Author Archives: res891

Wait it’s the holidays and I don’t have a statement of purpose?!?

If you’re looking to apply for an HGSE master’s program, we’re about a week and a half away from the deadline. Confession time: as a classroom teacher, winter break is the moment when I finally got serious time to work on my Statement of Purpose. I had a few jumbled paragraphs, and I had thought about why I was applying, but between lesson planning, grading, four fall weddings, writing letters of recommendation, and being a person, I hadn’t made great progress.  

Thank goodness for a two-week winter break.

I had attended an HGSE session about the application process in November. At the session, people asked questions that made it clear they were on their eighteenth draft, or that their purpose was impressively specific — they wanted more inquiry-based STEM instruction…by female teachers…in Bangladesh. I sat there silently panicking that I had missed the boat and feeling like my “I want more kids to learn more” purpose wasn’t good enough. An admissions officer said the best Statements of Purpose made her cry, no big deal.

If you’ve already had your next door neighbor and your grandmother read your latest draft, this post isn’t for you. Go enjoy winter and eat cookies or ice skate or something. For those of you who are more like me: you can do this.

Here’s what I did:

  1. December 22 & 23: I sat down with my notebook and free-wrote for five notebook pages over two days. There are descriptions of the macro problems in education I see and my “how to” for addressing them, stories about specific students I’ve taught, an explanation of why I teach, questions about education that I don’t answers to yet, lessons I’ve learned about schools and kids and teachers,  what I’m good at, and a list of things I want to be able to say about my career when I retire. Then, I read what I wrote and noted the themes. Overall, I tried to answer three questions provided by HGSE:
    1. What is motivating you to go to grad school?
    2. What skills, beliefs, and experiences do you bring? How did you get to this point?
    3. Why Harvard? How do you know this is a right program?
  2. Dec 26-28: I tried really hard to write but I was home and enjoying my family and my high school friends and Netflix and powering through the last few college recommendations I had to write. It took getting into a new space (for me, a coffee shop) to get me started. It also took starting in the middle — I couldn’t come up with a beginning moment to dive deep into. I found that answering “why Harvard” and “why now” clarified my more general “why grad school.” This process was two long mornings; once I had something to work from, it became much easier to work in smaller time chunks in between being a good family member.
  3. Dec 29 & 30: Frustrated that I couldn’t figure out how to begin, I took a break from writing and went to Twitter and my smart teacher friends to read and think about education more broadly. Through my reading, I found a program I thought was really cool that wasn’t workable in my education context. Describing what I liked about the program, why it wouldn’t work, and how that mismatch pushed me to want to do grad school became my beginning, which further clarified my purpose. It wasn’t orthodox, but it worked for me (I guess!).
  4. Dec 30: I knew I had it when I could say my reason for going to grad school in one (long) sentence to the last friend I saw before leaving Minnesota.
  5. Jan 2: Once I had in all the things I wanted to say, my statement was pretty disjointed because I had written it without a clear plan and over multiple days. I sat down and followed the advice I give to high school juniors and reverse-outlined what I was saying. From there, I wrote why I was including each piece. That helped me clarify my thinking and condense my writing.

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    Making it make sense (#5)

  6. Jan 3: This is where I should have given it to other people to read. I did not. Don’t be like me. Make anybody else read it (see #8).
  7. Jan 4: I did, however, read it aloud and to myself repeatedly, trying to make it sound smooth and stay under the word count.
  8. Do not, under any circumstances, read it after you are done submitting it before hearing back. I found a mild typo in a sentence I had wordsmithed to death and spent two weeks haunted by a misplaced “for”. Even if I hadn’t found an actual error, rereading made me feel trite. A year out, it feels meaningful again, but it wasn’t helpful at the time.

I would have loved to have done this process over the span of months, but this weeklong intensive is what I had. Writing in the same places I worked on college applications in ten years ago (my bed, the kitchen table, and the coffeeshops of south Minneapolis) added an extra level of reflection. 

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

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Pressing the Button: Passing on Good Advice for Deciding When To Apply and What Program to Pick

To those of you who don’t have it all figured out:

I thought about applying to grad school for three years before I pressed “submit.” I had the GRE scores all ready to go, but I wanted to have a clear vision of exactly what I wanted from life and thus grad school before I applied. I also wanted to have a deep understanding of teaching and learning in a few real world contexts. Secretly, enough people had been skeptical of my plans to teach that I also half-expected to wake up one day done with teaching; grad school would be a pivot to something else. However, neither that perfect clarity nor that frustration with the classroom ever came, and those GRE scores expired and I had to take it again when the moment was right.

Once I did decide to come, my motivations were more questions than preparing for a role; I had to dive deep into the acronym alphabet soup that is the HGSE Master’s Program to figure out which one would best fit what I wanted from my experience here.

I was lucky to have wise counsel along the way, especially from HGSE alums. In particular, I had amazing guidance from my assistant principal, who did an earlier version of the Instructional Leadership strand of the Learning & Teaching (L&T) program in late 1990s. If you’re sitting there debating about whether to actually do it, or still don’t know if you’re more AIE or MBE or TIE, two helpful pieces of advice he told me helped me decide when and what:

#1: Think about the money, but also think about the time. When do you have a “spare year” to do this?

In my case, I’m in my late twenties, and I know my willingness and ability to up and leave goes down every year. I don’t have a ton of “spare years” left. I decided I had hit the sweet spot of professional experience, future direction, and personal ability, even though none of them were as “perfect” as I hoped they’d be when I pressed submit. Doing a full-time masters is both a professional and a personal decision.

#2: When in doubt, choose the more flexible option. 

Obviously, if you want a certification, want to work in higher ed, or look at a program where every requirement fills you with joy from head to toe, you have a clear program choice.

However, I wavered between Education Policy & Management (EPM) and the L&T program because both look at improving student learning through different levers. They’re both very customizable programs, but L&T felt even more open. HGSE is a candy store for education nerds, and I’m appreciating being able to adapt my plan as I discover things I didn’t even know I wanted to do. I could do that with EPM, too, and I think I’d have a very similar experience in practice. However, for me-on-the-fence-a-year-ago, the slightly-more freedom L&T offered offset some of the anxiety I had about having an only 85% clear vision of what I wanted from this experience. 

Bonus piece of advice, from me: if your GRE scores are about to expire, that is not a terrible reason to make this the year you apply. If you thought you hated that test the first time you took it, having to relearn special triangles six years later, again, is even more infuriating.

Good luck with the soul searching, the writing, and the scramble!

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

Mushroom Learnings: Other People’s Projects

 

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My mushroom!

HGSE is full of projects. I’m currently working on a case study designing a teacher-led plan to stem teacher attrition in a school, a memo detailing how you could bring digital teacher coaching to a rural state, a proposal for a deeper-learning after school program targeting upper elementary ELLs, and a research-based rewrite of civics education to account for social media. When I came, I expected to learn a lot through doing these practice-based projects, and I am. 

What I didn’t realize I’d be learning from is other’s projects. Often people need participants to make their projects work, and being the caring friends we are, we step in for activities or focus groups or experiments. It’s been a way to sample classes I’m not in. One led to a really probing, affirming discussion the day after the election about the different ways race enters the classroom teaching in homogeneous communities and I left with a lot of new ideas, new resources, and a better understanding of what I want professionally going forward. She got quotes and I developed a life plan — fair trade. 

The most unexpected one I’ve taken part in is spore prints. It’s for T-550, “Designing for Learning by Creating.” The class is a big presence here — 150+ people, donuts before every meeting, a strong social media game — and I’m not in it. Check out @TFiveFifty or #tfivefifty on Instagram or Twitter to get a sampling and be jealous alongside me. 

Everybody has to design something, and somebody in my cohort is trying to cultivate observation and wonder through mushrooms. I couldn’t attend the walk-in-the-woods day, but I did have a lovely lunch where we observed wild mushrooms using all of our senses. We looked more closely with microscopes you could attach to your phone and finished by leaving the caps face-down on paper overnight to make a spore print. It turns out mushrooms secrete something that colors paper. Who knew? Not me!

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My spore print in the upper left and illustrations of my mushroom underside from various angles, including the cut-off stem.

Taking the time to stop, look, and wonder at something I’ve literally never thought about was a gift I didn’t know I needed. I had so much on my plate that day and almost didn’t go, but the experience was calming in the moment, taught me something about how mushrooms work, and has me looking at everyday objects differently. My final product is taped on my wall in my bedroom as a reminder to pause, be curious, and take advantage of all the wonderfully weird, wonderfully unexpected chances that come my way this year.

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A closeup. I took 15ish pictures of my mushroom using a microscope that fits on your smartphone and lets you take pictures. They’re like $10!

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

Did I really just spend my weekend on a just-for-fun group project?: HIVE HackED

I chose HGSE in part for exposure to different ways of thinking about education than the small district, public high school perspective I’ve spent the last six years with. Being able to approach challenges in different ways is powerful, and I wanted a graduate program that had breadth as well as depth. HGSE’s range of cohorts and position within a larger university gives access to both, but in the day-to-day of pursuing your own priorities and completing assignments, I can sometimes forget about that.

That’s why the HIVE HackED event of last weekend was so cool (plus they fed me two lunches and a dinner, not to be discounted). Until this, the word “hackathon” conjured up a dark room and code for me. While technology is a part of it, it’s really more a compressed group project. Our challenge was to design something that would address some problem within education and be ready to pitch our solution and its business model to a panel of judges — in about six hours of work. They gave awards for most innovative, best business prospects, and largest impact. As a teacher, thinking about words like “market research” and “B2B” (a Business that sells TO a Business, which is different than business-to-consumer, or business-to-education) is completely foreign. 

This all took place at the Harvard iLab, which exists as a gathering place for innovators and entrepreneurs and is located on the Harvard Business School campus. It’s a magical place full of snacks and whiteboards and moveable furniture.

Here’s a look at the process:

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We started the by brainstorming every possible problem of education on a post-it. Then we grouped the post-its by category and had speed-dating time to find people who were concerned about the same issues as we were and form groups. I hadn’t met anybody I worked with before the weekend.

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Our group found a meeting room and wrote all over the walls about our problems, customer (or “use case”), and vision. Our idea looked to help high school students explore different career pathways outside of school. After laying out the big picture, we broke apart into a “business” group that tried to build a case for our product, and a “design” group that worked on developing what this looked like more closely. There was a lot of coffee, tea, and M&Ms in this process.

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There were also speakers the first night about design thinking and the second day about educational entrepreneurship. More tea.

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After about seven hours of work on Saturday (plus the panels), we came back together on Sunday to make our pitches. This isn’t my group, but these guys did win “Best Business Model.”

Our group didn’t win anything, but it was more about the process (though obviously I’d be saying something different if we had gotten a prize, made by the 3D printer at the iLab). Even though I didn’t get around to grocery shopping or laundry this weekend, I’m glad I did this because:

  • I learned a ton about the realities of entrepreneurship. I like certainty waaay too much for that to be a career path for me, but I have a better understanding of the people and process behind some of the tools I use and the pitches I’ll hear in the future (and now I’ll look less longingly at ping-pong playing start-ups).
  • Specifically, I went in thinking this would be about designing the best possible idea. While that mattered, I underestimated the importance of market research. After building our own presentation and hearing the judges ask questions, I even found myself asking “But what’s the business model? How is this going to make money?” during the last few presentations. I’ve literally never said those words before. New mindsets!
  • This was a great practice in working through something with a team, a skill I didn’t develop as a classroom teacher.
  • I thought big, creative thoughts about education problems. Schools are bureaucracies, and I’m used to being bound by reality and practicality. It was refreshing to be pushed outside the box.
  • I really got to know people I hadn’t had the chance to interact with, both from HGSE and from other schools.

I’m looking forward to relaxing and socializing (and reading) this weekend,  but this was a fantastic way to emerge from the quotidian by going deep into something new, and the experience really showcased some of the compelling reasons for me for choosing HGSE, including the snacks and post-its.

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.