Educator Spotlight — Shawn Hardnett

Name: Shawn Hardnett

Current Role: Entrepreneur in Residence, Education Forward DC

Length in Current Role: 6 months

Favorite thing about what I get to do everyday: I get to study about and observe good instructional practice for African American and Latino males, the students in the greatest need of good instructional seats.

Spirit Animal: Definitely, the Panther or Black Leopard is my spirit animal. Stealth, enhanced vision in both the day and night, versatile as a predator and able to drag three times its own weight, this animal is designed to exist well in many habitats. All of that and they are damned good looking as well. Of the Leopard family, which is on the endangered species list as a whole, the black panther is losing ground the fastest. The animal most sought out, it also killed for the fierce beauty that it represents. Somehow, all of this is in some way synonymous with the overall experience of black men in general.

What’s your superpower: I see into people. I can see through and past what you are saying to what you really mean and, what you really want. Still, I don’t abuse that power. Instead, I use it to help you to become the most sincere person that you can be. In developing people to be good people, the people that they truly want to be, it makes them wholly better at everything else that they do in the world. As a better and more complete person, you are a better leader, boss, employee, parent, partner, child, teacher, learner, liver and lover. Get good at being you – and you just get good.

Best lesson learned from a mentor or someone I admire: The most incredible lesson that I have learned has come from both the church and the research of educational reformers. That lesson is that we are what we believe we are, we get what we believe we’ll get – what we believe we deserve. No matter what others say about you, what matters is what of that you agree with. If you want to accomplish anything in life, surround yourself first with your own personal belief that you can accomplish it and then with others who believe that you can as well. Schools are bad because we don’t really believe that they can be good. When that belief changes, suddenly outcomes will look different.

What I do to make lemonade out of lemons on my toughest days: Lemons get a bad rap. They are quite useful and incredibly versatile – a powerful cleanser, a cure for canker sores, acne, fever, eczema and even anxiety. Add a little sugar and life just gets even better – cakes, cookies and refreshing drinks. The attitude that you bring to each of your lemons will direct the impact of that lemon on you. The commitment with which I engage my own spiritual practices in starting my day is inextricably connected to the degree to which the lemons taste bitter. If a lemon shows up, the degree to which I am struck by it is an indicator of my spiritual condition. Lemons remind me that while I am not in control of everything that happens in the world around me, I am in control of how I respond to it.

What education equity means to me: Education equity is not anything like education equality. Equality means that we all get the same thing, that every school has the same curriculum, same equipment, same staffing, same culture and character, same schedule and same dollars. Educational equity, on the other hand, means that every school gets exactly what it needs to serve the children who are there. What a different world it would be.

My favorite thing to do to relax and rejuvenate: Get in the car and drive. Don’t pick where you are going next until you have left the place where you are.

The practices/habits that help keep me grounded and maintain perspective when I’m feeling stressed, overworked, or unmotivated are:Having a grounded spiritual practice has made a stressful life manageable. Life doesn’t ever really calm down. With spiritual strength though, we can calm up – or become calm with the realities of our most unrelenting life stressors.

Who I turn to for advice or guidance when I need career direction: I have many old and new friends who serve as the calmer side to my unbridled passion and energy. I need those people when it is time to make a career decision. My oldest mentor is always first in line. The people who have seen the most, at least where your career is concerned, are those best to advice you when the turns appear.

The advice I’d give to someone trying to find their career sweet spot: I know it sounds super corny, but follow your heart. Culture beats strategy by a head length at least. If you always chase comfort, then you’ll be comfortable, but you won’t be important.

Connect with Shawn at