A Conversation with Erin Gruwell

Author: Dustin Odham
February 22, 2021

The Power of Love and Belief, Straight from the ‘Freedom Writers’ Inspiration


“I don’t remember a lot about trigonometry, but you taught me to believe in myself, to believe in others and how I can accomplish anything if I work hard and don’t give up.”


These are the words of one of my former students, and they brought me to tears.


Recently, I took two former students to lunch. It had been 10 years or more since I spent any significant time with them. I taught geometry and trigonometry – two subjects that are generally not on the list of peoples’ favorites in high school. Because of this reality, I often wonder if my teaching had any lasting impact on my students, and, if it did, what that impact was.


I was certainly not the most technically sound math instructor, yet my students outpaced the entire school district in academic growth. Why was that?


First, I had students who worked hard and were resilient. Second, we operated as a team and family. Finally, we genuinely cared for each other.


If you strive to be an educator who positively changes the life trajectory of every student you teach, you need to get to know Erin Gruwell and her team of Freedom Writers.  It’s been 14 years since I have seen the movie of the same name and almost 20 since the first time I read her book, but Gruwell and her leadership coaching are as relevant today as they’ve ever been.


Her inspiration is what led me to become a teacher and kept me to striving to become a teacher of the year every year that I taught.


She taught me:

  • The importance of creating a mission for my students that was bigger than all of us.
  • The power of creating a family-like culture within my classroom.
  • How to sincerely empathize with my students while never lowering the bar of high academic expectations.


Erin believes in the power of people and the power of the individual’s teacher. If you need inspiration these days like I do, you must do at least one of three things (if not all three):

    1. Read her book (
    2. Watch her movie (
    1. Attend The Freedom Writers Teacher Institute (


Erin’s passion for life, her love for every person she meets (she treats even me as a close friend now after only meeting a couple of times), and her willingness to stop at nothing in order to advocate for her students craft a model all of us should follow.

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