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Leading, Distinctive, and Passionate Voice

It’s people like Mr. Pelzer who inspire you to want to learn.

The Duke of York, Prince Andrew

Invite Hilderbrand Pelzer III to speak at your next event or conference and let him set the tone by inspiring your audience and motivating them to act.


During his more than three decades of experience, Pelzer has earned a stellar reputation as a multi-award winning principal, leader, and powerful inspirational speaker whose authentic stories empower and inspire audiences. When working with you and your team, Pelzer’s goal is to use his stories to help you make your event or conference successful and memorable. As a leading educational speaker who is passionate and distinctive, Pelzer adds life to your event or conference by cranking up the audience’s energy level while reinforcing your message. 

Widely known as the principal who lifted up one of the largest jail systems in the United States through education, Pelzer’s perspective on the value of education during incarceration and public school-related factors that contribute to juvenile crime and delinquency is profound. Highly sought after by educators at all levels, Pelzer continues to inspire audiences using multiple platforms all over the world—including TEDx, conferences, and public forums—to spread his word and spirit of hope. 


Pelzer looks forward to sharing his stories, especially those about his moving encounters with incarcerated youth and how they motivated him to help them develop high expectations for themselves. He also seeks to further inspire juvenile justice administrators and educators, K–12 administrators, teachers, counselors, social workers, and other professionals who support the underserved or marginalized students. These professionals can positively affect students’ education, care, treatment, and custody by recognizing their essential roles in students’ learning and by building strong connections with them. Pelzer’s powerful message of expectation and opportunity will resonate with anyone who listens to his stories. 

To learn more about Pelzer’s journey or book a speaking engagement click here.

Signature Topics

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Teacher Perseverance

Being a teacher is an astounding responsibility. Sadly, however, at no other time in Hilderbrand Pelzer III’s career has educational work been so difficult for teachers. Their resolve and dedication are tested every day. Despite teachers’ strong commitment to helping children succeed in school, teaching is demanding work. Instead of instructing children in reading, writing and solving math problems, teachers face challenges that make many of them rethink their chosen profession.

This keynote presentation will explore challenges that teachers face, focus on the support they need to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth, reconnect them to the reasons they entered the profession, explore ways to regain their strong commitment to furthering the academic achievement of students, reignite their self-confidence and discuss what a good teacher is expected to do to help students improve their lives through education.

Encouraging teachers to persevere in the face of challenges.
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Unlocking Potential

The white school buses and the prisoners who rode them served as a constant reminder of why Hilderbrand Pelzer III became a principal. Because many people would never consider educating incarcerated students or even working in a correctional setting, Pelzer’s compelling story and courageous actions will inspire educators to embrace their potential to affect positive change in their educational organizations, districts, schools, and classrooms, and to overcome the daunting array of challenges in education.

This keynote presentation will explore the experience, the indispensable mental perspective, and the impact of leading a school that cultivated a strong educational culture across Philadelphia’s six major correctional facilities. The lessons learned by Pelzer about the challenges facing correctional educators and their students are invaluable to school leaders. He shows school leaders how to foster strategic leadership practices that leverages the organization’s key resources in its quest to transform teaching and learning for their students.

What I learned about strategic leadership when I took on the fifth-largest county jail system in the United States
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Juvenile Justice Education

How do you reform and improve education for incarcerated youth? According to a report from the United States Departments of Education and Justice, Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings, “Providing high-quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings presents unique challenges for administrators, teachers, and staff who are responsible for the education, rehabilitation, and welfare of youths committed to their care.” Most would agree that providing high-quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings is a worthy if daunting objective for juvenile justice practitioners and correctional educators. Unfortunately, false assumptions about school capacity in secured settings is preventing significant progress. In an effort to provide high-quality education for incarcerated youth in Philadelphia’s correctional facilities, Hilderbrand Pelzer III created the research-grounded Juvenile Focused Correctional Education School Model, which overcame a number of legal, logistical, and educational challenges.

This keynote presentation will walk through the model’s framework, emphasizing the evidence-based practices that have made the model successful and that align to the guiding principles that underpin this approach. He recommends features of the model and strategies that can be replicated in other secured and correctional settings (and schools facing educational challenges). 

Would you consider a school that looks and feels like a prison to be a model of success?
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Cutting Off the Pipeline to Prison

When Hilderbrand Pelzer III was the principal of a Philadelphia public school inside Philadelphia’s six major correctional facilities, he often witnessed a sad occurrence that he had seen play out repeatedly throughout his career as an educator: students who could not read. Illiteracy was the single common weakness among his incarcerated students. While there is no hard evidence of prison officials having used reading scores to predict the number of prison beds they would need, there is an undeniable connection between literacy skills and incarceration.

This keynote presentation will expand the conversation to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline theory by steering focus away from school discipline policies to the teaching of reading, which has to be fixed, and the many teachers who struggle with teaching reading. Additionally, the presentation will elicit feelings about the school-to-prison pipeline; confront actions and practices that daily fail to reach, teach and engage thousands of students; explore ways to transform relationships with students who face difficulties and who start at an academic disadvantage; and share real-life insights on the incarcerated side of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Incarcerated youth illustrate the needed improvements in schools
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Criminalizing Black School Boys

The cost of failing to meet the needs of black male students hit Hilderbrand Pelzer III years ago, when he was principal of a Philadelphia public school that served Philadelphia’s six major correctional facilities. One day, Pelzer met a former student from a public high school that he had led several years earlier. He remembered that he had repeatedly suspended the young man from school for skipping class as he learned that his former student had never graduated from high school and was now an inmate. Pelzer felt his actions as a principal had contributed to the young man’s circumstance. Black boys’ educations are often hampered by stereotypes that they are “dumb, deprived, dangerous, deviant, and disturbed.” Thus, black boys are more often identified for special education and referred for behavioral health services while their behaviors may be criminalized.

This keynote presentation will explore examples of adult actions that cause black boys to become victims of the low expectations of teachers and school leaders, who fear young people’s behavior that dares adults to teach them; focus on the development of teachers’ knowledge about black boys’ behaviors; and explore positive ways to transform educators’ relationships with black boys in a way that will lead to success and achievement.

What seeing former students end up in the Curran Fromhold Correctional Facility taught me about failing to meet the needs of black male students
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Other Speaking Topics

  • Reimagining the Preparation of New Teachers

  • Educational Equity for All Students

  • Leadership: What School Leaders Can Learn from Incarcerated Youth

  • Educating High-Risk Students

  • Connection between Early Literacy and Juvenile Delinquency

  • Committing to Schools with the Most Pressing Challenges



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