Student Stories

Abdul Wright

Instilling Belief: Abdul Wright, MAEd ’16

The scene in the auditorium of Best Academy middle school in Minneapolis was one best described as organized chaos as Abdul Wright, Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) ’16, called his eighth grade boys to attention. Coordinating their graduation ceremony performance is only one of the many roles Wright plays at Best, and his devotion to and involvement with all aspects of his students’ school life certainly played a role in him being selected as the 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

The boys’ performance centered on a call and response between the old school of hip-hop and the new school; it was paired with a performance by the eighth grade girls, who we went to check on after Wright maintained order—a feat he accomplished rather simply, as his students regarded him with the mix of respect and earnestness typically reserved for an older family member.

As soon as we entered the gymnasium, the eighth grade girls quieted down for Wright—with only a word or two of what Wright lightheartedly admitted is all too-common sass.

He asked to see the progress on their performance, and minutes later the girls were lined up, belting out the words to Beyoncé’s “Freedom” and mixing hip-hop moves with stepping, Wright singing along and laughing. The energy was palpable, and Wright had the girls run through the routine twice, taking a break in the middle to encourage full participation.

One line stuck: “You are the best performance group. Don’t let your attitude get in the way of what you can do.”

This kind of instruction embodies Wright’s personal teaching philosophy and his platform: the importance of instilling belief in young people.

“If young people believe in themselves, they can achieve great things,” Wright said. “And belief is universal; it’s not tied to race or gender or socioeconomic class.”

This principle of belief especially pertains to Wright’s middle school students, as, in his words, middle school is the “foundation of all the life tests they’ll be facing in the future.” Middle school students define themselves by others’ perceptions, and Wright works hard every day to ensure that his students know that they can accomplish great things and have the guidance to pursue their education—all aspects of it, even coordinated dance—with intent.

Wright chose to teach at Best Academy—an African American charter school—because of its mission statement: “To instruct, empower, enable and guide scholars to achieve superior academic, social and moral development.”

“What resonated is the importance of the relationship you need to have with your young people in order to make an impact on their lives,” Wright said.

This concept of creating relationships and fostering community rules Wright’s classroom. He knows well the different situations students are facing at home, as he himself comes from a seven-child family and spent the majority of his school years living in his grandfather’s one-bedroom apartment, sharing a room with his five brothers.

“I have Somali girls, students’ whose fathers are in prison, boys who come from wealthy, two-family households—I can’t assume to know my students just because they look like me,” he said. “Which is why relationship building is so important.”

Community and relationship building is something Wright believes should transcend the classroom, though; and that is what he hopes to improve during his time as Teacher of the Year. With that title, he has access to multiple factions of the education system, and he plans on investigating the various issues faced across the state of Minnesota and bringing them back to the legislative echelons, looping teachers to the education law-making process.

Between his research and his master’s capstone project at Hamline, which focused on how reading fluency instruction affects reading fluency, Wright has a solid grasp on the education issues within the Twin Cities metro area. He knows, however, that the education obstacles the state faces are wide-ranging, from lack of broadband access to affordability of resources to quality of early childhood education.

“I don’t want to speak as if I know their major issues; I want to know from them what their major issues are,” Wright said, once again emphasizing the importance of creating a statewide community of education. “We’re all facing different problems, but all of our problems are real and affecting our young people.”

This way of viewing his community—as a dedicated servant—is a character trait that Wright is notorious for within the education community.

“To have humility is a trait that allows one to see others' perspectives, stay balanced in chaos, and constantly reflect on the strengths of others; a person who possesses this trait will eventually be recognized by many because he sees the light in everyone,” Amy Hewett-Olatunde MAEd ’02, EdD ’15, winner of the 2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Award, said about Wright. “Abdul is an example of this.”

When asked how he was affected by winning the award, Wright brought up multiple examples of people reaching out to congratulate him and tell him they were proud—people he had never met included—but he was not bragging. It was a personal reminder that he has a responsibility to these people, something he does not take lightly.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “It makes you want to work that much harder and be that much more passionate and empathetic.”

Wright’s final comment was one of gratitude: "Thank you to Amy for being an amazing person to me throughout this process. Your wisdom is priceless. And thank you to the other deserving finalists who are all special people and educators."

“So many people contributed to where I am right now, I would be a fool not to reflect on them and to not think the most important part of my job is being a positive influence,” he followed up.

While Wright takes seriously his responsibilities and commitment to bettering the education system in Minnesota, his priority is always his students.

“The most rewarding part of my job is when a young person accepts who they are,” Wright said. “Because who you are is okay. And the more you know about yourself and believe in yourself, the more you can help other people.”

To learn more about Hamline’s Master of Arts in Education and Doctorate in Education programs, visit the School of Education website or contact Graduate Admission.