Arne Duncan

Managing Partner at Emerson Collective  |  Former US Secretary of Education

“Education Leadership through Crisis” is a multi-week video series featuring wisdom from a diverse group of education leaders.

Below, watch highlights from host Mubuso Zamchiya’s interview with Arne Duncan about leading through crisis, supporting students’ social and emotional needs, and how his childhood in Chicago and career have informed his perspective as a leader.

Scroll down to watch the full interview.

“When people become a doctor they take an oath to do no harm. As a Minister of Education, as a superintendent of schools—now with the Coronavirus—you have people’s health and safety, their wellbeing, their life or death in your hands. That is an unbelievably weighty, heavy responsibility, and it should be. So for me, the first thing has to be: do no harm.”

Arne Duncan

Former US Secretary of Education

Meet Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan served as US Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2015 under President Barack Obama. Since his tenure as Secretary, Arne is Managing Partner at Emerson Collective and has returned to Chicago on a mission to improve the lives of young adults in his hometown. Through partnerships with local business leaders, community organizers, and nonprofit groups, Arne aims to create job and life opportunities for disconnected youth between the ages of 17 and 24.

Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Arne served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. From 2001 to 2008, he won praise for uniting the city’s stakeholders behind an education agenda that included opening 100 new schools; expanding after-school, summer learning, early childhood, and college access programs; dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers; and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives. Arne graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, where he served as co-captain of the basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American.

Established by Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective is an organization dedicated to removing barriers to opportunity so people can live to their full potential. Emerson Collective centers its work on education, immigration reform, the environment and other social justice initiatives.

Arne serves on the boards of: Ariel Capital Management, Aspen Institute, Communities in Schools, Lucas Museum, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, National Association of Basketball Coaches, Pluralsight, Revolution Foods, Thrive-Chicago and Catapult Learning, LLC. He also serves as Co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

View the Full Interview

Question Breakdown:

1. (0:37) Tell us about your childhood and your journey to becoming a professional. What role did your education play in helping you craft the vision of whom you might become as an adult?

2. (1:58) You played basketball at Harvard and professionally in Australia. What lessons about leadership and teamwork came out of those experiences?

3. (5:11) I got a chance to read your 2018 book, “How Schools Work.” Tell us about Calvin Williams, who you tutored at the Sue Duncan Children’s Center in the late 1980s and what you learned from him.

4. (9:32) What was it like to be CEO of Chicago Public Schools?

5. (14:52) As a leader, how do you prepare your heart and mind to make the progressive leaps in scale from leading a charter school, to leading a large public school system, to leading the improvement of education in a country the size of the United States?

6. (19:16) In your Chicago experience, what would you put in the “wins” column and the “loss” column?

7. (22:24) 2008 comes and you take another leap in scale, becoming US Secretary of Education. Give a sense of that journey. As Education Secretary what were some of your wins and losses?

8. (28:38) In a 1995 speech, President Nelson Mandela spoke about leadership, vision, and political courage. What aspects of political courage had to define your time as secretary of education?

9. (32:37) How do you balance navigating through opposition and challenge while bringing the country together as a team?

10. (36:20) At the high point of COVID-19, 1.6 children across the globe were forced out of school. Many still face this situation. Given the role you’ve had, what advice do you have for education ministers across the world who are facing this unprecedented crisis?

11. (42:19) Going back to your book and your work with the Emerson Collective, there are a few stories you’ve shared regarding gun violence and trauma in communities. What have you learned in your time that would help us today given all the trauma kids are going through?

12. (49:37) Do you still stand by the six lessons from your book today? How are they relevant even more so in the current pandemic?

13. (51:50) What were your favorite books as a child?

14. (53:37) Any final thoughts?

15. (55:47) Bonus question: What was it like working with President Obama?

“None of this is easy. None of this can be fixed overnight. But we owe it to our young people, we owe it to our communities, [and] we owe it to our country to challenge these things that have been absolutely broken and try and do something better.”

Arne Duncan

Former US Secretary of Education

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