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About Ellen Feig Gray

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York — before it was “cool.” I was educated, from Kindergarten through college, at public schools that were within walking distance from our apartment. I remember spending a lot of time babysitting my younger brothers. For this reason, I took on a “mommy” role pretty early. One of our favorite games was playing school. I was the teacher, of course. One of my brothers proudly recounts how I taught him how to read when he was three years old, and I was nine.

This is when I became fascinated with how our minds work, how kids learn, and the importance of having caring teachers and parents.

I also watched a lot of television as a kid. Partly because my father was an entertainment lawyer and he represented a lot of TV and movie personalities. As a result, I developed a keen interest in knowing more about how what we watch and the stories we read shape our thinking and our attitudes. I came to believe that media has great potential for educating us and expanding our world view.

In ninth grade English class, I fell in love with the idea of analyzing the motives behind characters’ actions, their emotions, and their psychological makeup. While other teenage girls were reading Seventeen magazine, I had a subscription to Psychology Today.

I never had any question that I would study psychology, and as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, I worked in a Developmental Psychology research lab. I helped with grant writing and even published a research paper with my major professor, who still is my mentor and heroine. My first job after college was as a Research Assistant to Dr. Howard Gardner at Harvard’s Project Zero, where I worked on a study of children’s understanding of television.

This is how I knew that wanted to apply psychology to education.

Before I went to graduate school, I spent some time working in children’s publishing, at Random House. My favorite project from this experience was planning Dr. Seuss’s 75th birthday publicity tour. (Yes, I do have an autographed copy of Green Eggs and Ham).

I then decided to pursue my higher education in a PhD program in Education and Psychology at University of Michigan. After three years, and completing all the coursework for the degree, I took a temporary leave to go back to New York and intern in the Social Research department at ABC Television Network. I functioned as an applied psychology researcher, preparing reports on the effects of television on children, and viewer reactions to sensitive content. I even wrote congressional testimony, and helped developed the children’s advertising guidelines and other broadcast policies for the network. This summer internship turned into a full-time job and I never returned to Michigan to finish my doctoral thesis (these were pre-Internet years). My program granted me a Master’s in Developmental Psychology as a reflection of the coursework I had completed.

As a parent, I continued to apply what I knew from Developmental Psychology.

Raising my one and only child has been my greatest challenge and my most rewarding project. My formal training in psychology and child development research were useful in helping me understand my son’s growth and development, but most of my parenting decisions were made from my gut. And guiding him through his own educational journey was not easy. School was not always the most nurturing place for him. And I became acutely aware of the importance of how compassionate teachers, supportive classrooms, and emotionally safe school environments were essential for his openness to learning.

Then I discovered Positive Psychology, the field I wanted to study all along.

Expanding my academic pursuits even further, I began to study, and become certified in Positive Psychology, a field which didn’t even exist when I was in graduate school. I always knew that practicing gratitude and loving kindness, developing healthy relationships, focusing on our character strengths, and having a self-cultivation routine such as meditation or yoga were important for our overall success and well being. But here was a body of empirical evidence that supported what the wisdom traditions and a humanistic psychology perspective were telling us all along!

That’s when Angela Stockman and I began our collaboration. We connected through our children, and shared our insights about what all kids need to flourish.

After ten years of being friends, and spending time swapping stories and advice about our own parenting and professional experiences, we decided to write Hacking School Culture: Designing Compassionate Classrooms. This book is our “labor of love,” embodying our passions for taking a strengths-focused approach to understanding our kids, whether they are in our classrooms or our homes, and creating compassionate environments, starting with empathy.

Now I’m combining my passions, interests, and training, along with my professional and life experience, to share my practical wisdom with parents and teachers. With the goal of helping to raise and educate all of our kids.

Today I live in Miami, Florida, with my wonderfully loving husband, Ricky, and our cat, Mr. Simba. Our son Noah has been “launched” for several years now, and is a flourishing and successful national TV news producer in Washington, DC.

I coach parents as a Parent with Perspective, blog on issues related to parenthood and compassionate classrooms, conduct workshops, and continue to read the latest research in Positive Psychology and Positive Education. And after having written with Angela, I know more writing is in my future!

For pleasure and self-cultivation, I take Pilates and yoga classes, practice mindfulness, listen to music, dance (I’m even certified to teach Let Your Yoga Dance!), grow organic vegetables in my backyard, cook healthy meals, and still enjoy watching TV.

I greatly value community and welcome connecting with you however we can. Please find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, or email me