The Father of the Year Awards celebrate both influencers and unsung heroes who have made a major contribution to fatherhood, kids, and communities.
John Legend, Grammy Award–winner, producer, actor, activist, and dad has spent a lifetime listening very carefully. He does this professionally, and he does this personally. He spends the bulk of his time listening to his daughter, Luna Simone, his wife Chrissy Teigen, and his innumerable professional collaborators. But he’s still listening to teachers too. They’re telling him that they need help preparing kids for a world that has changed faster than school curricula.
Naturally, Legend is particularly interested in helping teachers who listen to their students, who let their students’ enthusiasm and engagement direct the lesson plan. That’s why, in 2014, Legend co-founded LRNG Innovators, an organization that awards grants to innovative teachers across America, with Connie Yowell of Collective Shift and the National Writing Project. Taking care of his daughter, and realizing how hard it is even with considerable resources, has made Legend even more passionate about his work, which he hopes will spark an education revolution.
The idea underpinning LRNG Innovators’ selection is called “Connected Learning.” Developed by the Connected Learning Research Network, the theory posits that teachers are most effective when they are helping their students follow their passions and, in doing so, teaching them to learn and think creatively. This way of thinking, largely absent from the rigid systems embraced at many schools, allows and even incentivizes educators to embrace new technologies and emerging fields.
What makes Legend’s advocacy work particularly notable is both the depth of his commitment (he does substantial behind-the-scenes work) and his wonkish enthusiasm for the cause. He listens to the teachers as they submit their projects and to the students who describe how each project has affected their outlook. Legend’s voice is, of course, powerful, but he largely holds it in reserve. He speaks up strategically, and always for the kids.