Late last year, Motivis Learning was excited to announce our inaugural scholarship program: $10,000 to a student currently enrolled in an Education program who could tell us how they plan to “be the good.”

Now, we’re excited to announce our winner: Kimberly Pfeifer, a first-year doctoral candidate at UMass Amherst, studying Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies, focusing on Children, Families, and Schools.

aspiring educator scholarship
Motivis Learning Aspiring Educator, Kimberly Pfeifer, with Gerry DiGuisto, Motivis Learning VP of Strategy


Late last week, we were able to meet Kimberly on campus at UMass Amherst, and learn more about her education and plans for the future. We’ll be sharing more from that visit later this week, but in the meantime, please check out her winning essay, below.

We’d also like to note that we were so overwhelmed by the quality of submissions (nearly 150 in all!), that we expanded our inaugural program to offer two additional scholarships as well. Please check out Kimberly’s essay here, and check back later this week to view the essays from our runners-up!

But, How?

Kimberly Pfeifer, PhD Candidate, UMass Amherst

Aristotle is credited with stating, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” This begs the question, what if the roots, themselves, were sweet? What if these roots were exciting, engaging, empowering, and meaningful? The possibilities of the fruit, then, would be endless.

Being an educator is tantamount to being a revolutionist every single day. A teacher seeks to shatter glass ceilings and raze identity related barriers, not in a single instance, or through a specific assignment, but in each moment possible, and even more telling, in the moments when it seems less than possible. An educator who believes in the transformative power of education must develop an awareness of implicit and explicit biases, societal inequalities, and systemic failures. Moreover, a teacher taking part in the 21st century classroom must vow to fight these hegemonic practices alongside students.

An educator must have the vision to transform the classroom into a platform in which gendered, racial, linguistic, religious, and ability-related diversity is not simply tolerated, but rather validated and celebrated. Most of all, a teacher must have the fortitude to make this classroom a reality. But, how

Simply put, we are in need of an educational renaissance in this country. We must begin to radically change the ways in which we expect students to learn and teachers to teach. We must do away with the antiquated system of schooling framed by the industrial revolution with the overarching goal of efficiency. We must recognize the foundation present-day schools are built upon, which cater to a specific, privileged group and concurrently marginalize the rest. In not only challenging the most basic structures of our educational system, but also collectively working to figure out how to disrupt these centuries-old practices, one notion comes to the forefront: student empowerment. And again, we must ask, ‘But, how?’

The way in which I have sought to empower my students and will continue to do so, is in doing away with subject teaching. It may be difficult to see how changing academic structure can lead to a more socially just and inclusive classroom space; but, it is precisely the overhauling of our current banking system of education and replacing it with phenomenon based learning, that creates space for inclusion, inherently teaches social and emotional learning, (which is so perceptibly and harmfully missing from curricula), and empowers students. Yet, the question persists, ‘But, how?’

The U.S. schooling system has an incessant need, or more accurately, a compulsion, to categorize students. For the learner, school becomes a series of separate spheres; in some, the student learns they are strong and in others, they are labeled weak. These spheres are rarely presented as interconnected. In fact, each part of the day is designated to a separate subject; a subject praising one way of thinking, while devaluing another. As students progress through school, these spheres only grow more distant.

Separate buildings may even house different subject areas, quite literally demonstrating these knowledges are separate entities, bound by walls, keeping information away from other centers of learning. Even educators subscribe to the belief that they are only capable of teaching one subject area, perhaps ignoring other sectors’ significance and contributions.

But, imagine for a moment this was not the case. Imagine stepping into a classroom in which students are not seated at individual desks in rows all facing a teacher and a board, and well, bored. Imagine students gathered in groups around a table, engaged in excited dialogue with one another, analyzing a real-world crisis and collectively developing a solution. Imagine students transported to a different world as they work together to figure out how to most efficiently climb Mount Everest. While immersed in their fruitful discussions, students simultaneously employ mathematical skills as well as scientific, language, and technological skills. Students learn how to work with one another, rather than to compete and hoping others fail, so that they may reign supreme. Students learn how to disagree and debate one another, without devaluing someone who thinks differently. Students come to understand that succeeding themselves, means those around them succeeding as well. Students learn they are citizens of the world, with valuable points of view, cultures, languages, heritages, opinions, and stories to share.

Most importantly, students are not viewed, nor view themselves, as empty vessels waiting to be filled. Rather, they are already full. Full of knowledge, awareness, and ideas in need of space to flourish and evolve. But, we do not need to only imagine this classroom, it exists in places around the world. And hopefully, it will be a space that I can help create and sustain. I can think of no better way to meaningfully change the classroom, which in turn changes the world. Thus, the question is no longer how, but when?