Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.27.15A Short Appreciation for Grant Wiggins

As many of you probably already know, Grant Wiggins died suddenly yesterday. He’ll be remembered not just for his thought leadership but for the model he set for civilized, respectful, professional debate. I agreed with many things he wrote and saw some things differently… but I always learned something every time we spoke or interacted, and I learned in particular how to discuss and even disagree with collegiality from him. That aspect of his work was both special and rare, especially given his stature. He could have played the eminence grise and talked down to those who didn’t see it his way, but he didn’t.

This small anecdote is somehow telling and certainly something I will always remember about him:

About five years ago he called me out of the blue one day. We’d never met,  but Teach Like a Champion had just been published and he’d read it– that in and of itself is pretty surprising and says a lot about him.  He was a giant, and I was a dwarf, and my book was a bit outside the milieu where much of his work happened–or at least so I thought–yet he called me wanting to discuss teaching. Candidly, I think he agreed with some of what was in the book and also disagreed with some of it.  But instead of that difference making him want to dismiss it, it made him want to engage in genuine conversation, find consensus, maybe change my thinking, maybe change his own. Maybe all of those.  Who knows what he was really thinking but he was insightful, cordial, and respectful of a Young Turk several rungs below him in stature.  No one had ever done that to me before. It was breathtaking. We just talked about teaching, and then we hung up. He never said, “Well, I really wanted you to consider (or reconsider) X or Y.”  He just engaged in the topic he loved, without agenda.

I’ve thought about that interaction many times since, especially when we chatted–usually through social media and comments about each others’ blogs. Our discussions were always characterized by his thoughtful, reflective decency. As I said, we agreed on some things and disagreed on others, but I was struck most by the measure of his response when we disagreed. I wish I’d had the good sense to thank him for that. I will certainly strive to emulate it.

Anyway, there’s a lot more to be said for and about Grant’s work and, really, I knew him only slightly, and so I am not the person to describe it.  But his small interactions with those like me whom he knew only casually speak a great deal about him. His passing will be an immense loss for the education community.

5 Responses to “A Short Appreciation for Grant Wiggins”

  1. Katie Yezzi
    May 28, 2015 at 1:41 am

    Thanks for sharing this story, Doug. I am stunned!! After accepting my first teaching position ( a long time ago!), my new school sent me to a five day workshop with Grant. I was totally in awe of him. I think one of my biggest takeaways from that week was that I had landed a career that would provide endless intellectual challenge and engaging debate. I was also glad to be able to follow him through the Internet- not because I always agreed with his posts, but I really respected his thoughtfulness and rigor.

  2. Heela
    May 31, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Great story
    I can’t find any words that can fit or can describe who Grant Wiggins is… I used is because he will always be in our hearts, he will never be forgotten.
    Grant not only was like a mentor to me but he was my champ and my rock. He was like a father to me. I am where I am in my career because of him. He will be missed dearly by many.

  3. June 2, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Grant was a friend and a great educator. Just yesterday I was writing a report using Backward Design. For some reason, I looked Grant up to see what he was doing and I learned of the sad news. As the head of Korea International School in the Global education City, Jeju we used Grants UbD. My assistant head of school Kristine met Grant in Boston and talked about education and the Beatles. Grant was a wonderful man. My love goes out to his family.

  4. Eric J Pollock
    June 4, 2015 at 3:13 am

    Grant was such a fabulous person. I met him at a conference when I had gone back to the States, and I was talking to another teacher about using “exit tickets” in my classes and I was explaining to the teacher the process of making the tickets. Grant had remarked “that is essentially “Understanding by Design”” and I replied, “maybe that is essentially my exit ticket strategy.” He laughed.

  5. Joel Turvey
    June 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    I was stunned to learn of his passing a month ago. I have never met Grant, but our school has invested heavily in Grant’s thoughtful Understanding by Design. Three of our teachers attended a workshop with him in New Jersey. I subscribed to his blog and was always prompted to think deeply about the issues that he raised. It is a great loss for the education community. I hope that all of the leaders in his company and teachers that he has trained will carry on his legacy.

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