Author Archives: sarahstuntz

Reflections: “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity”

As my time at HGSE is now nearly at a close, I find myself reflecting back often on my experiences this year, including my participation in our community conversation, “Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity.”  As an English teacher, I love reflecting through words, breaking down language and examining the meanings behind the meanings to see what broader ideas emerge.  This is the structure I’ve chosen to use to examine this year’s theme, and I hope you enjoy reflecting along with me, particularly if you’re considering coming to HGSE next year or at another point in the future.


Diversity (n.)

1.the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

2. the state of people who are different races or have different cultures in a group or organization

I am pleased to be able to say that I have had the chance to interact with a diversity of perspectives from my peers, the faculty and staff, and the speakers who have come to Harvard.  I have gotten to attend Askwith forums on topics such as Educational Strategies to Address Racism and Social Injustice to learn from education leaders about the lessons learned from Ferguson as well as their years engaging in an education system that still too often perpetuates racism and injustice.  I have taken classes such as Implementing Inclusive Education which have introduced me to ableism and pushed my thinking about how I make my future classrooms accessible and welcoming to all students.  I have been pushed in discussions in my Contemporary Immigration Policy and Education Practice to learn the history behind the diversity in our society and to think about how I can teach my students that history, as some of my classmates are doing by starting the first Ethnic Studies course at HGSE.  I have colleagues from a diversity of geographic locations, types of schools, languages, cultures, and interests with whom I am excited to continue relationships in the years ahead.


Class photo after a presentation in Contemporary Immigration Policy and Educational Practice

At the same time, I know that much work still needs to be done to increase the diversity of perspectives at HGSE and our Harvard community more broadly.  I am thankful to have met other students and faculty who are working to increase the diversity of teachers, students, and perspectives at this school, and I hope their efforts continue to grow in the years to come.  As Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Schools in Jennings, Missouri, said at our Askwith forum, “We are interconnected, so if you don’t do well, then I don’t do well, and vice versa.”

Promise (n.)

1. a statement indicating that you will definitely do something or that something will definitely happen in the future

2. an indication of future success or improvement 

3. a reason to expect that something will happen in the future

I love that the word “promise” carries both the notion of a commitment but also of a guarantee.  I have heard it mentioned many times this year that the majority of our students will soon be students of color, or students who have in the past been labeled “minorities.”  This tells me that no matter where I teach in the future, I know that, as a white woman, I am guaranteed to teach students from a different racial or ethnic background from my own.  It also means that in this country, and, given globalization, in this world, my students are guaranteed to interact with a diversity of people and perspectives.

This guarantee is not a foreboding reality, but an “indication of future success or improvement.”  The promise of diversity is that, because of my friends at HGSE, I will be a wiser, kinder, more thoughtful teacher who better understands how to seek out the assets in my students.  I will bring information I have learned about ethnic studies from colleagues such as Cesar Cruz and how to better engage students and colleagues in conversations about race from colleagues like Tracey Benson and Veronica Benavides into my future classes.  I will be more attuned to looking for other narratives after attending so many amazing workshops at the Alumni of Color Conference.  I will be more apt to invite parents and friends and community members and student voices into my instruction because I am ever more convinced that none of us have all the answers, but the sum of all of our knowledge has more than we can each hope to learn in a lifetime.  Just as I have learned from a diversity of perspectives at HGSE, my students can, too, and that possibility — no, that promise — is thrilling to me.

Fulfilling (v.)

1. doing what is required (by a promise, contract, etc.)

2. succeeding in doing or providing (something)

3. making something (such as a dream) true or real

Fulfilling is such an enormous word; the completeness and fullness of it is reflected in the definitive wording above:  “doing,” “succeeding,” and “making.”  On the one hand, such wording can seem arrogant — can we really presume that we could “fulfill” something as grand and important as “the promise of diversity”?  Oftentimes, it feels like we have made only a drop in an ocean of a bucket.

But on the other hand, “fulfilling” expresses an incredible ambition.  HGSE is a place of ambition, but I have been thankful to observe that it is not a place of ambition for individual gain.  No, instead, the ambition I see most often is for justice, and for equity, and for the flourishing of all kids and all communities.  Given that purpose, how can we not strive to do “what is required” by the promise our kids hold inside of them?  How can we not make it our goal to succeed at recognizing the promise held within not only our students but also our colleagues and families and communities?


The wonderful ladies who invited me into their study group this year, who embody ambition for justice and equity


Fulfilling the promise of diversity is a gargantuan task of the most important kind.  I’m grateful that HGSE has given me the passion to pursue this promise, and given me the amazing colleagues to walk alongside as I do.

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.



Writing Workshop

“I am an exclamation point in this room, filled with excitement about the work you are about to do!”

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And so began Writing Workshop with Professor Nancy Sommers.  This short, 6-week long module (for those of you who don’t yet speak “HGSE,” that’s a half-semester course) was unexpectedly one of the most transformative of my experiences so far at the Ed School.  I took the class with the goal of helping my students become better writers; I never expected that I, too, would develop my writing and my passion for the art of essays.  Nancy — whom I started the class knowing only as Professor Sommers, eminent scholar in the world of writing instruction and an award-winning essayist herself — has become a much-cherished mentor and imbued every moment of class with her sense of the honor, the privilege, the excitement of being a writer, and I couldn’t help but catch her bug.

No one has ever motivated me to write quite like Nancy did, and I leave this short course with a long list of techniques and exercises to share with my students.  But, most importantly, I leave with the profound delight that comes from owning the mantle of “writer”; it’s a delight I hope will be as contagious in my future classrooms as it was in Nancy’s.

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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.

Tips for Surviving Winter

Don’t let anyone try to deceive you:  in the winter, Cambridge is cold.

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And I have another piece of bad news:  it’s winter here from about November through March, possibly early April.

(See now why I saved this blog post for after you’d submitted your application?!)

However, having spent the first part of my life in the South and now 10+ years in the Cambridge area, I’m here to attest to the fact that it is possible to survive, and even thrive, here in the winter.

“But HOW?!!” you’re now screaming at your computer screen.  I’m so glad you asked.  Inspired by the recent slushy grossness outside my window, here are my favorite winter survival tips to reassure you (and myself) that Cambridge really is a great place to be, even this time of year:  Continue reading

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Thinking of not applying? I have someone for you to meet…

It’s winding down the admissions deadline, and some of you are starting to reconsider whether you should bother applying.

Before you make that decision, there’s someone I want you to meet.  Actually, two someones.
I met Ahoba on our very first day in Learning & Teaching.  We took a bus ride from Gutman Library to Kitty Boles‘s house, along with about 20 of our cohort members (the people on the bus loved us), where Kitty hosted us for a  delicious “Welcome to HGSE” dinner.  Everyone was nervous; it felt like we were back in freshman year of college, trying to make a good impression, wondering who would be our friends.  As we waited for the bus, and I awkwardly tried to decide how to insert myself into a conversation, I noticed a woman playing with a school-aged boy.  That woman was Ahoba, and that boy was her son, Jahcir.  I introduced myself, and we spoke for the next 30 minutes about Atlanta vs. Boston, parent engagement in schools, how we both got into teaching, and whether Jahcir would become a Red Sox fan over the course of this year.  (Answer?  No.)  I remember coming home and telling my roommates, “I really hope I get to be her friend.”
Just a few short months, countless library dates, one class together, several meals, lots of advice, and a ton of great hugs, I am so thankful to call Ahoba, “friend.”  I had an inkling of what an amazing woman she was in that first conversation, but I have since learned about her amazing leadership as a teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, and the fact that she got accepted into a PhD program elsewhere before even applying to HGSE.  I have been the beneficiary of her insightful comments in class and her wise counsel on everything from how to engage struggling students to how to keep my socks from getting soaked in the rain.  I have watched her be an incredible mom to Jahcir, and I now know that if I ever have kids of my own, one of my first calls is going to be to Ahoba.  The woman’s figured out a few things we could all learn from!  Ahoba is respected and loved not only by me, but by so many here at HGSE.  She is a fixture in Gutman Library, where you can find her holding down the fort as Graduate Assistant for the Office of Student Affairs — she always has candy — or sitting in her chair every morning by the fireplace.  She leads Diversity Dialogues; organizes seminars; conducts research for professors; and somehow also manages to get home in time for her son’s bus.  (Although, personally, I love the days when she has evening class and brings him back to the library; the kid has more friends than I do!)  She is the one so many seek out for advice, a ride, a laugh, or encouragement.  I can’t imagine this school without her.
Here’s the crazy thing:  Ahoba almost didn’t finish her application!  
She was so close to closing the door on coming here, and she had some good reasons, too.  But I’m so thankful she didn’t.  She agreed to let me interview her, so she can tell you her story herself.  Here goes (please excuse my excessive nodding):

(And then, just for fun, the out-takes):

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Happy Thanksgiving — Time to Write Some Personal Statements!


Don’t be a turkey — start those drafts early!

I always get nostalgic around holidays.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I was remembering my Thanksgiving last year.  A time of food, friends, family…

…oh, and a little personal statement writing.  Yeah, there was that, too.

If you’re anything like me, you may be counting on holiday breaks from work/school to get started on your grad school applications.  And for those of you whose home is far away from New England, you may not have yet had the chance to visit the HGSE campus and hear tips and advice from current students.  So, I polled some of my Learning & Teaching cohort members about what they learned in writing their personal statements, and I wanted to pass it on to you as you are starting yours!  As a word of caution, none of us read applications, so we can only speak from the experience of being applicants this time last year.  I think I speak for each of us, though, in that we are thankful for all the people who helped us through the application process, and we are eager to pass that on to you!


The Learning and Teaching cohort of 2015. We’re a pretty good looking bunch!

So, without further ado, I give you some words from my wise friends in L&T:

  • I put together an entire team of trusted colleagues and friends to edit and provide feedback for my statement.  It was not a game.  Assemble a team.  One of these amazing folks–(Kyra, ahem!)–unfailingly pushed me to be concise in the statement, and though I verbally professed resistance to her counsel, I secretly appreciated how it forced me to determine what information was essential to the narrative that I wanted to portray.  Be concise. —Warren
  • I know this is obvious but I think being really sincere in your statement of purpose would be my #1 advice. I think its best to have others read your draft and check whether your sincerity and passion in the field has been conveyed. Also, make sure every sentence is deliberately/intentionally placed.  (You don’t want to waste any precious space!) —Jiwon
  • Make sure your statement has multiple readers and editors (for grammar and content); an iterative statement is usually a stronger statement. —Debbie
  • Make your statement a good balance of your authentic personality and professionalism.  It’s important to note not only your experience and accomplishments, but how you arrived at the question(s) you are coming to grad school to pursue. —Alexis
  • I think a good personal statement reveals a snapshot of who you are and what you care for beyond the “ostensible” achievements. —Karen
  • The best advice I received when I was writing my statement of purpose involved weaving a personal narrative. Obviously you want to talk about your skills/background/goals/all the other stuff you’re supposed to include. However, it’s much more compelling when you embed those components into a cohesive story about you. What did your journey to the education sector look like and where do you hope to go? (Don’t write “I want to help people.” That’s a given.)  —Rosie
  • One really interesting tip I got from a professor who is a Harvard alum said “Harvard knows what it can do for you, so what can you do for Harvard?” and she told me to use experiences to highlight your answer to that question.  —Amanda
  • I think the most important tip for me was to write “from my heart”. The person reading the statement should feel that you are passionate about the topic you’re writing, about your future/current work, or what you want to change. —Iryna

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.

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A Hug from a Hero

A series of images from our tea with Dr. Jewell-Sherman -- I'm next to her in the red sweater!

A series of images from our tea with Dr. Jewell-Sherman — I’m next to her in the red sweater!

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.

“Harvard is your fifth class”

It’s a funny thing to “reflect” on my experience at HGSE just a few short weeks into it.  Although midterms have now come and gone, I still feel like a newbie — figuring out my classes and my professors; finding friends and places to study; and trying to determine the optimal amount of caffeine to ingest in a day without ruining my health or budget.

At the same time, I now have enough distance to look back on those first few days when I was really a newbie, and to recall some of my early anxieties.  There were the deep existential questions — do I really belong here? — and then, the more practical — do I take four classes, or five?

Thankfully, I discovered that everyone asks the former question, and while I was wrestling with the latter one, I ran into my fabulous Program Administrator, Rilda Kissel.  Rilda patiently listened to me agonize over the “four vs. five” dilemma, and then shared with me a tidbit she had learned from a colleague of hers.

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