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Remembering William Powell

By Nick Bowley
Remembering William Powell

Some of my earliest conversations with Bill Powell were in a dug-out canoe. This was in the mid-eighties and our destination was Kindwitwi, a remote Tanzanian village for people affected by leprosy. Back then Bill was deeply involved in a school project to help support the villagers as they strove for better health and economic self-sufficiency. None of the students or teachers who visited Kindwitwi will ever forget the experience, nor will they ever forget Bill Powell.
Conversations with Bill were memorable, whether in an educational context or around the dinner table. It’s not just that we learned about Bill—and there was a lot to learn about this complex man—but somehow we learned more about ourselves.
For many, their first conversation with Bill was a job interview. Bill’s questions would lead you in unexpected directions that uncovered your skills and passions and inspired you to be a better teacher. Walter Plotkin, a longstanding colleague of Bill’s, describes his own interview as a conversation that paved the way to a long and important personal and professional relationship. Many international educators have felt the same way.
Bill had an uneasy relationship with the status quo. He passionately believed in change for the better. Throughout his life he channelled his ferocious energy into improving the life prospects of those who too often find themselves excluded from the mainstream, as with the leprosy patients of Kindwitwi, for example, and more recently those children who learn differently—those with developmental delays, dyslexia, ADHD, and autism.
Bill was a remarkable teacher. Hundreds of former students in the U.S., East Africa, and Southeast Asia have benefited from Bill’s expertise, not only in the areas of literature and epistemology but because he knew and understood them individually as learners, thus helping them succeed beyond their own imagined limits.
As a school leader he was empathetic and compassionate towards others. He tolerated—indeed celebrated—ambiguity and this made him an ideal leader in an international setting. He was, nevertheless, a decisive and forthright leader who challenged his own assumptions and those of others, including his teaching staff. Some teachers initially found him too challenging, but over the years Bill mastered the collaborative skills needed to enable all willing teachers to improve their professional competence to meet his exacting standards. David Suarez expresses it well when he writes, “Regardless of the color or intensity of an individual’s personality, Bill always had the time for educators committed to bettering themselves for the kids, especially kids on the fringe.”
Leaving school leadership, Bill went on to develop with his wife, Ochan Kusuma-Powell, a powerful professional development team for adults. In demand by schools around the world, Bill and Ochan have been keenly sought after for their ability to teach and model the theory and practice of research-based pedagogy. Together Bill and Ochan have also published many educational books, including the remarkable How to Teach Now (ASCD) and The OIQ Factor: Raising Your School’s Organizational Intelligence (John Catt). By focusing on adult education, Bill and Ochan have reached many more children than would have been possible had they remained in schools.
In 2010 they founded, together with Kevin Bartlett and Kristen Pelletier, The Next Frontier: Inclusion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping schools be more inclusive of children who learn differently. Through their work, and that of the many schools now championing their ideas, we are witnessing the emergence of a more humane form of education.
Bill was an extraordinarily creative thinker, and his analytical skills were second to none. More than that, he was an expert coach whose ability to pose layered questions enabled others to advance their own thinking and become, in a phrase he loved to use, “architects of their own future.”
Nobody could “fill the unforgiving minute” like Bill. As Areta Williams says, “If there was a holiday in there to be had, he spent it writing a novel.” That is the literal truth, for he was the author of much fine fiction, much of it based in his beloved Africa and Southeast Asia. Yet his strong creative talent was balanced by the fastidious behavior of the concrete sequential mind: Bill was a writer of lists, a keeper of appointments, and a prompt and courteous correspondent. He was also intensely loyal to his friends.
Although a skilled orator, Bill was shy in public. But those who got to know him intimately—and many did, because he was generous in sharing his opinions and ideas—delighted in his company. Colleagues who have contributed to this article have invariably commented upon their conversations around the dinner table when reminiscing about Bill. With Ochan, he was the most wonderful host and a creator of exquisite eastern and western dishes. He was very funny, irreverent at times but never sarcastic, willing to laugh at himself and always kind to, and about, others. The world seemed a better place after an evening with Bill. And, he wouldn’t mind me saying this: he made the meanest gin and tonic.
Areta Williams has written some words that summarize the feelings of all who knew Bill: “It’s hard to believe that Bill will never be in another room with us. So, it’s up to us to carry on, remembering the lessons that he taught us and reveling in the many, many warm memories of him. We pledge Ochan our love and support in continuing the work.”
Yes, the legacy remains and the work will continue. Ika Muzamal speaks eloquently for all Bill’s former students, and those taught by teachers trained by Bill, when she says: “My appreciation and respect for you know no bounds. You have made the most positive impact on the life of a little girl in Southeast Asia; changing the course of her life and that of generations to come because you simply believed. Thank you for showing her that she was capable of swinging her lantern higher.”
Thank you to the following for contributing their reflections on Bill’s life and work:
Ika Muzamal: former student, International School of Kuala Lumpur
Aeden Pillai: former student, International School of Kuala Lumpur
David Suarez: Educator, Jakarta Intercultural School; professional trainer
Jon Nordmeyer: Director of International Programs at WIDA
Robert J. Garmston: Emeritus Professor, California State University
Samer Khoury: Director, The International School in Genoa
Walter Plotkin: former Director, Copenhagen International School
Areta Williams: Head of School, The American School in Japan
Kevin Bartlett: former Director, International School of Brussels
The William Powell Inclusion Foundation
Dear Colleagues,
William (Bill) Powell was dedicated to the inclusion of children with special educational needs in international schools. Bill, together with Kevin Bartlett, Kristen Pelletier, and Ochan Kusuma-Powell, founded The Next Frontier: Inclusion with the vision of making inclusive international education a reality.
In response to the many queries as to where donations may be sent in Bill’s name, we have created this fund so that together we may continue his work and support efforts towards inclusion around the world.
We encourage everyone to share the link to this fundraiser ( and visit the Remembering William Powell Facebook page.
Thank you for joining together with us in celebrating Bill’s life and working to further his legacy of inclusion.
Kevin, Kristen, Ochan
The NFI Design Team

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10/14/2016 - Padi
Dear Colleagues and Friends
I did not know Bill as well as many of you did, but I had the privilege of attending two of Bill and Ochan's seminars in Manila some years ago.He struck me as being an educator of great compassion and, dare I say, love for his chosen profession. I found him to be a man who was much aware of the needs of his learners, and a man who would be the type who'd "go the extra mile" and beyond for his students.His knowledge and skills on language acquisition, and the teaching of language and cognitive skills to children of special needs were exceptional. Together, he and Ochan made a formidable team whose work in education made a huge difference to those who were the recipients of their skills and experience.
The work already begun by him must continue if we are to have an education system that is truly "inclusive". Bill's legacy will live on and I sincerely hope that, through the generosity of people who will support the Foundation, the work started by Bill and Ochun will continue.
My sincere condolences to Ochun and their extended family at this time.

"Well done , good and faithful servant".
May he rest in Peace.
(Rev/Fr) Michael R+ (Thailand)



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