Celebrating Black History Month: Marva Collins

This month, we’re celebrating influential Black leaders who have improved social emotional learning opportunities for all students.

“When someone is taught the joy of learning, it becomes a life-long process that never stops, a process that creates a logical individual. That is the challenge and joy of teaching.” – Marva Collins

Who was Marva Collins?

Marva Collins was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1936. Her early education took place at a strict elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse – an experience that later shaped her work and her approach to education.

Collins attended Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia where she studied secretarial sciences. After graduating, she was unable to find work as a secretary. So instead, she taught subjects such as bookkeeping, typing, and business law at Monroe County Training school. She moved to Chicago in 1959, where she began working at the Chicago Public Schools.

Not long after she began working in the Chicago school system did Collins begin to recognize the school systems’ low standards and apathy – specifically towards their Black, inner-city students. Collins resented this approach, and instead set high expectations for her students and assigned advanced work in her classroom. Eventually in 1975, after 14 years of teaching in the public schools, she left and opened up her own school on the second floor of her home. She named it ‘Westside Preparatory School’ and within a year the school had gained 20 students – a majority of whom were deemed ‘uneducable’ or ‘learning disabled’ by the public schools.

Collins disagreed with the belief that many of these students couldn’t be taught. She opened her school to all students, each one learning the high level curriculum that she taught. Her teaching method emphasized the importance of phonics, memorization, and in-depth discussions about complex readings. She also utilized positive discipline to address bad behavior. By the end of the first year at Westside Preparatory School, each student scored at least five grades higher on their standardized test scores. 

The success of her school also gained national recognition and was featured on shows such as 60 Minutes, Newsweek, Time, and Good Morning America. A film was also released about her school titled The Marva Collins Story.

Collins was even offered the position of Secretary of Education from Ronald Reagan. In order to continue the development of Westside Preparatory School, she declined his offer. 

Collins went on to implement teacher training programs in schools across the country. The Westside Preparatory Teacher Training Institute opened in 1985, which allowed for teachers from around the country to learn and utilize Collins’ methods in schools. Her influence on teaching all types of students is still felt across the country today.

Marva Collins’ Lasting Impact on Education

Marva Collins was a trailblazer for education reform. Despite the Chicago Public School System’s labeling of certain students being ‘unteachable’, she believed that, with the right resources and a determined teacher, all students were capable of learning and succeeding. And her belief was correct – many of her students graduated and went on to become doctors, lawyers, and even teachers. 

In addition to the lasting impact she had on students, Collins also influenced teachers and school systems as a whole. Over the course of her 40 year career, she trained more than 100,000 teachers. She understood the importance of training other educators to have the tools they need to work with all kinds of students so that no one was discouraged from learning. 

Empathy is an overarching theme in Collins’ work. She understood that every learner is different; and rather than dismiss these differences, she welcomed them. This signified that all students had the potential to learn.

As we celebrate the impact of influential Black leaders in education this month, we give gratitude for Marva Collins. Join us for a deep breath of gratitude for her work, impact, and ever-growing legacy.

How are you celebrating Black History Month? Share this article on social media to celebrate Marva Collins, and let us know who else you are learning about this month! 

Share and Move This World with us