Win the Inner Battle with Mawi

You have more in you than you can imagine.

Amy+MartWelcome to part two of our exciting interview with Amy Mart, Manager of Universal Supports, in the Chicago Public School’s Office of Social and Emotional Learning.  Today, Amy and Mawi discuss the meaning of restorative justice and what it looks like in a school setting.  Drawing upon a growing research base, they explore how restorative justice can improve learning outcomes, build strong faculty/student relationships and redefine our vision and goals for student accountability.

Check out the resources Amy mentions at the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice.

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Amy+MartHow can Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) transform school culture and academic success? How do you introduce (SEL) to skeptical colleagues and friends?  What does it look like to build sustainable structures to support SEL?   Amy Mart is the Manager of Universal Supports for the Office of Social and Emotional Learning for Chicago Public Schools, a district with over 600+ schools and 400,000+ students.  In part one of this two part series, Mawi asks Amy to share her insight on how SEL can help students and schools succeed.  In part two, Amy will delve deeper into the concept and best practices of Restorative Practices.

Check out the research Amy cites in her interview at the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.




6 Fall Speaking Engagements

by Mawi on August 25, 2014

Hinsdale Presentation - More than a Test Score

Here are six of my presentations for Fall 2014.   Some are public events that anyone can attend.

1) Hinsdale Central High School:  I just presented to 3,100 students and staff at Hinsdale Central in Illinois.  Hinsdale Central can feel like a high achievement, high pressure school and I challenged the students to go beyond their test scores. Their principal made the above poster after my presentation.

2) Regional Superintendent of Schools:  I’m doing a keynote for 1,200 educators with the  Illinois Regional Superintendent of Schools on December 9.  This is a public event. 

3) Florida Virtual School Annual Conference: Am really looking forward to this keynote to 2,000 educators on October 1. FLVS is the largest online high school in the country with over 220,000 students last year; they offer three Mawi Learning classes. This is a public event.

4) Latin School: This will be my third year in a row presenting to the Latin School in Chicago; they read my memoir each year in their middle school, and I also train their high school student leaders.  For my student speeches, I mainly speak at schools that read one of my books or use one of our  leadership classes.

5) Oneida-Madison Counties: On November 13, I’ll train teachers from nine districts in New York. This will be a professional development keynote based on our 5 Powers of an Educator book/framework.

6) Princeton Schools:  Mawi Learning has worked with the Princeton, NJ schools for about ten years now.  This year we will focus on integrating the research on Growth Mindset and Grit into their schools.

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Meb’s 90/10 Rule

by Mawi on August 4, 2014

Conference Interview - Meb

At my conference last week, 2014 Boston Marathon Winner Meb Keflezghi said something I’ll always remember:

“Before race day, it’s 90 percent physical and 10% mental; on race day, it’s 90% mental and 10% physical.”

If grit is a coin, Meb’s 90/10 rule covers both sides. One side of the coin is the steady, disciplined grit that is not flashy but provides a strong foundation. The other side is pure courage; grit at its most raw, as we push ourselves beyond our preparation to new heights.


SEL Word Cloud

After a decade of focusing primarily on testing, schools across North America are prioritizing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Researchers like Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck have shown that grit, growth mindset, goal-setting, and other internal qualities drive student achievement and student well being.

There are two things that confuse many people regarding Social and Emotional Learning. First, we use a wide variety of terms to basically get at the same thing: character development, values education, non-cognitive skill building, and Social and Emotional Learning. Second, most of us do not have time to review all the research on SEL.

Here is a white paper that was released by the Educational Research Institute of America. The white paper takes a look at the six most research-based SEL principles, helps break down the nomenclature, and concludes by showing how Mawi Learning develops those principles in our Leadership Skills Class.


Meb-Keflezighi-300x187Long-distance runner Meb Keflezighi came to the United States with his family when he was 12 years old after feeling to Italy as a refugee from war torn Eritrea.  Early on, Meb discovered a passion for running that would lead him to win a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics Marathon competition and win the world-renowned NYC Marathon in 2009.

Alongside Meb’s phenomenal athletic success, his story of perseverance and discipline in the face of obstacles led him to found the MEB Foundation, promoting youth health, education and fitness through community investment and collaboration.

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In this interview, Meb shares insights from his personal story and reflects on the characteristic of perseverance as a major factor for success.   Meb will be speaking further on grit and perseverance at our summer Power of Adults ConferenceRegister now to reserve your spot!  For more on Meb’s incredible life story, check out his inspirational biography “Run to Overcome“.

Updated 4/21/14: A huge congratulations to Meb for winning the 2014 Boston Marathon!


5 Upcoming Keynote Presentations

by Mawi on January 31, 2014

Here are five of the keynotes I’ll be giving  in the coming months:

OC12_Mawi_Asgedom_91) Superintendent’s Roundtable: This will be to about 100 School Superintendents.  I am excited to inspire them and demonstrate the connection between non-cognitive skills and student achievement. They will each receive an advance copy of my new book, The 5 Powers of an Educator: How Educators and Parents Inspire Youth

2) Ontario Association for Math Education: I’m  excited to show the connection between mindset and math achievement.  I’ve spoken in Ontario over 20 times in my career and have enjoyed every visit.

3) Washington Association for Bilingual Education: Seattle is another place that feels like home. I’ll be keynoting at this bilingual education conference and focusing on strategies that educators can use to inspire bilingual students.

4) Commission on Adult Basic Education: I do a few presentations each year for organizations that focus on adult education.  You don’t hear too much about Adult Ed; early childhood, K12, and traditional college typically dominate the media conversation. But there are millions of adults in our country who are overcoming many challenges to gain basic literacy skills.

5) Kaskaskia College: This community college had their student body read my first book, Of Beetles and Angels, and I’m excited to meet the students and also provide professional development for the faculty.

My team is also gearing up for our summer Power of Adults conference for educators, parents, and community members who are passionate about inspiring youth.




Stop Talking About the Achievement Gap

by Mawi on November 26, 2013

The proverbial “Achievement Gap” describes the academic disparity between white and black/Hispanic students in our country.  I wonder sometimes: Has  the term “Achievement Gap”  gotten to the point where it is no longer useful, and might actually worsen the predicament it’s meant to fix?

Talk of the Achievement Gap might be compared to talk of going on a diet. If you’re talking about dieting, it means you probably haven’t lost much weight; and if you do somehow lose weight, you probably will gain it back shortly. We’ve tried lots of things:

  • Special, targeted programs aimed at boosting black/Hispanic student achievement.
  • Training to get Caucasian staff members more sensitive to diversity issues and continuing legacies of discrimination.
  • Programs that succeed at getting minority students into college, only to find out in many cases that the students drop out at high rates.

What’s wrong? Like the word “diet,” Achievement Gap is now an overwhelmingly negative, uninspiring term that conjures up dread among faculty that have heard the same thing for decades, with little change.   Can we change the conversation? Can we talk about the Greatness Opportunity? The raw brilliance, power, capability of all our students, and how we develop greatness – rather than decreasing persistent standardized testing gaps between races.

I’ve always had a vision that our youth – ALL OUR YOUTH –  are like supreme Jedi waiting to dazzle our world with their power and brilliance. But the Achievement Gap paradigm/lexicon has us training our Jedi to work as servers at the cantina in the rundown bar in Stars Wars 4, and using all our resources to increase  their customers served / minute.

The problem isn’t the gap; the problem is the uninspiring and often depressing conversation we have attached ourselves to as a country.  Minority kids know instinctively how uninspiring the “The Achievement Gap” paradigm is, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know it too as adults.


David VincaDavid Vinca is the Founder & CEO of eSpark Learning, which partners with schools to create a personalized learning plan for each student that utilizes iPads and hand-picked educational apps. Before eSpark, David spent four years teaching and four years as a management consultant. David has a BS from Pennsylvania State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, where he studied social entrepreneurship.

Maya Lopuch

Maya Lopuch is the Data Scientist at eSpark Learning.  Prior to joining eSpark, she was a researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and she holds degrees in Economics and Public Policy from Stanford University and the University of Chicago.

Mawi’s Espark interview ▶ custom player

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Where is your Secret Ocean?

by Mawi on October 24, 2013


Several times in my career, I’ve talked with inner cities kids who live just a mile from an ocean or a Great Lake, but have never visited. I’m always stunned and saddened when I meet these students.  I think, “How could you be so close to something so amazing, and never go?”

What if the same thing happen to all of us, in our own minds? Are there not wondrous places each of us can visit in our own minds and hearts that are but a “mile” away?  Places of growth, power, confidence, or forgiveness that would astound us with their beauty and majesty, if we only had the courage and imagination to go?

Where is that place for you? Get a pen; draw a mental map of an Ocean that is just a mile away for you; name your Ocean; and go visit today.

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The Unexpected Benefits of Music: Interview with Elizabeth Frascoia

September 17, 2013

Listen in as Elizabeth Frascoia shares some of the unexpected benefits engaging in music can have, and what this can mean for youth. Elizabeth Frascoia is a dedicated educator working in New York City and Los Angeles, committed to helping students of all ages gain greater confidence through music.  She has worked with over 10,000 […]

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Creating the Community We Desire: Interview with Allan Davenport

May 28, 2013

Allan is the Principal of Crone Middle School (Naperville, IL). Allan’s interview shares specific strategies for building a culture of success and respect in a middle school of 1,000 students.  You will also learn what he means when he says, “The Crone Way.”

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A Cultural Shift Reduces Bullying by 1/3: Interview with Elizabeth Carswell (Conference Sneak Peek!)

May 21, 2013

Meet Elizabeth Carswell, one of our keynoters for our upcoming Summer Conference. In this interview with Mawi, Elizabeth shares best practices from her work with 1,000 schools as the director of Core Essential Values, including the story of how one school reduced bullying by 33%. Hear more from Elizabeth at our Mawi Learning Summer Conference: The […]

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It’s a Lifestyle, Not a Program: Interview with Clayton Muhammad (Conference Sneak Peek!)

May 17, 2013

Meet Clayton Muhammad, one of our keynoters for our upcoming Summer Conference. In this interview with Mawi, Clayton shares how his city reduced homicides from 25 in 2003 to 0 in 2012. Clayton also describes how his innovative Boys II Men program achieves 100% graduation rates. Hear more from Clayton at our Mawi Learning Summer Conference: The Power […]

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Class Act: Interview with Jon Hallmark

May 7, 2013

If you’re looking for innovate ways to build character and leadership in your students, do not miss this interview with Jon Hallmark, Principal of Highland Middle School in Libertyville, IL. Among other things, you will be inspired by how Jon’s students are helping to build schools in Uganda.

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The Power of Adult Education: Interview with David Adcock

April 30, 2013

Adult eduction is one of the fastest growing trends in the U.S. In this interview, we get to hear from David Adcock, the current Director of Urbana Adult Education and incoming President of the Illinois Adult and Continuing Education Association.

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Innovation and Design: Interview with Dr. Saeed Arida

April 23, 2013

This interview with Dr. Saeed Arida will amaze you, inspire you, and show you that our students have tremendous genius waiting to be unlocked. Dr. Arida is the Founder and Chief Excitement Officer at NuVu Studio, a magnet innovation center for young minds. He received his PhD in architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology where his doctoral […]

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The Two Journeys We All Go On

April 18, 2013

All of us go on two journeys in life. The first journey is easier to see and describe.  This journey consists of things such as: Places we have lived. For example, people who know my story know that I fled Ethiopia, lived in a refugee camp in Sudan, and came to the United States when […]

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How Summer Camps Build Character: Interview with Dan Weir

April 3, 2013

Many parents across the U.S. are finalizing plans right now for what summer camp their students will attend. I had a chance recently to speak to over 1,000 camp owners at the American Camp Association. Dan Weir runs one of the largest and most successful summer camps in the United States, Frost Valley YMCA (NY). […]

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Heart not Brain: Interview with Josh Katz

March 26, 2013

In this interview with Josh Katz, a math teacher at Orange County Public Schools (FL), you will learn why heart matters more than brains when it comes to learning algebra.

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