By fostering an educational philosophy that values and promotes diversity, Gruwell transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to re-think rigid beliefs about themselves and others, reconsider daily decisions, and ultimately re-chart their futures. With Gruwell’s support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, and violence to become aspiring college students, published writers, and catalysts for change. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” –in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders—and published a book.
Inspired by Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic (who lived through war-torn Sarajevo), Erin and her students captured their collective journey in The Freedom Writers Diary. Through poignant student entries and Erin’s narrative text, the book records their “eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding.” In early 2007, Teach With Your Heart, Erin’s powerful memoir and call to arms was published.
While Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure at Wilson High School. She decided to channel her classroom experiences toward a broader cause, and today her impact as a teacher extends well beyond Room 203. Erin founded the Freedom Writers Foundation where she currently teaches teachers around the country how to implement her innovative lesson plans into their own classrooms. Recently, Erin’s teaching methods from her time in Room 203 have been published in the Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide. Proceeds from the sale of all books directly fund the Freedom Writers Foundation.
Erin and her students have appeared on numerous television shows, including Oprah, Prime Time Live with Connie Chung, Barbara Walters’ The View, and Good Morning America, to name a few. Erin and the Freedom Writers have earned them dozens of awards including the prestigious Spirit of Anne Frank Award.
Erin is a graduate of the University of California Irvine, where she received the Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. She earned her Master’s Degree and teaching credentials from California State University Long Beach, where she was honored as Distinguished Alumna by the School of Education.
- Methodology for Teachers
Since teaching the original Freedom Writers in Room 203 at Wilson High School, Erin Gruwell has worked diligently to create a methodology that will universally allow teachers across the country, and across the globe, to empower their students in the same life-changing ways that Gruwell was able to empower the Freedom Writers. Gruwell developed a Teacher’s Guide based on her methodology, and also, through the Freedom Writers Foundation, organizes institutes and symposiums for teachers and professionals in related fields.
Gruwell provides an empowering presentation of how she has passed on her methodology to other teachers, and how she has been able to do this so successfully. Filled with anecdotes from teachers across the country, Gruwell’s presentation proves that the methodology she has developed is not location-specific, but can be implemented in all types of schools and communities. Gruwell offers anecdotes and advice that show teachers then can implement these ideas in their classrooms as well, and it shows students a different perspective on what it is like to be a teacher.
This presentation can be adapted to two different styles. A workshop provides a more hands-on experience of what Gruwell has learned from the teachers she has taught, and how teachers can best apply that knowledge and her methodology. A traditional keynote presentation allows Gruwell to speak with audiences of all sizes and truly emphasizes that teachers have as much to learn as students do. Both the workshop and the keynote have a unique emphasis on professional development, and are centered around a variety of exercises that Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation use at their institutes and teacher trainings.
- Teaching Tolerance
In a scene from the hit movie Freedom Writers, a film based on Erin Gruwell’s experiences as an English teacher to inner-city Los Angeles youth, a Latino student is drawing a derogatory picture of a fellow black student. Intercepting the racial correspondence, Gruwell is reminded of a caricature she had seen from the Museum of Tolerance—Holocaust propaganda of a Jew made to look like a rat. Drawing parallels between her students’ ignorance and the prejudice of the Nazis, Gruwell captures the attention of her class by pointing out the seriousness of their actions and the implications that can follow.
In a through-provoking presentation, Gruwell explores the very situations that have led us towards conflict in the past and how tolerance and understanding could have prevented such negative outcomes. A true proponent that one person can make an extraordinary difference, Gruwell inspires us all to embrace the concept of changing lives by teaching tolerance.
- Achieving the Impossible: Become a Catalyst for Change
Erin Gruwell found herself the teacher for a troubled group of students who had been dubbed unteachable. The tale of how this first-year teacher encouraged these wayward inner city kids to redirect their lives, forego rampant drugs and the violence that pervaded their neighborhoods is the story recounted in the best-selling The Freedom Writers Diary. From the stark reality of one seemingly innocuous event in the classroom, she sparked a chord in the students that led the class to name themselves the Freedom Writers. Over the course of a few months, Gruwell empowered the class to re-chart their future and go on to become college students, published writers and citizens for change.
In a powerful presentation that leaves audiences cheering, Gruwell parlays her story into ways the audience can improve their performance and productivity by asking "what can I do to make a difference?" Gruwell speaks to the authenticity and stamina needed to fuel change. An emotional connection with your work and life goals is a powerful force that can produce an unstoppable vision against all odds. Gruwell speaks from her heart, customizing every speech to her audience and shares:
● How even little events can fuel transformational change
● How to develop an environment of trust and communication
● Ways that individuals can become catalysts for change in their own lives
● How to harness your own personal power and determination to accomplish success that others may not think is possible