, frustrated beyond words by his travel woes, having a bit of fun with us.

Having studied and used Richard’s work for many years, it was the privilege of my professional life to work with him on this statewide effort. I join thousands of educators in saying Dr. Richard Elmore had an immeasurable impact on my thinking and practice. We mourn the loss of a brilliant scholar, educator and friend. Sincere condolences to Richard’s family and friends.
Posted by Alfredo Medina on February 13, 2021
El doctor mostró una sencillez y calidez humana que pocos tenemos, recuerdo con agrado que siempre sonreía ante la situación a pesar de que esta fuera un tanto extraña para él. En su visita a Guanajuato nos recordó que el empoderamiento de los estudiantes está ennel brillo de su mirada ante aquello que pueden aprender y que eso contiene límites, como los que los adultos o profesionales argumentamos tener. Y es su legado en mi persona el decir a bien "siempre sonríe y disfruta de aquello que te rodea por que no hay poder más grande que el que irradia a los demás desde tu asombro auténtico" gracias Doctor. Sinceramente por siempre
Posted by Douglas Wood on February 13, 2021
I was first introduced to Richard Elmore when I took his amazing and legendary class A-024. With Diet Coke in hand every class was a tour de force on leadership, policy and practice. (Incidentally, I took his course with this very same title, A-633, the following spring). His writings and required readings were applicable across a myriad of disciplines of study. To this day I read The Federalist Papers every year, particularly Madison’s Federalist No. 10, where he warns of “factions” and their “impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens.” How appropriate for our times. Professor Elmore also had a very dry wit. He once asked me in class; “Is your watch connected to the Internet?” Or when he was my thesis advisor, I went to his office to see what he thought about my thesis proposal. He quipped; “What thesis proposal??” He was a brilliant, kind and gracious man and even allowed my lifetime mentor, Shirley Brice Heath, to hood me along with him at my doctoral robing ceremony. Richard Elmore will be deeply missed by all of us but his legacy will endure.
Posted by ogechi iwuoha on February 13, 2021
It was maybe towards the middle or end of the semester that I pushed past my nerves to move from the back of the class and towards the front. Richard Elmore was a professor that challenged you, respected the mind, and did not tolerate mediocrity...and why should he...and why then should I miss the opportunity to engage more deeply in this thing called education. So, in the front, I sat where I participated more and collaborated with some really cool folks. Prof. Elmore was actually approachable! Just a man who loved, connected with his students, and did what he thought best to improve our ideas about the how in educating. Thank you!
Posted by Scott Nine on February 12, 2021
My experience of Richard was as a partner to a brilliant leading lady. I saw him first after hours and out of role. And then was offered his wit, clear charge, clear seeing, and wicked sense of humor. I was able to peer into the love he shared in family and art as well as his fatigue with ways we ridiculously impair our ability to move powerfully and well for learners and learning. I carry many gifts and memories of time amidst his home, his beloveds, and parts of the very large network/family/universe he's touched and sparked.
Posted by Staci Monreal on February 12, 2021
So sad to hear of his passing. The field of education has lost a remarkable leader. His work shaped my vision for school transformation and school leadership. Forever grateful! My thoughts and prayers to his family and his colleagues. 
♥️
Posted by Rochelle Herring on February 12, 2021
Richard was on my dissertation committee. I loved his since of humor. He stuck with me until the end. Richard taught me how transform research and a vision into a movement. He did just that with Instructional rounds. I was amazed by how fast Instructional Rounds spread. He had principals and superintendents visiting classrooms and discussing student work. He pushed us to think about politics, policy, leadership and people simultaneously.

My Harvard journey was very long- so it means a lot to me that he never judged me for it. He was always optimistic that I would figure out how to complete my dissertation when the time was right. I graduated the year he retired. I expected him to say he would write and consultant in retirement. Instead he said, “ Travel and Paint”. I saw one his paintings and he was good at that too!

His encouragement, wisdom and dedication to all of us at HGSE was a true inspiration.
Posted by Jessica Evans on February 12, 2021
My deepest condolences to the Elmore family.  I felt so lucky to have Dick as my advisor. Not only did he have a huge impact on my work, my way of thinking, and my teaching, but he also had a huge impact on me personally. I always felt he was in my corner, whether it was navigating politics with my dissertation, finding interesting projects for me to engage in, or pushing for changes in APSP. He knew how to ask great questions that pushed your thinking and helped you see things more clearly, while never giving you an answer. These questions always came from what seemed to be a genuine, deep curiosity. I was amazed when he turned that curiosity to his own teaching. As his teaching fellow, he had me script and collect data about his class. He then would delve into that data, grappling (one of his favorite words at the time) with the discourse patterns he saw, and trying to figure out how to surface voices that were not being heard. He practiced what he preached and encouraged other like-minded professors to join him in reflecting on their instructional practice… a remarkable thing to see!

I will always remember wonderful his wonderful sense of humor (that little glint in his eye that signaled something funny was coming and usually would result in that distinctive full on laugh), his (and Lynn’s) generosity of their time with advisees and students well beyond the call of duty (cooking meals together, attending birthday celebrations, graduation dinners, etc.), his sheer joy in finding a great new recipe or epicurean delight (he and my father joyfully exchanged endless information about Oregon truffles), and the list goes on. Most of all, I will remember his genuine interest in others.
Posted by Jim Spillane on February 12, 2021
A tremendous loss. My first Research Assistant position at Michigan State University in Fall 1988 was with Dick. What a blessing to have worked for him for two years until he left for Harvard in 1990. He had an amazing mind, an ability to cut right to the essence of an issue, and gently bring you along as he worked through the argument. Though his intellect could be intimidating, he was always warm, welcoming, and encouraging of others and their ideas. We will miss you greatly Professor Elmore.  
Posted by Tilman Freitag on February 12, 2021
Richard Elmore - my faculty member

In 2003, I was approached by Norma Diala, the program administrator for APSP at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and asked if I was willing to take on a senior HGSE faculty member as his faculty support person. Norma warned me, his name is Richard F. Elmore and he has a deep-seated irreverence for bureaucracy and deadlines. Your role will be the challenge to make sure he meets those deadlines.

I knew of Richard’s stature in his field. I knew he was constantly being asked to do this, review that, write a foreword, publish an article, and give a talk in a place that required two flights, a car rental, and a two-hour drive to the location. What I didn’t know was that I was going to learn to respect the man, cherish his warm smile and hearty laugh, and stay devoted to him for almost two decades. I became his friend, colleague, and gatekeeper. He, in turn, annually praised my help and would write the same notation to my supervisor – “best assistant I have ever had.” We worked closely together until he retired in 2014. I remained officially his assistant until the other day when I heard the sad news of his all too early passing.

What was presented initially as a problematic job position turned out to be one of my favorite career choices. I have read so many beautifully eloquent notes from his former students, colleagues, family, and friends here. So many names whose faces I can recall, whose successes Richard (and I in my quiet way) celebrated as they went off to make their own professional mark in the world. He had a wonderfully rich impact on the world. I just wanted to write that I, too, loved the man. You will always be in my heart compadre.
Posted by Jonathan Skolnick on February 12, 2021
I was lucky enough to be in the last class that Professor Elmore taught. He spent the semester sounding the alarm about an education system misaligned to what he was researching about brain science and the science of learning; for him, learning was emotional and relational above all else, and our school systems weren't designed for that. For his retirement, I wrote the following poem, which tracks Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride." That poem was written in 1861, as a way to get more Americans on board with the cause of the Civil War, to feel the urgency of the cause. I will always remember Professor Elmore as someone who was fearless in his pursuit of what he thought was right for students. May his memory be a blessing.

Listen, fellow students, and please don’t ignore
The midnight ride of Professor Elmore,
On the fourteenth of February, in twenty fourteen:
Hardly a soul knew what it would mean
To choose to lead from a grid of four.
He said to Ms. Harper, — "If Newton North marches
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light, —
One if by land, and two if by sea; They’re coming to colonize EdLD!"

He was ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every school, village, and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.
He armed us with Smith and with Mitra galore,
Our amygdalas sailed to a Shakespearean shore,
Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!”

Meanwhile, Ms. Harper, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears, 
Till in the silence around her she hears 
The sound of pencils on bubbles, the sound of a snore
The sound of boredom, the sound of defeat, 
And the measured dread of a squeaking seat
A shrieking alignment to the Common Core
Then Harper climbed to the top of Larsen 203,
Up the carpeted stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the dusty projector sitting just overhead
And startled the students from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round them made
Masses and moving shapes of shade, —
There was chart paper up all over the wall,
And all that we knew, was nothing at all
We all paused to listen and then to look down
Where we saw there was fury and thinking and sound
And our theories of learning, beginning to crawl.

Meanwhile, impatient to start his own tutoria, 
Booted and spurred, thinking “It’s been real, see ya!” 
On the opposite aisle walked Professor Elmore
With a Fielding Nair sketch of a school that could be a, 
Model for how to show what was in store

He gazed on the education landscape far and near, 
Then impetuous, stamped the earth, 
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search 
For the lower-right quadrant, his oft-preferred perch, 
As it rose above the graves on Garden Street, 
Lonely, and spectral, and sombre, and sweet.
And lo! as he looks, on Longfellow’s newfound height, 
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, 
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight 
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
It was twelve by the Larsen clock,
When he came to the end of his time at HGSE. 
He heard the searching of our flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees, 
And felt the hope of us EdLDs

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the old system’s regulars fired and fled, —
How we did project-based learning and still learned it all
From behind each laptop and firewall
Chasing the red-pen down, till the red pens bled
And learning through love, not learning through dread
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
We talked all about our professional code
So through the night rode Professor Elmore; 
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every American village and farm, — 
A cry of defiance, and not of fear, —
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and will not ignore,
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Professor Elmore.
Posted by Andrew Cabot on February 12, 2021
A great blue heron was flying down the charles river early this morning. I didn’t check to see if it was wearing round eyeglasses, but still made me smile...
Posted by Karen Thomas on February 12, 2021
I will always remember Richard having such an emotional and deeply moving reaction to our work together as he and Kirsten came to be part of my journey to become a coach for school leaders in Philadelphia. I am shocked and saddened by Richard’s sudden passing, but I know he has left his mark on me and so many others. I can say that he was a key part of the change I have experienced over the last two years, and for that I say thank you and rest well, Richard.
Posted by Amalia Cudeiro on February 11, 2021
Dick Elmore was hands down one of my favorite teachers at Harvard. Mainly because he encouraged all of us to think deeply and critically about effective instruction, leadership and accountability. His work and research greatly impacted and informed my practice and I will always be grateful for his support and encouragement as I grappled with writing my dissertation.
He was a great inspiration to those of us who learned from him.
Posted by Valerie Brown on February 11, 2021
Richard was the center of life for his family and especially for my dear friend, Kirsten, his beloved life partner. Richard lived life full and well, delighting in so many abundances: fabulous family meals, family celebrations, endless days on Cape Cod, sunsets, long walks, painting, and so much more. Richard's life is a gift to us all of how to live full of joy and wonder. Thank you Richard for shining so brightly. You are loved. You are greatly, greatly missed. 

Valerie Brown
Posted by John Collins on February 11, 2021
I sat with Richard on several dissertation committees and considered him a friend for many years. His brilliance was immense, as was his humanity, sense of humor, and commitment to students. He kept us all on our toes, challenging us to think deeply about issues, to take a stand, and challenge the status quo. I am a better person because of him.
Posted by Julie Reuben on February 11, 2021
Richard was area chair when I joined the faculty at HGSE. He helped create an amazing institutional culture that was serious and light, welcoming and intimidating. He imbued the place with a strong sense of mission to improve education throughout the world and on Appian Way. Faculty meetings involved deep discussions punctuated by frequent bouts of laughter. I was proud to part of it. I am saddened to hear of his death and very sorry for all of your loss. His memory will be a blessing. 
Posted by Mark Jennings on February 11, 2021
Dr. Elmore's legacy will continue to be a beacon for those seeking to bring clarity and focus back to the core of learning. His work on bridging theory into practice accelerated my ability as a school leader to support staff in an incremental, targeted, understanding and genuine way. His personhood, sense of humor, and deep commitment to education are heard throughout his writing.

While gone, he will not be forgotten.
Posted by Yong Zhao on February 11, 2021
A huge loss. I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Richard in Australia, China, and of course the U.S. He was perhaps one of the wisest education thinkers I have met. He has very broad and thoughtful view of human beings and education. I was waiting for him to share more in one of our future conferences. So sad! The loss is tremendous to the world.
Posted by Kitty Boles on February 11, 2021
Nobody knew more about education, cared more, and thought more originally than Richard Elmore. Friend, mentor, guide and teacher, Richard kept us on the straight path and wrote the most succinct and evocative Introductions to two of our books, for which we will always be grateful. To say that his contribution to the study of teaching and learning is monumental hardly begins to describe his impact. Oh, Richard, we will miss you so much.
Kitty Boles
Vivian Troen
Posted by Poonam Singh on February 11, 2021
I'm so sorry to hear of this news. Just a few days ago, I was looking up his work on tight and loose coupling and shared a few articles with some friends. Professor Elmore was my advisor for my masters thesis and he was a great man and great educator and I loved his classes. He will be missed so much, and his research really mattered.  He was so kind to me when I came back to visit Harvard a few years later.  I remember sitting in his office and chatting with him casually and he always made time to chat.   Such sad news and I'll be thinking of his close family and friends. Thank you Professor Elmore for all that you did and who you are!  
Posted by Noel McGinn on February 11, 2021
I had honor of sitting on the committee that decided to ask Dick to join the HGSE faculty. It wasn't a hard decision, and we were right. Our work never coincided, but I admired his writing and was influenced by his insights. He was in every sense an ideal colleague, one that made being at HGSE a singular pleasure. 
Posted by Beatriz Pont on February 11, 2021
I am so sorry to hear about Richard´s passing away. Richard Elmore always pushed one to think in so many different ways. He had theorems and principles and his feet on the practice of school improvement in so many different and eloquent ways. I count myself as privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from him and grow as a professional thanks to his writings and to his contributions in my work.

I met him when he travelled to a conference in England I organized to speak about leadership and the practice of improvement - i will never forget his presence, his deep breath and silence before starting his keynote - he seemed so serious and distant. And then he started presenting with such eloquence and focus on what really matters in schools and in leadership. Leadership as the practice of improvement. And this was the first time i heard Elmore s second law, which i have repeated and quoted often throughout my work:
“the effect of professional development on practice and performance is inverse to the square of its distance from the classroom.” What a way to transmit the message and how true it was. You had to think about it, and it then hit you clearly and forever.

He them came to what his first law was: “children generally do better on tests they can read than those they can’t.” He was wonderful! And all his seriousness came to light.

Since then, i have worked with Richard in many other settings and every time i have learned something new. His keen focus on theory of action, on thinking much better about what accountability really means......his work has influenced my own on reform and school improvement, helping me focus on the learning and what the practice of improvement really means. In Chile again on the core of school reform, we visited Chile to understand their teacher evaluation system with a group of Mexican education stakeholders. Then, he joined a review of Sweden we undertook in 2015. Here, we were faced with an education system that some said had ¨lost its soul¨ and during our team 2 week visit throughout the country, we debriefed on what we had seen and how it compared to his previous knowledge of Sweden - we looked for the positives of a system that had moved to full decentralization, no accountability, low improvement function......it was a fascinating trip for the team, and Richard´s contribution was as always a gift of knowledge.

Thank you Richard Elmore. You will be missed but you will be remembered. Your work will continue to influence school improvement internationally. I will always cherish your unique personality, and perspective on life and work.

 

Posted by Nancy Walser on February 11, 2021
I’m so sorry to hear of Richard’s passing. He is and will always be a giant in education, and I will always feel lucky to have known him. Richard was my advisor when at age 50 I decided to pursue a master’s degree at HGSE. I was a journalist and former school board member with little experience leading a classroom. Never mind; we had a great time debating the finer points of U.S. school governance and though he had grown skeptical of its merits (to put it mildly), he generously agreed to pen a foreword to a book that I eventually wrote on that topic. I remember him as a highly original thinker, always open to new ideas, always with an eye on the prize: how to best move the field forward. To his family: I am so sorry for your loss.
Posted by Kevin Hicks on February 11, 2021
I am so sorry for your family's loss. I wasn't fortunate enough to have many encounters with Richard, but our conversations--about teaching, learning, and making sense and meaning of a life given to students, teachers, and schools--were transformative and memorable. The world is the poorer for his absence, but his presence--through his writings and impact as a mentor to so many--will not diminish.
Posted by Bill Schmidt on February 11, 2021
I am so sorry for your loss. I too feel the loss of a great colleague but most importantly a good friend. I will miss him.
Posted by David Liebowitz on February 11, 2021
Please accept my condolences.

Richard Elmore's writing and courses fundamentally influenced my thinking and practice.

As a grad student, months removed from six years in the classroom, School Reform from the Inside Out helped give words and a framework to so many of the thoughts I had as a teacher. I devoured his insights on reciprocal accountability ("for every unit of accountability you impose on me, you must provide an additional unit of support"), distributed leadership, the importance of the instructional core and more. (Floating around somewhere is a video interview of me waiting in line for 2007 ALDS tix outside Fenway Park explaining to the local news reporter why I am reading School Reform from the Inside Out and what it is about.)

I got to know Dick personally by taking his two signature courses at HGSE: A-024: Politics, Policymaking and Political Action in Education and A-341: Supporting Teachers for Instructional Improvement. Each has been, in different ways, critical to my intellectual and professional development.

I have vivid memories of our Politics & Policy class leaning forward, straining to grok his complex and trenchant lectures on the intersections of education with individual & group interests, institutions, policy, power, identity and civil society. I worked harder on becoming a better writer (and improved more) in that class than any other. I mean, can you be any happier than having Dick Elmore comment "very clearly written" on an intro paragraph?

A-341 was an entirely diff experience. We set aside policy frameworks and asked, "what would a student who did everything the teacher asked learn from this class?," "how does task predict performance?," "how do you build a community of practice around the instructional core?" Most classes involved us watching videos of teachers teaching and then sitting on the ground with small groups sketching out the feedback we would give the teacher and role-playing doing so. There was a direct through-line from the activities of that course and the feedback I gave to teachers when I was a principal, and how I coached others' who worked to support teachers in our school.

Elmore's ability to influence policy thinking from the perspective of the classroom informed how I worked as a principal, as a policy advisor and continues to inspire my research. Dick's late-career self-described "radicalization" away from schooling (towards learning) seemed to me consistent with his high standards and rejection of incrementalism.

I did not know Dick well and never worked directly with him, but how he behaved as a teacher and a person influenced me in ways equivalent to his writing and thinking. His famed churlishness in front of an audience belied his humor. He was REALLY funny!

He modeled being a learner always, regularly showing us his progress as an amateur photographer--a hobby he took up to experience being a novice and to better empathize with students & learners. I didn't agree w/ everything Dick said and lord help you if you got in front of his flamethrower (his diatribes against the Brookline Public Schools where his kids went were legendary), but he spoke truth to power and was vulnerable and admitted where he was wrong.

As his email signature sometimes said, "Les choses simple sont difficiles a expliquer." --Henri Matisse. But Richard Elmore explained hard things easily, and I continue to be inspired by him to do the same.

Posted by John Roberts on February 11, 2021
I came to graduate school looking for direction, and instead Richard helped me ask better questions about schools, learning, and myself. He made time for me in his home; he made time for me as a professional. I learned from Richard how to disagree about ideas, and he let me carve out my own small place under his very large intellectual tent.

Despite how big and broad an influence he had on so many of us, I guess I also learned what focus looks like from Richard. At the end of the day, he had very little patience for more of the same when it came to schools and schooling, and he could identify distractions faster than he could say, “That and a dollar will get you a ride on the T.”

I think Richard’s frustrations about schools and schooling revealed equally important things about him that I carry with me today: that he was joyful about MANY things and I think he wished some joy would carry into schools as well. He seemed to love art, music, food, and travel and was so joyful about them that I quickly forgave his surlier responses to my unformed ideas or writing. He would often get tears in his eyes when he laughed about something funny.

It hurts to know that he won’t be thinking and writing and helping us now. I’m so grateful to have known him, and so many of you who worked with him. I'm thinking of you, Kristen, and your entire family and am so sorry for this tremendous loss.
Posted by Karen Mapp on February 11, 2021
I first met "Prof. Elmore" in 1992 on Thompson Island out in the Boston Harbor. The one-and-only Norma arranged a wonderful "community building" outing with APSP faculty and our new doctoral cohort. 
Prof. Elmore and I were partners on the ropes course, and I got stuck between two of the ropes up in the trees. As he tried his best to coach me out of my predicament, we both started to laugh so hard until we cried. That was my introduction to him, and I feel incredibly blessed to have known him over the past 30 years as my professor, mentor, and colleague. I continue to use many "Elmore-isms" in my teaching and in my work with districts and schools. My condolences to Kirsten and Richard's many friends and family. Rest In Peace, Dr. Elmore.
Posted by Almi Abeyta on February 11, 2021
I was blessed to have Dr. Elmore as an advisor on my dissertation committee. I was so happy when he agreed to take me, too.  He always challenged my thinking and pushed me into another stream of thought. He loved his students, and his focus on instruction will forever live in my heart and practice! Dr. Elmore, your legacy will live on. We will miss you dearly!
We lost a GIANT in education. I am so blessed and honored to have learned from him! Praying for his family and loved ones during this time.  
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Posted by Monica Higgins on February 24, 2021
So sorry to hear the incredibly sad news of Richard's passing. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work with Richard since joining the HGSE faculty, starting in 2006. He was the person who graciously invited me into the fold, as I was new to education -- inviting me to watch and co-coach with him in the Public Education Leadership Project and join the team working on the emerging EdLD program. He helped me grow into the career I have today. In both spaces, I remember how Richard was extraordinarily creative -- running through walls with his ideas and at the same time, demonstrating his deep commitment and compassion for the work. Such a brilliant person with an outsized legacy in learning. My warmest wishes to you all - his family, friends, and colleagues.
Posted by Anna Kusmer on February 23, 2021
I first started going to Kirsten and Richard's house as a teenager, after becoming good friends with Cole at around 17 years old. I was fortunate to be welcomed back year after year. It's hard to express how special I find this family - sparkling with ideas and warmth, laughter and great conversation.

As I rake through my mind, I can remember being over at their house last year, and Richard asking me questions about my interests and work, as if I (and not he) were a world-renowned thinker. As I read through his amazing accomplishments following his passing, and understand what a great intellectual he was, I feel even more grateful for how he treated me with so much respect as I worked through my passionate yet unformulated Big Ideas.

I didn't know Richard well, but every interaction with him I had I was left feeling like he was a good and special person. Always a great listener, always interested in those around him, really respectful and kind. I'm sorry I won't get to know him better, but I'm so glad I met him, and I send a big hug to everyone who loved him.
-Anna Kusmer
Posted by Kim Marshall on February 23, 2021
In this week's Marshall Memo, I paid tribute to Richard, a powerful thinker and doer who had a major impact on K-12 education. From the nine articles of his that I've summarized over the years, here are a few quotes that capture his wise and iconoclastic spirit:

“If you walk into a classroom and sit down next to a student, ask him what he is doing and why, and you don’t get a clear answer, it is highly unlikely that any powerful learning is taking place.”

“Not surprisingly, schools and school systems that do well under external accountability systems are those that have consensus on norms of instructional practice, strong internal assessments of student learning, and sturdy processes for monitoring instructional practice and for providing feedback to students, teachers, and administrators about the quality of their work. Internal coherence around instructional practice is a prerequisite for strong performance, whatever the requirements of the external accountability system.”

“Improving schools pay attention to who knows what and how that knowledge can strengthen the organization.”

“Successful leaders have an explicit theory of what good instructional practice looks like. They model their own learning and theories of learning in their work, work publicly on the improvement of their own practice, and engage others in powerful discourse about good instruction. These leaders understand that improving school performance requires transforming a fundamentally weak instructional core, and the culture that surrounds it, into a strong, explicit body of knowledge about powerful teaching and learning that is accessible to those who are willing to learn it.”

“Most politically alert citizens, of whatever ideological stripe, work in organizations that have already internalized performance-based accountability. They find the complaints of educators about accountability to be out of touch and whiny.”

“I have to work hard not to show my active discomfort when graduate students come to me and say, ‘I have worked in schools for a few years, and now I am ready to start to shape policy.’ Every fiber of my being wants to say, ‘Use your time in graduate school to become a better practitioner and get back into schools as quickly as possible. You will have a much more profound effect on the education sector working in schools than you will ever have as a policy actor.’”

“I now care much less about what people say they believe, and much more about what I observe them to be doing and their willingness to engage in practices that are deeply unfamiliar to them.”
his Life

Reflections on Richard's life, by Richard's son Toby Elmore

When I reflect on who my dad was and the difference he made in my life I am drawn to two spaces.

I am first drawn to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in the late-morning on a crisp New England fall day. My dad has taken my kids and me to share and soak in one of his favorite locations. It is clear that he knows this space and the exhibits like the back of his hand; he could easily lead us to those exhibits that contain the most impactful, beautiful, and meaningful works. Instead, he affords that space to my four-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son. “Where do you think we should go? What do you want to see?” As my children lead the way, my dad meets their observations with sincere wonderment and a loving affirmation of their insights. 

Only when he has allowed them to offer their own takes on what they see does he chime in with his own understanding of the work, gently and kindly weaving socio-historical context with artistic method and approach. Remarkably, his analysis is as accessible to me as it is to my kids. This is the mark of a true and thoughtful educator, as well as a caring and loving grandfather. 

I am next drawn to his kitchen in the late afternoon of that same day. I am perched on the stool adjoining his kitchen and dining room, watching him work his magic as he prepares a dinner that brilliantly blends comfort and whatever vegetables happened to look best that day. No recipe, no preconceived plan, just decades of experience coupled with trial and error. In the background plays Bill Evans, the Ahmad Jamal Trio, Coltrane; the soundtrack of our relationship, as he introduced me to so many artists that, to the disdain of my children, have become a regular part of our own family soundtrack. We start talking shop. I share my recent successes and struggles in my own teaching life, and he absorbs them as if they were as consequential as the work he was doing with a cohort of Connecticut school principals or his EdLD cohorts working to reshape the future of American education. 

He listened, affirmed my feelings and experiences, and gently reminded me that I have the power to change what happens in my own educational realm. Kids seem bored? Ask what you can do to better engage them. Students distracted by technology? What are you doing (or not doing) that allows them to be distracted? Difficult questions for a teacher to consider, and those questions that, as an educator he reminded me that I should constantly ask myself. Simply put, he was not just a loving father and grandfather for me, but his perspective and experience allowed him to help and coach me in a way that never felt judgmental or overbearing. Yet, his convictions were clear and forceful; he just wanted me to do right by my learners. The remembrances that have poured in from his students and colleagues show that he worked to do the same. 

These two spaces reflect so much of who Richard Elmore was. Kind, loving, curious, he was the very definition of a lifelong learner. 

My dad grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, a small town in the middle of the state known for its apple orchards and proximity to both the Columbia River and the eastern slope of the Cascade mountain range. He struggled to find inspiration in the classrooms of Wenatchee High School, finding it instead in the natural beauty surrounding Wenatchee. He worked on survey crews around the area, and helped to run a YMCA camp in the woods, where he eventually met his first wife, Lynn. While most of his peers hoped to find their way into finance or agriculture, Richard found he was more interested in social justice. This took him on several trips outside of Wenatchee with a national YMCA organization focused on youth leadership. He toured the segregated south with a desegregated group of young people, travelled to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators and national leaders. This engendered in my dad a desire to engage in the world beyond Wenatchee. 

He made his way to Whitman College, a small liberal-arts college in Walla Walla, Washington. In Walla Walla, he found himself completely unprepared for the learning experience in front of him, but also inspired by a world in which ideas, words, and convictions mattered - the world of academia. From Whitman, he went to Claremont for his Masters in Public Policy, and then on to Harvard where he earned his Ed.D.

Richard began his academic life at the Evans School of Public Affairs, then moved to the School of Education at Michigan State University, finally landing at the School of Education at Harvard University in 1990. There he taught and engaged with thousands of students and colleagues around the world, focusing initially on big picture aspects of policy and planning at the state and federal level, and ultimately becoming known for helping educators best understand how to reach their learners. I love the fact that once my dad realized the improbability of substantive institutional reform, he shifted his focus on helping communities of educators and learners from Mexico, San Diego, Chile, incarcerated educators in California’s Central Valley, Australia, China, and here in the United States figure out what they could do to make an impact on the unique group of students in front of them.  

After pissing off his colleagues and finally refusing to attend Senior Faculty meetings (my stepmother’s assessment), he retired in 2014, where he focused--at long last--on painting, drawing and photography. One of his stepsons jokes that Richard learned to paint by reading about color theory for 2 years, making thousands of notes in innumerable journals, buying half a library of art books, going to the Boston MFA once a week for 6 years, and buying--literally--at least one of everything in the BLICK catalogue. He was happiest in his introvert paradise of a basement on Chestnut Ave, fiddling away with his paints and his pictures, creating beauty one canvas at a time. 

I have spent the last several days attempting to locate my deep sadness surrounding the loss of my father. It goes deeper than losing a parent, which is difficult in and of itself. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, and there were relatively long stretches when we did not talk. However, the last couple of years were really good. 

I enrolled in an EdD program about 18 months ago, making my way through the joys of Research Methods and Applied Statistics, and my dad helped me contextualize the proverbial hazing of first-year doctoral students. As my work increased in complexity I began to see correlations between the work at the end of his career, our conversations in his kitchen, and my own educational research passions. I now recognize that I will miss not only his sweet, playful demeanor with my kids, and his warm, loving approach to my wife, Amy, and me; I will also miss having someone to cheer me on and encourage me through the difficult times I know lay ahead of me. He and I were kindred spirits in our love of teaching and our love of the work teachers do. We also both realized that too few educators share our passion for thoughtful craft and practice. I did not just lose my dad, I lost an ally and somebody with a breadth of experience to help me understand that my questioning of traditional pedagogy and approach was spot-on and that my work had to be grounded in a careful balance of experience, expertise, and an understanding of who should come first in every situation: the learner. 

I hope that I find a new mentor who will help engender the same thoughtful and careful approach of my dad. I will miss the care and the love he extended to my family and me. I look forward to carrying on the difficult work he dedicated himself to for so many years. And I am comforted knowing that I will do so along with so many of his former students and colleagues. He wouldn’t have it any other way.   

-Toby, February 12, 2021  





Recent stories

How a Chapter Became the Book

Shared by Prakash Nair on February 23, 2021
About four years ago, my colleague Roni and I decided to write a book about learning and school design. Naturally, we wanted Richard to contribute. Knowing his busy schedule I asked if he could write a 1,000 or 2,000 word chapter on the subject for inclusion in the book. He said yes immediately but I didn't hear from him for several weeks. I was sure he would have some great ideas and so we waited patiently until he sent in his contribution of more than 20,000 words! We immediately realized that this was writing gold. Instead of making it a chapter in the book, we decided to give it the importance it deserved as its own standalone Part Two. We extracted many of the ideas he presented and incorporated them into our Part One as well. I still go back and reread what he wrote and everytime I come away with some new gem! For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the e-book (the Kindle and hard copy editions are available at Amazon): 

LEARING BY DESIGN
Live | Play | Engage | Create
https://tinyurl.com/4vnywhsj

Go straight to Part II -- The Challenges of Learning and Design. Fascinating stuff!! 

Truly Grateful Personally and Professionally

Shared by Prakash Nair on February 23, 2021
I am still in shock after learning about Richard's passing just yesterday. I have not fully come to terms with it yet. The world has lost a great soul. I have lost a good friend and mentor. My only comfort is that his imprint is inherent everything I do as an education architect. His wisdom and advice have guided my work for more than 10 years. Hundreds of schools and thousands of children have benefited as a result. For myself and for all of them, thank you!

From an initial challenge to deep respect and appreciation

Shared by Lee Teitel on February 13, 2021
When I started to teach at HGSE in 1999, I came with a chip on my shoulder about how schools of education—especially places like Harvard—were too theoretical, too research-oriented, and too disconnected to the needs and realities of schools. That year there was a series of monthly informal meetings where faculty members would describe their research on school and system improvement, and that is where I met Richard. He was sharing something that was cutting-edge and fascinating – I don’t exactly remember -- maybe the precursor to the internal coherence work. I was new, and an adjunct faculty at that, so normally I would stay quiet.  But I summoned up my nerve to ask how his research connected to schools and if the schools actually used it and found it helpful.  Richard didn’t appear to see the chip on my shoulder or the challenge in my voice.  He matter-of-factly described the scope and depth of the work he was doing in Boston middle schools – he had just come from a school that afternoon—as well as the impacts of it and what he was learning from it. The response impressed and humbled me. I saw a faculty member could be a brilliant thinker, researcher and writer and still roll up his sleeves to work with teachers, administrators, and students on what learning could and should look like. Richard was and is a powerful inspiration for me.

I started to get to know Richard a few years later as he was developing what became the Instructional Rounds practice with Liz City, Sarah Fiarman, and the principals in Cambridge. He, Liz, and I started to meet monthly in an empty Gutman classroom, sharing what we were each finding out about the roles that networks played in individual and organization learning in schools. I loved those sessions – loved the chance to learn from Richard and Liz and to see a model for what could and should be taking place in a school of education— learning together in what we called “random acts of collegial learning,” without being part of a formal project.  As his Instructional Rounds work grew with superintendents in Connecticut, Richard invited me to join him as a cofacilitator.  The next ten years, when we traveled and worked together and wrote the Instructional Rounds book with Liz and Sarah, provided a powerful formative experience that profoundly shapes my work and thinking today. And they were joyful years as well, like when the four of us we drove in the wrong direction in Iowa for about 100 miles deep in conversation about the future of education, with none of us paying attention to where we were actually going.  Some of my favorite memories of Richard are when we were working together in Connecticut, with the superintendents. On the drive down, we would plan our workshop, but on the way back it was all about life, our families, the trajectory of our careers, Harvard. He was endlessly interested in so many things.  I treasure those times.

I will miss him and send my love to Kirsten and family, and to the many friends and colleagues who will as well.