When I was an undergrad at the University of Virginia and developing my interest in urban education, I read an article about the phenomenal growth in the Richmond, Virginia public schools – an urban school district that had struggled to raise student performance but, under the leadership of a new superintendent, had achieved remarkable results and become a case study for the nation. At a time when I was learning about more and more of the problems in urban education, this article about a community in my state gave me a great deal of hope and inspiration: I read it and saw that change was possible.
Little did I imagine that just shy of a decade later, I would get to repeat this story to that very superintendent herself – Dr. Deborah Jewell-Sherman – in an intimate gathering with 7 other HGSE students organized by Student Council. This conversation was the first in a new initiative called the “BLT” – not bacon, lettuce, and tomato, but breakfast, lunch, or tea with a faculty member and a small group of students in a setting conducive to Q&A as well as getting to know one another. Since I was not able to take a class with Dr. Jewell-Sherman this semester, this presented a special opportunity for me to meet a faculty member who has been a hero of mine and get to hear her speak about the issues that matter most to her.
While I was excited about this opportunity, I was also a bit intimidated, but Dr. Jewell-Sherman immediately put us all at ease by asking us each to tell our stories of what had brought us to the tea. She then proceeded to shared the story of her career as a teacher, counselor, principal, superintendent, and now Harvard professor, and offered us a few lessons she had learned through her leadership experiences:
- Speak to peoples’ heads and hearts.
- Be open with your story: share what makes you personally invested in education. Your story makes you more real to those listening to you.
- Define your core values for yourself and others; always keep those in mind when making difficult decisions.
Our hour together was quickly up, but as Dr. Jewell-Sherman stood up to leave, she reached over and she hugged me! (One of the greatest parts about being at Harvard – sometimes, you get to hug your heroes!) Her work has inspired me since long before I arrived on HGSE’s campus, and I know that this chance to meet her will continue to inspire me to be a more courageous and caring educational leader for many years to come.
Sarah Stuntz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning and Teaching program. As a former English teacher who plans to return to the classroom, Sarah loves learning about how literature and writing connect with adolescent development and social justice.