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 Bill Schmidt on July 11, 2022
Dick was a close colleague of mine during his time at Michigan State University. I could always count on him for good, intellectual comments on projects I was working on. Additionally, I enjoyed being asked by him to comment on his work as well. He helped me with issues of leadership on several projects. He was a great colleauge but also a good, good friend whom I respected and enjoyed being with. As I am writing this, I can hear that wonderful heart-warming laugh that he would often let out. To you, his family, be proud he was a great scholar but also a great humanbeing with a kind heart - in short, he was my friend.
Posted by Liza Rosas Bustos on July 8, 2022
I just discovered Doctor Richard Elmore.

I am forever thankful for his presence and his tireless work while on his planetary body. I am enjoying it with no rush. Many of my students will forever benefit from his wisdom.

I am sure thousands of people will reap the reward of his influence and millions of children will benefit from the lectures he left on Earth. He was wise beyond words and he made sure he set things straight. His legacy will remain.

"Sucede que no voy a morirme, sucede que voy a vivirme", said Pablo Neruda. 

Doctor Elmore left no poems. These poems will be written by the students he empowered.

May his memory live forever in the future of the students he advocated for.
Posted by Carol Johnson on October 1, 2021
Dr. Richard Elmore taught me and thousands of educators to value the instructional core of our work and offer high quality professional learning experiences for those who directly touched students daily. He had a keen sense of the complexity of what is required to achieve excellence and he helped us create greater access and opportunity for All students. In so doing, he improved the life chances for millions of our nation’s children. His legacy will live eternally in our hearts and we are forever grateful to have had him as one of our best teachers!
Boston Public Schools and particularly urban educators are fortunate to have learned from his wisdom. God bless!
Posted by Myra Whitney on October 1, 2021
I’m shocked to learn of Dr. Elmore’s passing. I learned the importance of expanded thinking in research and education. He was an icon in the world of education. I will forever grieve his spirit as a force of nature!
Posted by Linda Greyser on July 5, 2021
I just today learned of Richard's death. What a shock. Dick was my advisor as a doctoral student when he first came to HGSE. He absolutely changed the way I look at and think about education, policy and accountability. I was also his first HGSE Ed.D. to graduate...a special honor. We collaborated to develop yearly summer institutes for practitioners, including the Harvard Institute for School Leadership (HISL) when I was associate director at PPE. We believed this was the first opportunity for groups of educators from a district/school to join together for professional growth and development and to collaborate in problem solving. He was insightful, funny, hard driving and imbued every student with high expectations and the belief that education could indeed change the world. Many "speak" those words, Richard lived them. Our profession owes him deep gratitude for his intellectual prowess and his contributions to educational leaders and practitioners in the U.S. and beyond. What a gift he was.
Posted by Francisca Astudillo on June 20, 2021
I will be forever grateful to Professor Richard Elmore. His belief in me inspires me to keep fighting for a world where education is fun, adventurous, social, and caring. I will never forget how generous Professor was with me, and I will follow his example to help young and passionate educators, no matter their origin or titles.

Thank you so much!

Posted by Erin Conrad on May 29, 2021
I never had the fortune of meeting Dr. Elmore but I have always had his books close at hand. As an elementary principal in a small Wisconsin town I strive to implement the core ethos of his work every day. His work has helped inspire us to see teaching for learning in new ways. I used to think that it couldn’t be done. Now I know that together we can and we will lift ourselves and our systems because our kids deserve it. I wonder what we might think next? 

Thank you Dr.Elmore.

Erin Conrad, Stoughton, WI
Posted by Stacy Spector on April 29, 2021
It's darkly ironic that we all want answers as to why such a giant in the field has been taken from us far too early. Richard was never one for the answers; he sought instead robust questions that made one at times squirm, retreat, hem and haw as he intentionally made space and time for our thinking and reflection as we grappled with the unrelenting curiosity and charge from him for us to think differently, do radically, and live joyously.

I so deeply admired him as he-and my brilliant and loving friend Kristen- joined me over the last 20 years in Seattle, Sacramento, San Diego and Mexico to engage in the radical possibility that adjudicated and marginalized students were perhaps our best teachers to reimagine learning if only we listened to them, the experts.

Watching Richard immerse himself as a learner side by side with and from teenagers was DNA changing. His willingness to always be in the moment while subverting, and challenging the institutions-both educational and legal that undermine authentic learning, was awe inspiring.

Richard did not suffer fools or bullshit. I sit here picturing that raised eyebrow of his, sardonically taunting you to provide evidence for your opinions and hypothesis. Yet, it was always done so from a place of love, a psychological safety that he provided that allowed one to sit in unknowing and negotiate understanding.

Best of all is when these conversations occurred over one of his amazing home cooked meals. Richard most enjoyed cooking for others, and his food was love. Blue fish with butter and capers, grilled Spring asparagus as fine as anything served at Per Se and the bartending skills of a pro. Dessert was the treat of exploring his basement studio, replete with notebooks and studies in all media: photography, ink, water color, and all subjects: a bridge, a passerby on the street, a leopard. His vulnerability in sharing his work, in always couching himself as a learner, was mesmerizing and contagious. Then, sitting in front of the fire as he loved on his dogs and sparked energetic debate was the perfect nightcap.

I am forever changed from the embrace of his mentorship and friendship.

I just miss him.
Posted by Pepe Menéndez on April 22, 2021
What sad news! I deeply regret the death of the professor. I have been a face-to-face student of his at Harvard in 2009, and I have implemented his lessons in my work as an education leader in Spain's schools. Especially the instructional rounds, and now I post conversations with other educational experts on my blog, following their methodology "I used to think... and now I think". Rest in peace
Posted by David Gordon on April 16, 2021
I was fortunate enough during my time at the Harvard Education Letter to have Richard Elmore as our Faculty Editor. He was generous with his time, his ideas, and his Rolodex. He had a gift for delivering correction in good-natured and constructive ways, always leaving one with a clear idea of how to make improvements and the confidence to do so. He was also instrumental in helping us launch Harvard Education Press by supplying one of our first books and lending his endorsement to the effort. My deepest condolences to Richard's family and his many HGSE colleagues.
Posted by Paul Freeman on April 13, 2021
I took a class with Richard Elmore in about 2008. The force of his arguments struck me immediately and the principles he laid out have been at the (instructional) core of my work as a school principal ever since. Only this morning did I learn of his death and I am very sad.
Posted by Betsy Kelly on March 22, 2021
I was one of Dr. Elmore's thousands of students, and I enjoyed his classes immensely. His luminous intellect shone brightest in the questions he asked us to consider, and he was a true teacher's teacher in that students were always at the core of his problems, ideas and solutions. I always think of him when I pull a chair up next to a child and quietly ask, "what are you working on?"

To Dr. Elmore's family, I hope you find comfort in some of my mother's last words. When asked about belief in eternal life, she said, "Of course I believe in eternal life. It is the love we feel for each other for all eternity. And I will always love you." I hope you find peace and serenity in your memories of such a thoughtful, brilliant man.
Posted by Gwendolyn Casazza on March 6, 2021
I became Professor Richard Elmore’s (or “Elmore” as we often called him) student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education by accident. It was 2007, I was a master’s student at the time. In one of many story swapping sessions about our classes, my friend Santiago Rincon-Gallardo could not stop talking about Professor Elmore’s Politics and Policymaking course. I could tell from Santiago’s stories that there was something special about the course, and more importantly the teacher. Santiago insisted that I take his spring class on “Supporting Teachers for Instructional Improvement.” I was 27 at the time and felt unmoored, unsure of what to focus on or prioritize in my short tenure as a graduate student. I gratefully took his advice and have been grateful that I did ever since.

Professor Elmore was a bright light in an intense year. I was new to education at this time, having trained a few years prior as a bilingual elementary school teacher who chose instead to go into non-profit education work. I struggled to connect with my core coursework, but the connection with Elmore’s class (an elective for me) was instant.

This class helped me explore the restless questions that I had been holding, but could not articulate. Questions about how schools can catalyse largescale social change, what does that look like in theory…and, more importantly, what does it look like in practice?

What stood out the most is how Professor Elmore deliberately created a space in the graduate classroom that mirrored the change he valued. We formed small communities of practice and took time to observe learning via videos and live in a classroom. I remember how my mind was completely blown watching Japanese teachers observe each other’s practice and conduct the most fascinating classroom inquiry. I still remember the brightness on his face as he showed us videos of masterful teaching. The thrill of seeing good work unfold in front of us – how it kindled the hope that powerful teaching and learning could take place given the right conditions.

His classroom was “I-thou-it” - a relationship between teacher, student, and content built on fundamental respect - personified. It’s taken me years to truly understand the power of this modelling, but this example of how “the process you use to get to the change is the change you get” made an indelible impact. This was Professor Elmore’s daily practice.

I spent much of my time in that class being intimidated by those around me who I thought had more – more knowledge, more confidence, more whatever. But slowly I found my voice, though mostly through my written work because I rarely spoke up in class. And through assessments and weekly learning reflections his feedback always incredibly constructive and fair. He was the kind of teacher whose feedback mattered, given the high standard he held for himself and the work.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this course has shaped the rest of my career. I dedicated the years that followed graduation to large-scale school improvement, always with an eye to how structures and systems can create the enabling conditions for students to learn and their teachers to develop their practice with the right coaching and support. As an education consultant, I travelled from Detroit to Houston to Philadelphia…and eventually all over Massachusetts, speaking to teachers, school leaders, students and their families to understand what was working in a particular school, or what was getting in the way…and often what was needed to help get a struggling school unstuck. There’s clear through line between the lessons I learned in Professor Elmore’s classroom and the work that followed.

I returned to Cambridge after a brief stint in San Francisco while I got my post-graduate bearings and lived there for eight years. Every once in a while, Tilman would kindly find a slot for me to meet Professor Elmore. I would sit in Elmore’s Gutman corner office and talk to him about what I was seeing in schools and we would just chat. I don’t think I ever completely relaxed into those conversations and probably did a fair share of rambling because of that, but his genuine curiosity and his ability to listen deeply and comment thoughtfully made those exchanges both safe and deeply grounding. They were a touchpoint as I slowly and sometimes very clumsily worked to find my professional way.

I eventually lost touch as I had a son and moved away to another Cambridge, this one in the UK. The trans-Atlantic move prompted a major career pivot, away from education reform to public policy. As I worked in UK local government public sector reform, so many of the lessons I learned from that semester with him stuck – the value of supporting professional learning and practice, the importance of putting a person or community at the centre of a system.

I found myself wanting to write to Professor Elmore to tell him excitedly of my new professional and intellectual ventures – of discovering human centred design, of learning about systems and systems change and having my mind blown by Donella Meadows, of the incredible intellectual public policy community that has developed around public sector innovation here in the UK. About how the lessons he generously taught still resonated as I worked with social workers, midwives, and early years educators in redesigning a system so that it gave 65,000 children born in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, England the best chance possible to be safe and healthy and to experience rich learning in their most formative years. About how much more I could now appreciate his sense of aesthetic which was so evident in what he did, from his slides to his teaching to the way he always was impeccably dressed. About my fascination with the role of the built environment, something that was first sparked as he explored the importance of how schools are designed as spaces in his Leaders of Learning online Ed.X. course. The spark has developed into a cornerstone of my work, as I explore place-based change in communities and the role that public spaces and buildings play in that change.

I deeply regret not having shared with him just how monumental of a figure he was in my career. I share this now as part of a collective outpouring of love and appreciation for his integrity, his soulful approach to work, a kindness and respect for others, and someone who dedicated his life and career to the often gruelling and unforgiving but also transformative work of education for social change. I share this now as an offering to his family who he clearly adored, who are in my thoughts as they grieve the loss of a beloved husband, father, grandfather, and friend.
Posted by Santiago Rincon-Gallardo on March 3, 2021
The tribute to Richard Elmore below was published in International Ed News on February 24, 2021. The original post can be accessed at:

Use #RememberingRichardElmore to access and tag social media messages about and in honor of Richard in social media (Twitter, Facebook...).

A Beginner’s Mind: Remembering Richard Elmore

Richard Elmore died peacefully and unexpectedly the night of February 9, 2021. I’ve found myself crying over the past couple weeks remembering Richard’s presence in my life as a mentor, a beloved teacher, and a dear friend. I get teary eyed each time I read over the outpouring of beautiful stories and messages shared in the online memorial site created by his family, and learning more about the powerful presence he had in the lives of so many - family, students, colleagues, and friends. Among the things treasured by those whose lives Richard touched are his sharp intellect, his generous heart, his contagious laughter, his profound respect for and belief in young people, and (especially in his later years) his growing irreverence for the schooling systems that constrain them.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said “People don’t pass away./They die/ and then they stay.” There are many ways in which we can expect Richard to stay with us over decades to come.

Richard’s thinking has and will remain crucial as a reference to those seeking to understand how and under what conditions powerful learning can – and most often doesn’t – happen in schools, in school systems, and beyond. Some of Richard’s key contributions to the field that have stood, and will no doubt continue to stand the test of time include:
• Positioning the instructional core as the basic unit that our efforts as educators, teachers, school and system leaders should aim to transform fundamentally: “the problems of the system are the problems of the smallest unit”; “if it’s not in the instructional core, it’s not there”; “the real accountability is in the tasks students are asked to do”.
• Proposing a “backward-mapping” logic to examine, plan, and carry out education improvement work (starting from what you want to cause and moving gradually from the inside out to adapt the practices, systems and cultures surrounding it as change is underway);
• The notion that no amount of external pressure on schools will work in the absence of internal accountability (shared responsibility for improvement within the school) or reciprocal accountability (the responsibility of the system to invest the necessary resources and develop the necessary capacity of educators and leaders to produce the expected results) – “if you push an atomized, incoherent organization with an external accountability system, it will only become more incoherent.” 
• His more recent exploration of ‘outlier’ groups and organizations that are nurturing and unleashing powerful learning among young people and children (NuVu, Beijing Academy in China, Redes de Tutoría in Mexico). 
• His dire and sharp critique of the multiple ways in which schooling – the very institution intended to develop our young people’s ability and joy to learn – is getting in the way of powerful learning. (“A major lesson we have learned from attainment-driven models of schooling is that it is possible to disable human beings as learners by convincing them that they do not have the capability to manage their own learning”)

The list goes on, but I don’t intend here to cover the whole range of Richard’s intellectual and public legacy (a more detailed account of his outstanding public service and academic trajectory can be found in this post from the Harvard Graduate School of Education). I will instead share a more personal account of Richard as an example of a Beginner´s Mind, to illustrate how he stands out in the sea of internationally renowned education experts.

Richard knew a lot about schools, school reform, and education policy. And I mean A LOT. For many, students and colleagues alike, his mere presence was intimidating for this very reason. But much more prominent than what he knew was his disposition to learn: his openness to find surprise in the familiar and his willingness – almost eagerness – to put his own thinking to the test. I remember him telling me in one of our shared times in Mexico, with his loud, contagious laughter, how funny it was for him to find that people that organized a series of his talks in South America were shocked to find that he had learned a few new things in the ten previous years. His book I Used to Think… Now I Think is a beautiful collection of essays where prominent education thinkers are asked to describe some of the most important ways that their thinking has changed over the years. About the book, Richard remarked “It strikes me as ironic that in a field nominally devoted to the development of capacities to learn, there is so little evidence of what those who do the work have actually learned in their careers.”

Richard’s openness to finding surprise in the familiar is beautifully demonstrated in his habit of visiting classrooms one day every week. This habit, established after decades of studying education reform and policy, became an almost religious practice that opened Richard’s mind to the everyday realities of classroom practice and gave him an unmatched sensitivity and profound understanding of teaching and learning, and the many ways in which education policies with lofty intentions almost invariably miss the mark of affecting the instructional core in any substantive way. 
It was Richard’s Beginner’s Mind that led him to accept my invitation to visit Mexico in 2010 to learn about tutoría (the pedagogical practice at the core of the Learning Community Project, also known as Redes de Tutoría). He endured an early morning flight and a ride of over 100 kilometers of bumpy, dusty roads to get to a remote rural community in the State of Zacatecas. Once there, he accepted the invitation of Maricruz, a 13-year-old girl from Santa Rosa to learn geometry with her support as a tutor. He was struck by her confidence and joy as a learner and a teacher, an experience that moved him (and all of us who had the privilege of being in Santa Rosa that day) to tears. It was Richard Beginner’s Mind that saw and named the Learning Community Project as a social movement, an insight that provoked in me what I can only describe as an intellectual awakening. It crystalized and integrated several ideas that had until then felt scattered and disorganized. This insight, a seemingly small side-comment in the vast extension of Richard’s thinking, is now foundational to my thinking and work on educational change.  

I don’t know of another academic that is as openly willing – even eager – to prove himself wrong – as Richard was. You can see this in his writing and his public speaking. His book Restructuring in the Classroom with Penelope Peterson and Sarah McCarthey is an account of the disintegration of his faith in school restructuring as a strategy for instructional change. Here, he outlines that new school structures do not produce, as he initially believed, the changes in culture required to enhance the learning experience of children in classrooms. In his commentary paper “‘Getting to Scale’… It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time” he reflects back on key flaws of his thinking 20 years earlier, articulated in his classic article “Getting to Scale with Good Educational Practice.” In his last interview Richard talked about Instructional Rounds, a practice that he developed with colleagues at Harvard. He said it struck a chord with many school and district leaders, and that it helped them reconnect with their purpose, that it stimulated a lot of action and excitement. But – and here comes the punch line – he came to learn that “there was really not much relationship between satisfaction and impact.”

Richard died in the midst of a profound global crisis, in times where nothing less than the human project is at stake. In the world that we’re leaving behind, many academics have been revered for and built their identities around all they know. Richard’s conscious decision to maintain a Beginner’s Mind even at the pinnacle of his academic stardom shines as a bright light in a dark sea. I hope many of us will find in his example the courage to cultivate a Beginner’s Mind: to engage – as he invited us in his last podcast - in learning to do things we are fully incompetent to do; to be open to the awe of seeing the familiar in a new light; and to welcome with open arms the times when our dearest certainties are proven wrong. As the Buddhist tradition suggests, in a Beginner’s Mind lie the keys to a happier life and a healthier connection to others and the world – much needed features of the more conscious lives and the more humane world that we can build.

In his last years, in addition to taking on painting, Richard brought the attention of his Beginner’s Mind to the future of learning: the latest findings of the neuroscience of learning, the potential role of architectural design to represent and enable diverse models of learning; and the work of outliers in the learning world. His excitement about the future of learning however, grew in a way inversely proportional to his faith in schools and school systems. Richard grew increasingly skeptical about the prospect of schools and school systems becoming effective vehicles to protect and cultivate the extraordinary learning minds of our young people. He grew highly discouraged and impatient with how, to the contrary, compulsory schooling crushes the natural curiosity and joy to learn in children and youth. The last time I saw him in person, during a short visit to Boston, he told me he was working on a book of his latest thinking – one that, he confided to me with a playful smile, would likely upset many people. 

Richard left a huge question for us to tackle: Will schools and school systems figure out a way to move away from schooling and cultivate powerful learning instead? His answer today would be a resounding ‘No’. I hope we’ll be able to prove him wrong on this one. I can picture him, with his Beginner’s Mind, laughing out loud with joy when we do.


Posted by Christopher Buttimer on March 2, 2021
Professor Elmore is one of the top 2 or 3 people who have influenced my beliefs about education the most over the past two decades. His relentless belief that *learning* is the thing has profoundly shaped my teaching, my research, and my activism. Inside the classroom, he challenged all of us to go beyond easy, cookie-cutter answers, and outside of class, he was one of the kindest, warmest, funniest people I've ever met. I will miss him greatly, as will the field of education. My deepest condolences to Kirsten and the rest of Prof. Elmore's family, friends, and loved ones.
Posted by Tammy Dowley-Blackman on March 1, 2021
Hands down one of my best courses at HGSE. I enjoyed how Professor Elmore pushed and encouraged us. He could have easily relied on teaching his scholarship, but he introduced a treasure trove of other field experts and ideas. In doing so, he was ensuring that we would be broad-based in our thinking and learning beyond his lecture hall. I have used what I learned in his course as I have built my leadership and organizational development company. Professor Elmore, thank you for your spirit, high standards, and example.
Posted by Barbara Reynolds on March 1, 2021
Richard Elmore was an educational thinker who challenged and inspired all that he met. His passion for change and disposition to provoke thought have left a lasting impact on a generation of school leaders and teachers. Here, in Australia, we have been engaged in Instructional Rounds for the last ten years. The process has profoundly influenced the way that we think about teaching and learning, and has encouraged us to build a network of learners that has sustained over the years. Through doing the work our schools have been transformed and student learning is now richer and deeper. Our networked approach to learning would not have been possible without Richard Elmore's wisdom and inspiration. He will be greatly missed. Vale Richard.
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:

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, 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.
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Recent Tributes
Posted by Bill Schmidt on July 11, 2022
Dick was a close colleague of mine during his time at Michigan State University. I could always count on him for good, intellectual comments on projects I was working on. Additionally, I enjoyed being asked by him to comment on his work as well. He helped me with issues of leadership on several projects. He was a great colleauge but also a good, good friend whom I respected and enjoyed being with. As I am writing this, I can hear that wonderful heart-warming laugh that he would often let out. To you, his family, be proud he was a great scholar but also a great humanbeing with a kind heart - in short, he was my friend.
Posted by Liza Rosas Bustos on July 8, 2022
I just discovered Doctor Richard Elmore.

I am forever thankful for his presence and his tireless work while on his planetary body. I am enjoying it with no rush. Many of my students will forever benefit from his wisdom.

I am sure thousands of people will reap the reward of his influence and millions of children will benefit from the lectures he left on Earth. He was wise beyond words and he made sure he set things straight. His legacy will remain.

"Sucede que no voy a morirme, sucede que voy a vivirme", said Pablo Neruda. 

Doctor Elmore left no poems. These poems will be written by the students he empowered.

May his memory live forever in the future of the students he advocated for.
Posted by Carol Johnson on October 1, 2021
Dr. Richard Elmore taught me and thousands of educators to value the instructional core of our work and offer high quality professional learning experiences for those who directly touched students daily. He had a keen sense of the complexity of what is required to achieve excellence and he helped us create greater access and opportunity for All students. In so doing, he improved the life chances for millions of our nation’s children. His legacy will live eternally in our hearts and we are forever grateful to have had him as one of our best teachers!
Boston Public Schools and particularly urban educators are fortunate to have learned from his wisdom. God bless!
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

Poem to Class

Shared by Tom Buffett on November 15, 2021
I came across the poem Richard gave my HGSE cohort at the end of A-027 in the Fall of 1997.   I think it speaks volumes about how he saw himself as a teacher.  

Learning the work by doing the work

Shared by Tim O'Brien on February 28, 2021
After spending some hours visiting classrooms and taking notes with participants in an Instructional Rounds Institute at a local HS, Richard and I met with the group of about 40 to debrief their observations. Participants frequently had questions for Richard and I began to drift away from Richard towards the side of the room – not knowing how or who to be when everyone was so clearly intent on hearing from Richard. Soon enough though, Richard disappeared from the room entirely for a few minutes, leaving me in charge of the process. When small groups were discussing with each other again Richard quietly returned and, determined to either not be a distraction and/or build my facilitation skills, seated himself among the participants and in the corner. I facilitated the rest of the day by myself wondering how I was doing and what I was missing while Richard sat among the teachers and participants listening to their conversations. While managing the process and conversation I would try to catch Richard’s gaze in the group. He looked at me and just nodded. So I just kept going. I remember hoping Richard would indeed jump in because it seemed inevitable that I was missing something. These folks had come from across the country and around the world. The whole time I was facilitating I felt bad for all the participants who obviously wanted more of Richard F. Elmore and less of Tim, the doctoral student who set up the projector. I didn’t know how to, and probably didn’t want to, ask for direct feedback then so when it was over I just hoped Richard would volunteer it. Instead, he wanted to talk about what he heard the participants say and wanted to plan the subsequent sessions we would have back on campus. 

This was my first experience “learning the work by doing the work” with Richard and the beginning of the most important mentorship in my career. I had the honor of being Richard’s advisee, teaching assistant and colleague at HGSE for 6 years. While I was his advisee, Richard rarely had advice. But he did have an abundance of attention. He would listen to me ramble and succinctly summarize what I said in a way that helped me understand myself. Then he would begin to tell a story about a recent trip or talk or school he had just visited and that was his cue for “You’re all set. You’ve got this. Keep going.” Years after graduating, Richard I met last fall to discuss a bedeviling paper. The attention and care was so wonderful – I didn’t want our discussion to end.

Thank you Richard for supporting me, challenging me and including me in your work. I never felt able to sufficiently expressing my gratitude. I will do everything I can to make my students feel the way you made feel – capable and full of potential.   

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): 

Live | Play | Engage | Create

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