Cheryl Scott Williams

Cheryl Scott Williams

Executive Director, Learning First Alliance


Time is a more precious resource than money.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that financial resources can provide the opportunity to have greater control over how we each use our time, and that a baseline amount is required to achieve whatever goals one has, both personally and in an educational sense. So, the question becomes how much money we need individually, organizationally, and educationally to spend our time in a way that is both most satisfying, in a personal sense, and most effective in an educational and organizational setting.

What I observe in my hometown of Washington, DC, and I’m sure is true in other high income urban areas, is people measuring their worth by the size of their portfolios, prestige of their address, and continued ability to increase personal earnings. While I’ve managed to resist this mindset (most of the time), I have been guilty of spending more time on things I don’t like to do, so I can spend less money to accomplish the task. Recently, however, I have worked on changing that behavior. So, I no longer fight traffic to drive to a discount store farther from my home that has lower prices; clip coupons or participate in Groupon to bring costs down on both essentials and luxury items; or provide the sweat equity for home improvement projects. I do, however, spend outlandish amounts of money to fly to Hawaii to spend time with my grandchildren as often as possible, and try never to complain about how much I pay in taxes, particularly my property tax, which I know is the primary funder of the public schools in my community. And, I work in a nonprofit education coalition with people I respect, doing work I care about, spending my time professionally where the rewards are far more than financial.


Asking good questions is more important than knowing the right answer.

I’ve learned over the years to be wary of people who have all the answers to whatever the challenge is that’s placed before them. There are, of course, things that I know to be true from past experience, both professional and personal. However, I also believe that as change accelerates in our increasingly complex global society, there will be fewer things about which anyone of us can be an expert. Further, we know that social progress happens when knowledge is shared in a collaborative environment, and real collaboration requires the willingness to ask questions of each other and admit to gaps in our individual knowledge base. Our collective knowledge is enhanced when individually we ask good questions about things we don’t know and share the information we do hold in a way that supports wise decision making and effective action steps.


The most satisfying work requires continual learning.

This is an expansion of #2 and supports the credo that “learning is the work” regardless of the profession you choose. Certainly as a career educator, it fits my core belief, and we in education must keep this message at the forefront of conversations about transforming the teaching profession. However, I also believe that “learning is the work” in all professional endeavors. Some years ago, it came to me that what made life exciting was having new experiences, meeting new people, visiting new places, both in the US and abroad, and facing new challenges in areas I hadn’t previously encountered. Some of these new “things” didn’t feel great at the outset, particularly in a job related position where expectations for success were high. And, sometimes the learning was hard and the immediate results not that satisfying. However, in the end, and especially in those instances where the outcome was less than satisfactory, I learned a great deal and gained valuable insight into approaches for future challenges.


Young children can teach us a great deal about ourselves.

I’ll spare you the stories about my fabulous grandchildren (the ones I spend outlandish amounts of money to fly to see several times a year), but I am reminded when I visit them of the things I’ve learned over the years from young children, including when my thirty-something son was growing up. My experience, of course, is clouded by having been raised in a warm, supportive family, raising my son in a middle class home with two parents present and visiting grandchildren who are nurtured by two loving parents and four doting grandparents. I have no experience with children who are malnourished, abused, or linguistically challenged, though I understand from others that the lessons that they can teach us are just as valuable, if more poignant, than those that can be taught to us by more privileged children.

Cherished children remind us that even when things look dark to the adults, life goes on with energy and vigor. They remind us how satisfying snuggling in a big comfy chair and reading a book out loud can be. They test limits to our patience in ways we never knew possible.  They provide tangible proof that the future will be good. When my beautiful blond haired, blue eyed granddaughter was born two weeks before my beautiful blond haired (at one time), blue eyed mother died, I was still devastated, but knew that part of my mother did live on.


Public education will not succeed in its ultimate aims if schools compete against each other.

As U.S. citizens, we’ve had the luxury of living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. Much of the credit for that wealth and success has been attributed to the capitalist system of economics under which we’ve supported innovation in a market economy that rewards risk taking and provides logical consequences for enterprises that stagnate and fail to meet the needs of the market they serve. The market economy is not always kind to those who are slow to change but we believe that over time, the needs of the society will be met more efficiently and effectively because of it.

This same philosophy does not translate well to public education and a healthy democracy. Our society has historically valued education as the great equalizer, and for its role in preparing young people to serve as well-informed citizens in our society. To ensure those goals, all children must be educated so they can achieve their individual potential and contribute successfully to our democratic way of life. When schools compete against each other, the losers are always children. Public schooling is so essential to a functioning market economy and democratic governance, that we should commit sufficient public resources, equitably distributed, such that every child, regardless of economic status has the opportunity to succeed. If this is socialism, then so be it. It’s socialism in service of capitalism and is in the best interests of each and every one of us. So, let’s figure it out and get to work.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Cheryl Scott Williams is a nationally recognized leader in education reform and improvement with extensive experience leading nonprofit boards and building successful board/staff relationships.

Prior to coming to the Learning First Alliance, she served as a senior consultant at APQC. She was previously Vice President, Strategic Initiatives at Teachscape, a San Francisco based company that designs and delivers online, job-embedded professional development for teachers and principals. In addition, she has served as Vice President, Education at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and she spent 14 years directing the Education Technology Program at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) before joining CPB.

Williams is a past president of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), past board chair of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and current board member of the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET). She began her career in education as an English Language Arts teacher in Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax County, VA. She holds a BA and MA in English and Secondary Education from the University of Maryland, College Park.