Growing by Learning with Zahara Chowdhury.

Inspiring Women in EdTech


One would not deny that the education industry has been harnessing traditional methods to offer learning to seekers. However, these methods are effective but have proven to be less engaging with students. Nevertheless, there are some organizations, like School Should Be—Founded by Zahara Chowdhury, that help schools as well as students reach their desired goals through positive, unorthodox means.

Zahara is a compassionate educator who participates in creating a better world for every generation of students. She works with schools and organizations to support diversity, equity, and inclusion training and development. She is also a blogger and podcaster, focusing on education and school, mainly secondary education. She is also a qualified personal trainer, a reformer pilates teacher, a kettlebell instructor, and a studio cycling instructor, making her a goal-oriented fitness enthusiast and a disciplined individual. Her blog and podcast are called School Should Be which she started at the end of 2019. It started as an online book club and social media account and has evolved into a very diverse podcast and blog.

Zahara had a very humble upbringing; she was brought up by a single-parent, Muslim, South Asian family, and while growing up, she witnessed the ‘low socio-economic’ bracket. She attended the local secondary school and was among the few of her friends to enroll in the university. She completed a degree in English literature with a focus on multiculturalism, American, Indian, and Caribbean literature, along with modules in 19th century Victorian Literature and of course, Shakespeare (reading a play a week!). For Zahara and her family, education is and has always been a top priority. It has always been seen as a path to achievement as well as a means of securing a secure future, a steady income, and personal safety and property. Everything that a millennial, would deem successful and happy. Hard work has been a key aspect of Zahara’s success. Career representation was scarce, and teaching was something she happened to be quite good at. Thus, she started her career in teaching but hated the workload and it took its toll on her wellbeing. This resulted in her leaving teaching for a short while; she, however, fell back into it very quickly, which luckily made her who she is today. Eventually, she progressed to associate senior leader and learned so much about the value of diversity, representation, and relationships with teenagers in the classroom.

Moreover, it’s Zahara’s students that spurred her on to pursue other ambitions such as fitness, well-being, starting her own business, and taking risks. She still feels like she owes her career and leadership style to them. She believes that diversity and inclusion are the keys to improving student wellbeing, school standards, and teacher wellbeing too. “It is very much down to the culture I created in my classroom with my students,” Zahara mentions.

"I wanted a glass office, to wear heels every day, and to carry a really shiny bag to work. I guess I’ve made that happen in a very humble way!"

How Schools Should Really Be!

Zahara asserts that the best way to describe School Should Be is the classroom—we all want to be a part of it. It is based on having honest and brave conversations in trusting spaces and learning about all the things one needs to learn and wants to learn at school. It can involve building strong, lasting relationships with one another, based on mutual respect and creating a place where everyone is welcome and can thrive, with the opportunity to have fun and learn a few things along the way. Zahara reckons that school should be whatever we want it to be, and that’s the motto of SSB. School Should Be aims to inject fun, meaning, and purpose back into the classroom by enabling the conversations and questions students want to have with their peers and teachers. Whether it be about finance, mental health, anti-racism, social media, masculinity, femininity, or a particular career, School Should Be aims to respond to the candid questions that often come up in a teenage classroom; “but we don’t have the time to explore,” she adds.

School Should Be has a wide audience as Zahara highlights, school is not merely about the student. Further, she states that for young people to have a successful and meaningful education, it’s important to amplify all stakeholder voices, including those of students, teachers, parents, and headteachers. “We need to learn to listen—truly listen—to each other to create a school culture fit for purpose,” she mentions. SSB is a safe space; people can listen to candid conversations on the podcast to help expand and diversify their thinking. They can also read and write blogs to explore a variety of topics, some uncomfortable, from a variety of perspectives.

Zahara Chowdhury

Pay it Forward

Business isn’t something that Zahara has grown up around, and she doesn’t feel like it comes very easily to her. “I don’t feel like a founder or a leader!” says Zahara. Imposter syndrome constantly creeps in and as a teacher, it feels like the right thing to do is help others when they need it and bring value to the lives of young people if it means they will learn, do good and hopefully, pay it forward in the future, too. We all need to make a living though and I am very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, all thanks to my experiences as a teacher and in schools.

She feels pride that, through her work, she is contributing to building a better world for everyone. She has been supporting schools and students to feel safe, secure, and included, with their identities appreciated and understood, which eventually makes the world a better place. She also believes that by dedicating time to students who simply want someone to listen to them, believe them, and have a conversation with them, they will always ‘pay it forward’. 

Zahara states that one learns a lot along the way, and as much as School Should Be is rooted in ‘tech’, it is the human connection that makes it what it is. Sometimes EdTech or tech in general can make you think you need to know it all or that everyone is an expert when they are not. It’s probably one of the most logical spaces, with so many helpful people out there to help you through it. She mentions that we are at a very interesting time now when people are talking about balancing masculine and feminine energy, vulnerability, strength, empathy, and more. She believes listening, trusting, and having a great team make one a great leader.

Zahara admires meeting new people and businesses. She believes that while learning, you don’t need to be an expert or have all the answers; she loves connecting people and businesses in education. She thinks that is exactly what School Should Be achieves through its honest conversations and the relationships developed along the way. She states that to create an equitable and fair workplace, one needs women in EdTech leadership. Representation in STEM subjects also matters, especially with tech and AI becoming booming sectors. She emphasizes that it’s important for young women in education to have access to these careers, which are diverse, hybrid, profitable, and more.

To conclude, she reminisces about sitting in a business studies class and writing a list of all the things she wanted by the age of 25—a list she went on to share with her school when invited back to a presentation evening years later. “I wanted a glass office, to wear heels every day, and to carry a really shiny bag to work. I guess I’ve made that happen in a very humble way!” gleams Zahara. She feels proud of her venture’s growth as it has inspired many great talents to achieve their milestones on their path. Lastly, she asserts that learning the art of having difficult conversations that are not online makes a world of difference to their relationships, well-being, and sense of self.