Pamela Cantor, M.D.
Founder and Senior Science Advisor
Pamela Cantor, M.D. practiced child and adolescent psychiatry for nearly two decades, specializing in trauma. She founded Turnaround for Children in 2002, after co-authoring a study on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on NYC schoolchildren. In schools with high concentrations of children growing up in poverty, she saw students deeply affected by the adverse circumstances in their everyday lives, teachers struggling to meet the variable and often intense needs of their students, and principals who were unable to build environments that were safe and supportive. She recognized that the research from the fields of developmental and learning science, adversity science and mental health on stress and the developing brain she had studied in medical school needed to be shared and translated for the systems that develop and educate our children.
Today, Turnaround translates scientific knowledge about how children develop and learn into integrated tools, resources and services for educators, school leaders, and school systems to establish the conditions and practices that drive learning and growth, so that all students thrive.
In 2016, Turnaround published “Building Blocks for Learning,” a framework for comprehensive student development. The paper explores the roots of higher-order skills and mindsets, such as agency, perseverance and academic tenacity that all children need to flourish and suggests a path to acquire them. In 2017, Dr. Cantor co-authored “Building the Bridge Between Science and Practice: Essential Characteristics of a Translational Framework” in the journal Mind, Brain and Education. In 2018, Applied Developmental Science published two papers co-authored by Dr. Cantor, “Malleability, Plasticity, and Individuality: How Children Learn and Develop in Context” and “Drivers of Human Development: How Relationships and Context Shape Learning and Development.” Together, the papers synthesize research from multiple disciplines on what can be done to help all children develop in healthy ways, no matter the adversity they might experience as they grow up.
Dr. Cantor is a founding leader of the Science of Learning and Development Alliance, a collaborative effort focused on elevating science, advancing equity, and transforming education that is governed by the partner organizations Turnaround for Children, American Institutes for Research, the Forum for Youth Investment, Learning Policy Institute, EducationCounsel and Populace.
She has shared her insights at events including the iNACOL (Aurora Institute) Symposium, ASU + GSV Summit, Aspen Ideas Festival, Education Writers Association National Seminar, NewSchools Summit, SXSWedu, and EdSurge Fusion. Her work has been highlighted in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and on NOVA and National Public Radio. In 2018, she appeared in and contributed to Edutopia’s How Learning Happens series; as of today, the videos in the series have been viewed more than 10 million times.
Dr. Cantor received an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College and a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Cantor was awarded the 2014 Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Impact.
What books have influenced you most?
The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas, The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz and The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. All of these books exist in two dimensions: they look at life through a microscopic lens, at what makes us human, but also provide a vision for how understanding life in this very microscopic way is a window into all of life.
What motivates you?
Unfairness to children. Since as far back as I can remember, the idea that all children could not count on fairness in the people that cared for them, could not count on belief in their ability to become their greatest selves, caused an ache that was physical. I couldn’t stand it and had to do something about it.