Leading, Distinctive, and Passionate Voice
It’s people like Mr. Pelzer who inspire you to want to learn.
The Duke of York, Prince Andrew
Known as the Principal who lifted up one of the largest jail systems through education, Hilderbrand Pelzer III’s strong belief that all children deserve a quality education, even those inside correctional facilities, continues to inspire audiences who hear him speak.
He came to the role of school leader after being challenged by an experience that remains very personal. His experience early in his career as an educator of incarcerated black boys shaped how he viewed his role as a school leader. As a young black male teacher, he was shocked at the pervasiveness of illiteracy among so many black boys, and he wanted to do something about it. From that point on, he decided to become a principal.
He has over thirty years experience in the urban education field as an assistant regional superintendent, a principal, an assistant principal, and a physical education teacher. He is an engaging and sought-after speaker who has used multiple platforms all over the world to spread his words and spirit of hope. He has reached audiences at wide range of venues from TEDx to conferences and public forums, and his perspective on the education of incarcerated youth and the inadequacy of their experiences with education is particularly profound and a highly sought-after topic by educators at all levels.
Pelzer is a leading, distinctive, and passionate voice in the quest to address how incarcerated youths and the inadequacy of their previous experiences can inform discussion of education and its relationship with incarceration. He leverages the lessons that he learned inside correctional facilities to help educators grasp the intricate connection between school and feelings of self-worth and juvenile delinquency. He inspires educators at all levels to boost teaching confidence with struggling and reluctant students, meet the needs of vulnerable and marginalized students, prioritize equitable resources and supports, and promote perseverance when working with both low achieving students and in highly challenging environments.
Throughout his career, Pelzer has been driven by a vision of improving students’ lives through quality education and meaningful mentorship. He has both facilitated student achievement and struggled with the reality that some have not thrived under his leadership. All together, these situations have created many unique stories for him to tell that challenge teachers and educators at all levels. That challenge, to which Pelzer has committed his life’s work, is to face difficult issues around education and incarceration for the benefit of all.
Invite Pelzer to speak at your next event and watch him inspire your audience, motivate them to take action, and set the tone for the event.
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.
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
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?
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
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
Other Speaking Topics
Reimagining the Preparation of New Teachers
Educational Equity for All Students
Leadership: What School Leaders Can Learn from Incarcerated Youth
The Management of Educational Change
Mental Health in Elementary Schools
Committing to Schools with the Most Pressing Challenges
Learning Differently with Dyslexia
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TED Talk - TEDx Deer Park
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Teach My Kid to Read with Faith Borkowsky
Heart of the City Radio Show
Decoding Dyslexia Georgia
Empowering Dyslexia Student Edition
Think Dyslexia Network