By Laura Weaver and Mark Wilding
Rachael planted a stake in the ground for the inner life of young people because she felt that we could not afford to ignore this dimension of our youth—the costs to our students in terms of drop out rates, risky behavior, disengagement and safety are too great. Rachael saw that our young people yearn deeply for classrooms rich with meaning, purpose, authenticity, rigor and relevance. She recognized the importance and potency of the transition years, co‐creating programs that offered young people the opportunity to be seen and honored as they navigated these passages. She understood that creating classrooms where students experience deep connection to themselves, others, and the world around them is key to their academic learning. And she offered teachers the professional support and practical tools that make this kind of vibrant, relationship centered classroom possible.
For over two decades, Rachael collaborated with teachers and leaders around the country to develop and refine this framework to welcome the inner life of students and teachers in school. These practices and principles have now been used in thousands of classrooms across the world. Over the last decade, Rachael partnered with colleagues to translate this framework into six different curricula for the K‐12 transition years of childhood, over forty articles, and a variety of courses, workshops, and presentations on teaching, leading and parenting from the inside out.
2010 was the 10th anniversary of Rachael’s groundbreaking book, The Soul of Education. As part of this celebration, we gathered the stories of people who have used the PassageWorks model and continue to articulate and share what we have learned about transforming school culture. One of the gifts Rachael left PassageWorks was a strong, comprehensive plan for the legacy of this work—for years our PassageWorks team has worked to develop our faculty, staff, board, advisors, and colleagues so that this work would be held and carried by a community of people. Rachael was a committed collaborator—she consistently involved others, inviting a diversity of voices into the development and refinement of the PassageWorks model. And Rachael’s strong penchant for fostering community has ensured that this body of work lives in the hearts of thousands around the world. As a colleague recently said to us, “Rachael lit a fire, and we are all fire‐tenders now.”
Throughout her life and career, Rachael invited each of us to see and acknowledge our own power, fragility, grace, joy, sadness, light, shadow, and beauty. She encouraged all those she encountered to honor vulnerability as well as strength, to see “adversity” as an “ally”, and to engage in profound dialogue with their own hearts in homes and workplaces. She was driven by an intense passion to transform education and dedicated herself to creating schools and learning environments where human development and academic development are acknowledged as interconnected parts of a whole. Her dedication and vision illuminated unchartered territory, and for all that she has offered, we are eternally grateful. We continue to live this legacy each day at PassageWorks and invite you to join us in any way you are inspired.
Rachael Kessler Obituary
Rachael Kessler, Founder of the PassageWorks Institute died on January 27, 2010 in Boulder, CO surrounded by family and friends.
Recognized by Daniel Goleman as a “leader in a new movement for emotional literacy,” Rachael developed a framework for nurturing the inner life of students and teachers that honors the interests of educators, parents, and policy-makers. Her groundbreaking book, The Soul of Education: Helping Students find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School (ASCD 2000), was distributed to over 110,000 educators worldwide. Her work has been endorsed by educators across the spectrum of religious and political belief, progressive to conservative, fundamentalist to agnostic. Howard Gardner wrote that her “examination of the quest for meaning among today’s adolescents is both daring and needed.”
“I wish I would have had the information found in The Soul of Education during the 20 years I served in public education,” wrote Forrest L. Turpen, Executive Director of Christian Educators Association International. “ I believe Rachael Kessler found the missing links to educational reform. Public education does have a soul.” Rachael presented, facilitated, and led professional and curriculum development for educators both nationally and internationally. Whether addressing administrators in Beijing or San Bernardino, coaching teachers and leading transition groups for students in Boulder, or working with political or civic leaders including the U.S. Congress, Rachael fostered the safety and skills that invited people to communicate from their depths and nurture meaningful connections.
Rachael worked throughout the 1990’s to create a framework and a language that could allow educators to welcome and nurture students’ quest for meaning, connection and integrity, building character and excellence in ways that foster compassion for themselves and for the people and world around them. Responding to a hunger in educators and parents for a genuine transformation of teaching and learning, Rachael Kessler and her colleagues founded the Boulder-based PassageWorks Institute in 2001. From 2001-2010, Rachael directed the Institute– co-developing curricula, consulting with teachers, offering a variety of keynotes, and teaching PassageWorks courses and school-based trainings. Rachael worked with the PassageWorks Leadership team over the last two years of her life to develop a Legacy plan and strategy for bringing this body of work to students, teachers, school leaders and parents around the world.