Dr. Ochan Kusuma Powell
Consililum Education library specialist, Sal Flint continues her column – School Readers – in which she talks to educators about their favourite books. This month’s Reader is Ochan Kusuma Powell.
Why ‘School Readers?’
We all urge kids to read, but how has reading shaped our own personal and professional lives? I want to know which four books have most influenced the people I talk to – an unforgettable children’s book, a novel, a work of non-fiction and a ‘go-to’ book about education.
This month’s School Reader is Ochan Kusuma Powell, the accomplished international educator and consultant. Ochan specializes in coaching, inclusivity, collaboration, and special education, and has spent 25 years teaching in international schools at all levels.
Ochan has also authored and co-authored several books on personalized instruction, inclusivity in schools, teacher self-supervision, and the roles of emotional and organizational intelligence.
Ochan is a founding member of the Design Team for the Next Frontier Inclusion, a non-profit organization which helps international schools in adopting more inclusive systems.
Chatting with Ochan was incredibly meaningful to me. She and her late husband Bill were huge inspirations as I started out in international education. I remember it like it was yesterday – I vividly recall Bill’s powerful speech, Orchids in the Bathroom, upon my arrival at the International School of Tanganyika, where he was CEO. Pair that with the taste of papaya at one of Ochan and Bill’s enlightening breakfast sessions, and you’ve got the start of my lifelong love for learning. This catch-up with Ochan brought back so many warm memories, it was something really special.
Ochan Kasuma Powell’s ‘four books’
(Click the book cover to follow the link to Amazon)
“I read Too Late the Phalarope a long time ago, while living in Tanzania. It helped me to perceive what it was like for people to live in an unjust, segrated system of racial discrimination. Sally reminded me that Bill and I hosted an evening with friends and colleagues chatting about the book.”
What it’s about:
Too Late the Phalarope is a novel by Alan Paton. It centres on Pieter van Vlaanderen, a police officer in apartheid-era South Africa. Pieter’s affair with a young black woman, Stephanie, breaches the Immorality Act, leading to his downfall. The story explores themes of guilt and racial discrimination, with the phalarope bird symbolizing the protagonist’s inescapable fate.
2. Julie Diamond: POWER: A USER’S GUIDE
“I finished this one recently. It provides a review of various kinds of power and the theories behind them. Her essential quesiton is: Why is it that power corrupts some, and not others? Diamond gives examples of indivuals who have not been corrupted by power and observes that these individuals are also highly introspective. In that same vein, she offers some very practical exercises for readers to take themselves through, to gain a greater understanding of their own ‘power print’.”
What it’s about:
As Ochan has shown, POWER: A User’s Guide is a practical exploration of power. It blends theory with exercises and examples, guiding readers to cultivate authentic authority, handle high-power roles, and uncover personal power. The book demonstrates that power is accessible to everyone and provides tools to understand one’s unique power dynamics.
3. Lisa Feldman Barrett: How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
“As an educator rooted in constructivism, this book shook me to my core and I finally understood what it meant to say, “All knowledge is tentative.” My hero had been Paul Ekman with his work on emotions. Little did I know that his research methodology and thus his theory of 7 universal emotions was highly flawed; this work by a neuroscientist helped me wonder about the damage teachers might be inflicting by continuing to teach the myth of 7 universal emotions.”
What it’s about:
How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett is a groundbreaking book that redefines our understanding of emotions. Barrett proposes the Theory of Constructed Emotions, arguing that our brains create emotional experiences by predicting and making sense of the information received from the body and the world. This theory implies that emotions are not universally experienced the same way but can vary significantly between individuals and cultures.
4. Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are
“Probably, for the children’s book, I’d have to go with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, as an all-time favourite. That surely dates me! I find the illustrations and the plot to be timeless.”
What it’s about:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a classic children’s book from 1963. It follows a boy named Max who, after misbehaving, imagines a wild adventure with monstrous creatures, becoming their king. Despite the fun, Max feels lonely and returns home to find his supper waiting. The book, famed for its expressive illustrations and exploration of imagination, won the Caldecott Medal.
What Ochan is reading at the moment:
Fiction: Trust by Hernan Diaz.
Non-fiction: Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work by Ruchika Tulshyan
If you would like to share your four School Readers, write to ITM on