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 Magdalena Aguirre Benítez on February 11, 2021
Una maravillosa luz se apaga, pero la mantendremos encendida quienes tuvimos el honor y la fortuna de conocer al Dr. Richard Elmore. Siempre estará presente en mi vida el encuentro en Santiago de Chile en el arranque de las Redes de Tutoría en la región de la Araucanía, donde, con su impresionante claridad de expresión, nos ayudó a comprender la importancia de ser consciente de la forma en que nos relacionamos, de la trascendencia de reconocer qué nos ocurre como personas cuando interactuamos con nuestros semejantes al existir el interés de crecer como seres humanos y al puntualizar gozoso el hecho de que uno de sus alumnos era consciente de lo que le ocurría y necesitaba para enfrentar la vida. Aún puedo sentir la alegría cuando en compañía de amadísimos colegas chilenos y mexicanos, así como de Singapur, festejábamos la gran felicidad de coincidir en un tiempo y espacio donde iniciaba una esperanza más para la educación de las nuevas generaciones del mundo. Al cantar en esa celebración "Los Ejes de de mi carreta", canción de Atahualpa Yupanqui , el Dr. Richard decía: ¡hermoso!... Mil gracias a la vida por la fortuna de haberle conocido, seguiré cantando esa canción y trabajando en la educación en su honor.  
Posted by Santiago Rincon-Gallardo on February 11, 2021
Richard was a beloved mentor, my best teacher of all times, and a deeply cherished friend who shaped in profound ways the way I see, think about, practice, and cultivate learning. I will never forget the day when, in an unlikely visit to a remote, single room school in rural Mexico, he accepted an invitation from Maricruz, a 13 year old girl, to engage in a tutoring session of geometry. Here's how Richard remembered this encounter: “As a learner, with Maricruz as my tutor, I found myself in an unusual situation. It was clear that I was engaged with someone who had mastered a practice. She was not bashful about stopping me when I moved from one step of the problem to another to ask for a clarification of why I made the decision I had made. Her manner was polite, respectful, but not overly impressed by my knowledge of geometry and ever-vigilant for weak logic and ambiguous terminology. Her questions were clear and highly-focused. She did not share my enthusiasm for having gotten the “right” answer. She was more interested in what I didn’t know, or couldn’t readily recover from my prior knowledge. More importantly, she didn’t “teach” me a method for solving the problem, she coached me through a process of thinking about the problem, and diagnosed a critical weakness in my background knowledge. I felt that I was in the hands of an expert.”

Richard went on to say “Since my return from Mexico, I have thought many times about my geometry lesson with María Cruz. I am currently spending at least two, sometimes three, days a week visiting classrooms in American schools as part of my work on school improvement. […] Maricruz is my constant companion in these classrooms these days.[...]—her confidence and poise as a tutor, her wry commentary on my shaky grasp of the origins of pi, her relationships with her tutors and the other eleven students in her school, her strong voice, her level gaze and eye contact when she speaks to adults, her quiet courage and joy as a learner. I also think about the proud parents assembled in the dusty front yard of a tiny two-room school in the middle of nowhere, with pickup trucks and horses tethered nearby, listening to one of their children speak as an expert about a complex math problem, with pride and a bit of incomprehension that this could be happening to their child.”

Upon his return to Boston, I got a short email from Kirsten, his wife, whom I didn't know at the time but has since become a cherished friend. In her email, she said something along the lines of: Richard showed me pictures of his trip to Mexico with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Since then, Richard became one of the most amazing allies and critical friends to our efforts to liberate learning across Mexican public schools, generously sparing time and mind to help us think more deeply about our work. He was the first to qualify the Learning Community Project (or Tutorial Networks, Redes de Tutoría) as a social movement, an insight that provoked in me something I can only describe as intellectual awakening: it immediately crystalized and integrated in my mind several ideas that had until then - as I was in the midst of my doctoral studies - felt scattered, disorganized, and unclear. It was a definitive moment that continues to influence to this day the ways I think, live and work as an educator, scholar, and organizer.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said "People don't pass away./ They die/ and then they stay." There are many ways in which Richard will stay with me for the rest of my life. I will forever remember his sharp intellect, his generous heart, his contagious laughter, his profound respect for young people, and his wise impatience with the ways in which schooling stifles - whether intentionally or not - their natural curiosity, their innate capacity to learn, and their joy as holders of a beginner's mind. 

I love you, Richard.   
Posted by Susan Eaton on February 11, 2021
I'm so saddened to hear of the unexpected passing of one of the best teachers I've ever had, Professor Richard Elmore. My thoughts are with his wife, his children and grandchildren. I began my HGSE career in 93, as an insecure master's student. Professor Elmore intimidated me at first, but I nearly physically felt my mind expanding, improving in his classes, even while toiling over his scary take home exams. He was a spectacularly dedicated, deeply thoughtful and caring educator and absolutely elegant teacher. He urged me to apply to the doctoral program, which I did, gaining confidence along the way, in no small part thanks to him. I didn't work with him closely as a doctoral student, but I loved checking in with him, chatting and sometimes arguing about issues of the moment and seeing him more as a full person, with a great sense of humor and deep irreverence. I often had my then-baby and/or toddler in tow over the years and the man who once intimidated me, I saw, was so tuned in and warm and attentive to my young son, even sharing parenting tips. Upon entering Gutman Library, my son used to ask, "Will we see Professor Richard today?" Of his students, Richard Elmore required precision, constant self examination and self questioning. He advocated lifelong learning, the courage to change your mind. He pushed us all to reach the highest standards of analysis, to appreciate and study political contexts and power to engage in careful, critical reading of scholarship. He shepherded us all, I think, toward the realization that you can and you should learn from everybody. In the earliest years at HGSE, he challenged me in ways that I am quite sure I resented at the time but that have instilled in me habits of mind on which I rely nearly every day. I lean on those habits now, more than two decades later, as a thinker, a writer, and especially, as a teacher/professor. I find myself pushing my students in the same kind of ways he pushed me and the ways I observed him pushing (and encouraging) others. When I wrote my first solo book and then again, my second solo book, I got congratulatory, complimentary notes from Professor Elmore. I am not a big crier. But when I got those notes, I cried both times. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to thank him for all he did for me and for teachers, leaders and students. I hope all these gorgeous testimonials from Richard's many friends, students and colleagues will bring your family comfort during this difficult time and in the years ahead.
Posted by Patricia Graham on February 11, 2021
So many of us feel a sense of intense loss with the passing of Richard Elmore.
When we first met, he was known as Dick and provided an extended lecture on the nature of nationalism. It was excellent. However, he was being interviewed for a professorship at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the focus of his position was improving educational practice. Could he make the shift in intellectual focus? The answer, as is well known, is that he certainly could and did, as his many students, admirers, listeners, and readers attest. I will miss him deeply, but am immensely thankful that I had the opportunity to know him, to learn from him, and to admire his many talents.
Posted by Drew Echelson on February 11, 2021
Liz City and I sent this message to the Ed.L.D. community last night and we share here. 

Dear Ed.L.D. Community,

It is with very heavy hearts that we write this letter to the Ed.L.D. community about the passing of our dear colleague and friend, Richard Elmore. 

Richard was a founding bedrock of the Ed.L.D. program. He was instrumental to its vision and design and served as the program’s original Co-Faculty Director. Whether or not you worked directly with Richard, you can thank him for all the most radical, irreverent parts of the program. Richard was serious about transformation and believed in it mostly because he believed in the fabulous Ed.L.D. students he worked with. Otherwise, he tended a bit towards skepticism about what was possible, though never about what was necessary.

He believed first and foremost in learners and learning. In the early planning for the Leaders of Learning course that he taught with joy in the Ed.L.D. core curriculum, he articulated seven essential questions: how does learning work, how are learners different, what’s worth learning, what kind of learning matters, how is it best taught, how do we know it’s getting learned, and how do we improve learning at scale? Important questions. And he pushed all of us to ask them boldly and answer them with intentionality and special care for the most marginalized students.

We were both fortunate to learn from Richard Elmore during our time as doctoral students at HGSE. Simply put, he was one of the most influential educators we’ve ever had in our educational careers. His writing and thinking informed so much of our own work as practitioners and, in so many ways, influences the way we both teach and think about instruction today. Richard’s impact on the program we love will be felt for decades. His impact on us will be felt for our entire careers. 

Richard Elmore meant so much to us. He was a friend, colleague, mentor, and thought partner. We are devastated by the news we heard today, and there is a lot for us to process. We will create space for the community to process. Members of Cohort 1 and 2 have asked about opportunities to organize an event at convening to memorialize Richard’s legacy. We will be meeting with the Convening Co-Chairs tomorrow to discuss ways we can do that and will be in touch in the days to come. 

In the meantime, one way to honor Richard is to do what he did best--speak truth, name problems and dysfunctions, push for radical possibility, be a learner yourself always, make space for others to learn and lead by stepping back and waiting expectantly for them to do something brilliant that you know they can do even if they don’t yet, and for goodness sakes, do something with the opportunity this awful pandemic opens up to remake education in a powerful way.

With gratitude for Richard and with love for this community that is part of his legacy,

Liz and Drew  
Posted by Jon Brock on February 11, 2021
Dick Elmore was my most valuable colleague and by all measures the most visionary person in public policy and management. He saw the flaws in the field and based on his vision, expressed in the still-relevant , “Working at the Seams of Government”, we set about the work at the University of Washington Evans School.

With the help of academics and practitioners that he drew in locally and nationally, we built a three-pronged effort to improve the master’s curriculum and teaching according to his article. We first built an executive education program and curricular/case engine to serve it, enlisting these colleagues to advise, teach, and write material, and then bringing that structure and those features into the UW master’s program, with that part of the task completed 10 years later by our mutual friend and then Evans School dean, Marc Lindenberg. 

On the way, with the help of these colleagues and the Pew Trusts, we created in 1995 the first on-line curriculum collection, The Electronic Hallway—before there were web sites—just GOPHER sites!  Although Dick, inexplicably, ended, some 20 years ago, all contact with his University of Washington colleagues and friends, we continued the work without him, but with his vision. His vision defined what the UW Evans School became at its zenith, accounted for the contributions the school made to public policy and management in those years and to the quality of government throughout Washington State. Via the Electronic Hallway and related activities, this work affected schools across the country and the world. 

As others have said in these pages, he was an amazing friend, and, yes, a good cook. And it was his ability to inspire and his ability to see in me that which I didn’t see in myself that set the trajectory of my 30-year academic career at UW. His sudden and strict severance from all things Seattle prevented me from continuing to learn from him and from thanking him. I had to settle for being able to credit him to those who attended my retirement party. And now, I can thank him here. Even after 20 years the memories endure of his ability to teach, to inspire, to think better than anyone, and to be a friend. I’m sad to mark his passing and I send condolences to all who knew him, worked with him and loved him.
Posted by CHRIS COXON on February 11, 2021
I had the pleasure of having Richard as my professor as a part of the Urban Superintendent's Program curriculum. He constantly challenged me to think deeply about the work, the people, and the purpose of this enterprise we call education. I often commented on how I would love to take my class with him again, sans the assignments, because I know that so much of what he shared I missed the first time. Thank you for helping me to be a better educator and a better person. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. QEPD
Posted by Caroline Chauncey on February 11, 2021
I was fortunate to work with Richard as an editor on several of his books (and before that, his wonderful essays for the Harvard Education Letter). What struck me most was his keen eye for what was really happening in a school or classroom. Were teachers really teaching? Were students really learning? Were school leaders really doing what they needed to do -- and being given the support to do it? What does change really look like in schools, and how do we know it’s leading toward improvement for all students? He was such an astute observer, unencumbered by conventional wisdom. One of his favorite exercises in leading professional development was “I Used to Think … and Now I Think” — encouraging participants to reflect on how what they had learned had changed their thinking and might consequently change their practice. In a field where sustained, effective change is an ongoing challenge, he exemplified the willingness to grow, rethink, reflect, and be changed by what he learned. He was truly visionary, and his candor and courage will have lasting influence.
Posted by Deanna Burney on February 11, 2021
Richard Elmore was kind, patient, and full of intellect and integrity. He touched my heart, deeply influenced my learning, and significantly shaped my life. I thank the Universe for lending him to me and am left with a huge hole in my heart at his passing. I had just heard from him on January 23 when we had an exchange of emails. I will treasure that recent contact, as I will our years of deep and meaningful connection.

Many years ago, when Richard was going through a time of deep soul searching, I sent him a silver bracelet. I wrote to him that life is a circle of good times followed by bad and then coming back to good again. Kirsten tells me that he was wearing that same bracelet when he went into the hospital. Knowing that he passed with that gift from me on his wrist brings me a bit of comfort. As she wrote to me, “He was taking you with him, dear Deanna.”

I will forever treasure the oil painting I share a photo of here that Richard painted, which he sent to me just last month.

My words from a card I had sent not too long ago, and which sat on Richard and Kirsten’s kitchen counter, sum up my feelings well:

"You have been my teacher and partner in the truest and deepest sense. Your presence in my life is powerful and important to me in so many, many ways. Your deep humanity, your humor, your wisdom about the work of the heart, your spirituality. I am a truly fortunate person to have you in my life. I love you, Deanna”

I offer my deep gratitude and love to Kirsten and family for sharing the precious gift of Richard with me. My heart is with them now.

Posted by Cesar Cruz on February 11, 2021
I had a chance to meet Richard 2 years before he retired at HGSE. We connected right away and we would speak about his work in prisons and juvenile halls in San Diego, and I'd talk to him about Homies Empowerment and our work in Oakland. He kept telling our cohort, EdLD Cohort 4, as we were blessed enough to have him as a professor, that we should stop tinkering with the antiquated 20th century post office, as a reference to the 20th century educational system, as a dying institution, and let's dream up of a new way of learning. Every once in a while he would kick our butts with his "educators are not professionals speech." I found Elmore's voice in the work of Margaret Wheatley as well;

""Our seventeenth-century organizations are crumbling. We have prided ourselves, in all these centuries since Newton and Descartes, on the triumphs of reason, on the absence of magic. Yet we, like the best magicians of old, have been hooked on manipulation. For three centuries, we’ve been planning, predicting, and analyzing the world. We’ve held on to an intense belief in cause and effect. We’ve raised planning to the highest of priestcrafts and imbued numbers with absolute power. We look to numbers to describe our economic health, our productivity, our physical well-being. We’ve developed graphs and charts and plans to take us into the future, revering them as ancient mariners did their chart books. Without them, we’d be lost, adrift among the dragons. We have been, after all, no more than sorcerers, the master magicians of our time." (Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World)

Elmore became a magician. He realized that much of education was a farce, even our own institutions. During his "retirement party" at HGSE he called it all out and it was powerful.

I truly appreciated how he was trying to evolve. The sharpness of his analysis made him not everyone's cup of tea, but we so needed his sharpness, then and now. Elmore made HGSE and EdLD not only bearable but possible for me. We would get horrible case examples in other classes of how great the FBI and CIA are with their "innovative ways" and I just couldn't sit through all of that BS. It was Elmore that I could go to as we spoke about the BS. May you rest in peace post master general. You will be truly missed by me.
Posted by Jerry Murphy on February 11, 2021
It is so sad to hear of the untimely passing of Richard Elmore. He was an amazing man, one of a kind: a beautiful writer, an inspiring teacher, an eclectic thinker, a first-class inventor, not to mention a fabulous cook. My heart goes out to Kirsten and his family.
Posted by Heather Harding on February 11, 2021
Dr. Richard Elmore was an intellectual giant in my education, but he was also a generous and demanding teacher. I met Elmore at work before matriculating to HGSE. He was an expert brought in to help principals understand the importance of the instructional core. I learned so much from his style and convictions. Last time I saw him, he was leaning in to that same challenging dialogue--asking us to do more by learning from others. A huge loss for our world but a huge gift he left us with. Rest now.
Posted by Deb Sawch on February 11, 2021
Richard was a master of the pregnant pause, cool linen shirts, and perfectly cooked fish. He embraced Kirsten's big, beautiful family to make it his own, with gentle love and care. What a loss to the larger world he contributed so much to, and to the smaller, more intimate world he cherished.
With Love to All, Deb
Posted by Richard Murnane on February 11, 2021
I learned a great deal from Richard's writings. He had a great influence on a great many students. His research demonstrated the conditions under which money could make a difference in improving the education of children in public schools. 
Posted by Elizabeth City on February 11, 2021
I came to Harvard as a doctoral student mostly because I wanted to learn with Richard, whose work I had read and thought, “This person will have the answers I seek to how to do powerful learning at scale.” And now it is 20 years later and I am still here and he is not, and I am sad and grateful and sad some more. Richard was a man of big ideas, strong opinions, and a way (often frustrating!) of refusing to answer the most important questions. These questions he left to the learner. He had deep reverence for learners, irreverence for the systems that constrained them, and a respect for the complexity, wonder, and beauty of learning. His favorite protocol was “I used to think . . . and now I think . . .” because he enjoyed evolving his thinking and challenging others to do the same. I will miss writing, teaching, and leading with him, but most of all I will miss his kindness, his laughter, and his delight in the provocative possible.

I am sending much healing love to Kirsten and to Richard’s extended family. Richard spoke of each of you with such love and such joy in your individuality and in who you are and are ever becoming.
Posted by Robert Villanova on February 11, 2021
No one influenced my professional evolution as a leader and thinker more than Richard Elmore. He shaped and inspired all of the foundation practices and many associated educational leadership “truths” of the CT Superintendents Network. Richard was an intellectual giant and an “influencer” in the best sense of the word. He elevated and focussed the leadership work of so many educational leaders.
May Richard Elmore rest in peace.
Posted by Joel Malmén on February 11, 2021
We are privileged to have known this kind, sweet, gentle, deeply intelligent man.

Among our memories, we especially cherish those of the long, lazy summer afternoons we spent out in the garden by the cottage in Bergslagen, Sweden, in thoughtful conversations about education, life, and everything under the sun. To partake in his vast knowledge and wisdom was a joy, and we’re so lucky to have had that chance, not once but several times.

Thank you, Richard.

Joel & Sara
Posted by Bridget Long on February 11, 2021
I send my deepest condolences during this difficult time. I remember Dick fondly during the many years we shared at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. When I started in 2000, Dick was a strong presence, and he modeled a way of asking deep, probing questions and embedding himself in schools to interrogate ideas that continues to exemplify the best of the field. But more than that, I remember his laugh (more of a chuckle) and the sly delight he would have on his face during exchanges. He is certainly missed. It is wonderful to see the many ways he lives on in his students, research, and the many, many people he influenced and supported throughout the years. 
Posted by Mary Russo on February 11, 2021
I have so many beautiful, personal memories of Dr. Richard Elmore. I can still see him walking down the halls of the Murphy School, the many grad students he sent to visit us, the presentations he invited our team to make at his summer institutes, his legendary wit. I learned so much from him, especially how to focus my leadership on instruction. I will always remember his deep belief in “excellent instruction for every student - no exceptions, no excuses.” He taught all of us who knew him the value of professional development in building teachers’ capacity to teach to high standards and the principal’s role in bringing excellent instruction to scale in our schools. Although his many contributions to education will live long after him, he will be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him. I’ll think of him now as “Saint Richard the Mentor.” Thank you Dr. Elmore!
Posted by Marcela Renteria on February 11, 2021
My deepest condolences to Kirsten and all of Richard’s other family members. I just simply cannot believe that he has just left us.

I was waiting for an email from Richard this week confirming our plan for the development and design of the future of learning as part of the Ecosisteam / AprendoEnCasa project that he led until today in Chile. We had a bright future in 2021 under his leadership. As a professor he was a reference to many educators who were inspired by him in Chile over the past few years, thanks to his cutting edge ideas about new ways of teaching and learning.

Richard told me that he meditated daily at 7 am and prayed for my daughter Nicole to recover from her leukemia.

I have no idea what we will do tomorrow without him. I am sure he will send us the inspiration we need to fulfill the project that he began with so much enthusiasm and commitment. He never lost his appetite to learn and he was an innovator in essence.
I was blessed to learn from him. I will always be grateful for Richard Elmore’s sense of humanity.
Posted by Penelope Peterson on February 10, 2021
I was shocked and saddened today to learn the news of Dick Elmore's passing. Dick and I co-authored a book together, based on a research project we did with Sarah McCarthey on "Restructuring Schools." We learned a lot from each other as a result of our collaboration. We will miss Dick greatly for his insightful analyses and thoughtful critiques. 
Posted by Amy Elmore on February 10, 2021
What is the right word to describe Richard’s laugh – chortle, guffaw, cackle? It was certainly not a giggle or a snicker. His laugh was loud, full, and sometimes caused a change in perspective. His laugh could make my children feel brighter, funnier, and luminous. His laugh could make me feel clever and wise. And, his laugh could make all of us feel seen and loved.

Richard was my father-in-law, a relationship that for many of my friends is very domestic, perhaps someone they want to impress with their cooking or their kids’ manners and achievements, but that was never my relationship with Richard. He could care less whether my pot roast was tender and, to be honest, he wouldn’t know because he always cooked dinner when we were together. And, he was much more impressed with my kids’ quirkiness and boldness than their manners or achievements. He was happiest when everyone seemed to be grounded, curious, uninhibited, and independent. 

I only knew Richard later in his life. I came into the picture around the time he transitioned from Dick to Richard, when he and Lynn were going through a divorce so I understand I only know part of his story. And, everything I know is filtered through his son, who is my husband, but I am grateful for his gifts to me, my children, and my husband. He encouraged us to be brave, to seek beauty, to listen deeply, to respect the power of a shared meal to transform relationships, and to laugh deeply. I love you, Richard, and will miss you deeply. 
Posted by Judy Pace on February 10, 2021
I am so very sad to hear this news. I haven't seen Richard in many years, and was hoping we would catch up sometime soon. I took two classes with him at HGSE and he was on my dissertation committee. He was brilliant and challenging and funny and supportive in many ways. And playful! I'll never forget the "roast" we had for him at the end of the Politics class. And the talent show where he did an "interpretive dance." He was a major and cherished influence on me as a developing scholar and I will always be grateful. ❤️

Two days later -- I had to come back and write again, because the more I reflect the more I realize how profound "Dick Elmore"'s influence was on my thinking and work. In the Politics course (a brand new discipline for me), he nurtured my particular interests (investigating a political controversy at a high school, the construction of authority relations in schools, and most of all, democratic education). The school reform class resonated deeply, but that politics course -- which drove me nuts sometimes -- truly changed my life.
Posted by Diane Ullman on February 10, 2021
Richard’s voice is at the center of my thinking about what makes a good school. What I learned from Richard formed the core of my beliefs about the responsibilities of leadership and I can recite many Elmore-isms that are my “truths” to this day. I loved his pithy comments, his mischievous smile and his ability to make our head spin with one provocative question or comment. He was the essence of a good mentor.
I’ll never forget the day he saw what he called a "strikingly good" 5th grade math lesson during one of the CT Superintendents Network visits to a school in my district. His eyes shone as he pulled me aside and with that mischievous grin said, “Forget the (visit) schedule, I’m going back in there.” And off he went.

Rest in peace, Richard . You made a difference.
Posted by Beth Rabbitt on February 10, 2021
It’s been over ten years since I took a class with Richard as member of the first cohort of the EdLD program. He always met my confusion with questions and an urging to dig more deeply into my own understanding. Now the CEO of a nonprofit, I had dragged out his work a month ago to do PD with my team and talk about what we see or don’t see in the instructional core in classrooms. Looking at tasks— what students really do, being willing to change my mind, and learning to do the work by simply doing the work will remain core to who I am as an educator and leader. I have Richard, in all his dogged, exasperating quixotic-feeling self, to thank. I will be forever grateful.
Posted by Daniela Lewy on February 10, 2021
Just this past week, I dug out a paper I wrote for Richard's class nearly 7 years ago to find a citation he had shared. I found myself laughing out loud at some of his witty feedback. As a non-educator getting an education degree, Prof. Elmore truly made me feel that any vision, idea, or concept belonged; in fact, the more outlandish the better! His insights, wisdom, and reflections inspired much of my personal and professional perspectives. He will be missed, but has certainly left a mark for generations to come. Much love, memories, and condolences to his family and friends.
Posted by Miguel Cardona on February 10, 2021
My deepest condolences to Richard’s family and friends. Your mark in education cannot be overstated. I cannot think of another educational thinker who has influenced my leadership development more than you. Because of your writing, and my interactions with the many students who were fortunate to have learned directly from you, I am a better educator. 
Thank you- Miguel
Posted by Gary ORFIELD on February 10, 2021
I'm very sorry to learn of the sudden death of my long term Harvard colleague, Dick Elmore. His seriousness and intensity of concern about internal workings of schools and more complex and sensitive models of educational improvement always impressed me. A wise and thoughtful scholar and colleague. Too soon.
Posted by Meira Levinson on February 10, 2021
Richard was a cherished colleague for the seven years we overlapped at HGSE. He provided an astounding (and intellectually intimidating) model for how to ask essential questions and pursue the answers with rigor and determination, no matter where the inquiry led. He was also kind, funny, welcoming, and generous. In the 14 years that I have now taught at HGSE, I have taught at least one text--usually many--by Richard every year; it always feels like a privilege to re-engage with his ideas myself and to introduce new generations of educators to his challenging and profound insights.
Posted by Tim O'Brien on February 10, 2021
This is just the saddest news. Richard was the most important mentor, teacher and colleague. He pushed me into work I didn't understand at the time, but that he knew was right for me.
@Kirsten - Carrie (and Ruby and Lydia!) send all the love we have and all the courage we can muster. Richard's laugh is ringing in my ears and I can still hear every word of encouragement. This is just heartbreaking.
Posted by Charles Abelmann on February 10, 2021
I was sad to hear this news and send all the best to family and friends who feel the loss. I was fortunate to have Dick as an advisor and be a TA for many of his classes and then work with him at CPRE. I saw how he mentored me and others. He was a master at case teaching and embracing a pedagogy that modeled what he hoped all should have to develop critical thinking skills. He was so effective at knowing the right question to ask at the right time to move dialogue and learning. It was also always fun to enjoy a good meal out or his passion for cooking.

His work on policy instruments, backward mapping and reform at scale have influenced my work over the years with schools and school systems. I still go back and refer to his writing and value the work we did visiting schools and unpacking the meaning of accountability from teachers. I learned a lot from being with him as he interviewed teachers and worked to code what we learned. Most recently he was insightful and helpful working with me to manage the governance challenges at Lab. He was available over the years to be a sounding board and thought partner. I also appreciated our discussion about China and Ed reform. I will miss his wisdom and the kindness he afforded over the years. I can see how he contributed to the careers of so many doing good work.  Thanks for all work and friendship.  Charles Abelmann
Posted by Richard Lemons on February 10, 2021
As a master's student I enrolled in Elmore's epic case study course on politics and political action in education. From there I spent the next eight years studying under, working with, and occasionally presenting or teaching with this giant. No other person shaped my professional thinking as profoundly.  It is just not even close--he made me a better thinker and helped me develop my own point of view. The world lost so much with his passing. 

Kirsten, my thoughts are with you and the family. 
Posted by Meixi - on February 10, 2021
Dear Richard and Kirsten,

I have forever been changed by your love and light. Richard, I remember so fondly working with you and Kirsten in San Diego and with Santiago, Gabriel, and you in Guanajuato, México with young people and teachers. In both those times and throughout the years, I witnessed how you embodied what you taught. You always moved with quietness, humor, and grace to stay with our stories and sit with our spirits. That was learning - how you embodied it, grew it, and nourished it. You always were making sure we were reaching for something more when we learned and taught in Tutoría. As we were developing structures to support an ambitious educational practice, we never lost sight of who we were with and why it mattered in creating a more just and beautiful world.

As we move into a new phase on this very day with Gabriel Cámara and the redes team moving back into CONAFE in México, you are so sorely missed. It feels like we need your wisdom and guidance more than ever. We still have so much to learn from you. At the same time, you give me, give us, even more resolve to carry on this work in good faith, to remember what is at stake, to pass on your teachings, and most of all, to allow ourselves to be transformed by the idea, the possibility, and the excitement of learning together. I re-commit to doing this.

From the deepest depths of my heart, I am so grateful to you. I send my biggest virtual hug to you Kirsten and the family as we continue on in this shared journey of social change and transformation.
- Meixi
Posted by Fernando Reimers on February 10, 2021
I have fond memories of conversations with Richard, mostly about how schools change (or not), internal coherence, backward mapping, and about how those things differ across countries. I remember his passion for equality, and his sense of humor in the retreats we used to do in Thompson Island at the beginning of each year in APSP. I admired his commitment to the institution of HGSE over the years, and remember him as a curious lifelong learner, who reinvented himself as an artist. He will live in our memories, in his writings, and in the example that he leaves as a scholar who devoted his talent to understand how to improve schools.
Posted by Katherine Carter on February 10, 2021
I was incredibly blessed to take a class with Richard Elmore the last year he taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It was quite an experience to be in the presence of such a sharp mind, critical intellect, and fabulous sense of humor. I don't think I have ever valued someone's feedback more.
One of the most remarkable things about his was his skepticism about the impact of his own life's work. He really pushed me to think about the limits of educational reform, and promise of real transformation. I will forever wonder what he thought about the current resurgence of the post office!!!!
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Recent Tributes
Posted by Monica Higgins on February 24, 2021
So sorry to hear the incredibly sad news of Richard's passing. I was extremely fortunate to be able to work with Richard since joining the HGSE faculty, starting in 2006. He was the person who graciously invited me into the fold, as I was new to education -- inviting me to watch and co-coach with him in the Public Education Leadership Project and join the team working on the emerging EdLD program. He helped me grow into the career I have today. In both spaces, I remember how Richard was extraordinarily creative -- running through walls with his ideas and at the same time, demonstrating his deep commitment and compassion for the work. Such a brilliant person with an outsized legacy in learning. My warmest wishes to you all - his family, friends, and colleagues.
Posted by Anna Kusmer on February 23, 2021
I first started going to Kirsten and Richard's house as a teenager, after becoming good friends with Cole at around 17 years old. I was fortunate to be welcomed back year after year. It's hard to express how special I find this family - sparkling with ideas and warmth, laughter and great conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Toby, February 12, 2021  

Recent stories

How a Chapter Became the Book

Shared by Prakash Nair on February 23, 2021
About four years ago, my colleague Roni and I decided to write a book about learning and school design. Naturally, we wanted Richard to contribute. Knowing his busy schedule I asked if he could write a 1,000 or 2,000 word chapter on the subject for includion 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!! 

Truly Grateful Personally and Professionally

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

From an initial challenge to deep respect and appreciation

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

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

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