While you may know Dr. Douglas Reeves for his phenomenal education career, the truth is, he is so much more.
During our third episode of Inside the Treehouse, Solution Tree CEO Jeff Jones sat down with Reeves to talk about his pathway to success, his prolific contributions to the field, and life outside of education.
Speaker, researcher, writer, educator, philanthropist, runner, mentor—the list goes on and on. Maybe the question shouldn’t be what has Dr. Douglas Reeves done, but rather what has he not done?
The Early Years
While Dr. Reeves now calls Boston home, he grew up in Kansas. Although his mother was never paid to teach, she spent her life educating others in church. Meanwhile, both his father and grandmother served as educators in the school system. In fact, his grandmother was the first female superintendent in her small town in Illinois.
Born into a lineage of leaders and teachers, Reeves was destined for educational greatness. His journey there, however, wasn’t a straight line.
Reeves didn’t even earn an undergraduate degree in education, but rather French and international relations. While he managed to complete college first, the Vietnam War was calling. Dr. Reeves, along with his brother, joined the ROTC. Eighteen days after the fall of Saigon, Reeves was commissioned as an officer in the army and sent to Germany. At the age of just 21, Reeves served as a battery commander with 144 troops under his guidance. It was clear from a young age that Douglas Reeves was a leader.
While in the military, Reeves taught. After putting in 15-hour days, he would teach his fellow comrades college-level material so they could receive Advanced Placement credit on their transcripts, seeing that many of their educations had been interrupted by the war.
When Reeves’s military service was over, he took a few odd jobs but always found a way to teach. His first official education gig was as a middle school math teacher. From there, Reeves taught the gamut—elementary all the way to postdoctoral.
In the 1980s, he took a diversion into financial services. He even started his own company, which was a success. While Reeves knew finances were important, he didn’t find the work fulfilling. It was out of this lack of fulfillment that Reeves began pursuing his doctorate in education.
From there, Reeves affiliated himself with a company called NSCI, something of a predecessor to Solution Tree. This is where he learned his speaking abilities. The first level or course Reeves tackled was all about becoming a breakout teacher. One of the first speeches he had to give was to a whopping crowd of six people. His feelings of defeat didn’t last long, as he found out one of those six listeners was the conference director. The next year, Reeves was the keynote—proof that every audience member is important.
In time, Reeves’s attention turned toward research. It was in the 1990s that Reeves shared with the world his 90-90-90 study. Reeves looked at more than 100 schools, the vast majority of which were high poverty and high linguistic or ethnic minorities with low achievement levels. However, there were some outliers in the group where the school was 90 percent in poverty and 90 percent linguistic or ethnic minorities, with 90 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. Both high- and low-achieving schools all had the same funding, the same teacher union, and the same teacher assignment policy. So what was different? Teaching practices. Reeves found that nonfiction writing, collaborative scoring, and a laser focus on achievement made all the difference in the world.
This research was so groundbreaking that it is still being used today. Reeves’s recent book Achieving Equity and Excellence reaffirms his findings. This book expands on the research, showing that even in elite, independent schools, the same sound practices lead to achievement. Reeves admits that in the 1990s, he made the mistake of thinking these practices only applied to high-poverty schools, while in actuality, it is just good education despite the socioeconomic status.
Dr. Douglas Reeves never stops. His world traveling has slowed due to the pandemic, but that just leaves more time for writing. Currently, Reeves is working on three different pieces for Solution Tree.
The first is titled Challenging Conversations About Race. Reeves has been collaborating with colleagues such as Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Kenneth C. Williams, Rosa Isiah, Washington Collado, and more on this unique, heavy-hitting project. The book’s powerful purpose is to initiate and integrate these tough conversations in the classroom at all school levels.
Reeves’s second piece is called Fearless Schools. Here he challenges the norm about making mistakes. He proposes that instead of an environment where your mistakes are held against you (both teachers and students), schools should cultivate a culture where we not only learn from mistakes but we’re so fearless that we allow other people to learn from our mistakes as well.
Reeves’s third project is Deep Change Leadership. In this book, he discusses why the majority of change efforts fail and how to prevent it from happening. He turns the conventional way of thinking upside down, suggesting that behavior precedes belief. Reeves urges everyone to make the change first. Buy-in will come later as a result of successful change.
Dr. Reeves is extremely charitable. He has taken up the sport of running and completed seven marathons, all for the benefit of charity.
For Reeves, running is his time of solitude, away from others and alone with his thoughts. He also does it for both his physical and mental health. While he jokingly admits that he’ll never win a race, it’s all about pushing himself to finish.
Some of the causes he’s put his legs to work for include helping kids whose primary language is not English compete in debate, providing support and housing for the families of disabled veterans, and more.
Whether it’s in his own backyard or across the globe, Reeves loves to help others. When he was named Brock International Laureate, he took his prize money (and his brother) to Africa to build a school.
Reeves also works with the Boston Debate League. This group goes into urban schools where debate programs have never existed and creates them. For Reeves, this is not only a way to give back to his local community, but also an avenue to build confidence in the lives of youngsters.
As if that wasn’t enough, Reeves even started his own business, FinishTheDissertation.org. He explained that 69 percent of students never finish their doctorate because they don’t complete their dissertation. This organization provides free, one-on-one support for students to stay on track.
As you can tell, Dr. Douglas Reeves embodies the characteristics of a great educator, leader, and person. His heart of gold and prolific contributions have impacted the lives of many and will continue to do so for years to come.
Our Next Episode is Available Soon
Episode 4 of Inside the Treehouse will be available on November 20, and will feature Brian Butler. Listen as he shares his education journey, from the most remedial student in his classroom to the co-principal of a DuFour Award-winning Model PLC School.