Soak it All Up

The realization of how little time I have left at HGSE hit me hard at the beginning of second semester. I have learned so much here, and there is so much more I want to soak up before I graduate. Luckily, there is no shortage of fantastic speakers and events. Here is a glimpse at some of the education leaders I’ve had a chance to learn from over the past few weeks.

At the beginning of the month, I attended a lecture series with Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a distinguished professor at HGSE who is the first African-American woman in Harvard’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor. The series focused on three of Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s books, and examined the relationships parents have with their children and with their children’s teachers. Having played all three roles of teacher, parent and child myself, I was intensely interested in the subject matter. I was also both moved and inspired by Dr. Lawrence-Lightfoot’s storytelling abilities. The series was a great opportunity to learn from a professor I may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Last week, I got three chances to glean some wisdom from Kaya Henderson, the former Chancellor of DC Public Schools who made amazing gains in the district during her tenure. First, we had an Education Policy and Management cohort meeting with her that was set up as a “fireside chat.” The day after the cohort meeting, I attended an Askwith Forum featuring Dr. Henderson called Driving Change: Challenges Superintendents Face in Urban Schools. Askwith forums are public lectures put on by HGSE that feature a wide range of topics and often include panels or interviews with prominent leaders in the education field. This Askwith panel also included two other well-known successful district leaders, Tom Boasberg, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, and Tommy Chang, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools. Then I got a final chance to learn from Kaya Henderson when she attended my Politics and Education Change class.

Kaya Henderson is just the tip of the iceberg with speakers I have been exposed to through my Politics and Education change class, taught by Chris Gabrieli. Other class speakers over the past few weeks have included John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Josh Delaney (EPM ’14), education policy advisor for Senator Elizabeth Warren, Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, and Neerav Kingsland, former CEO for New Schools for New Orleans.

These are really just a small fraction of the events and lectures I could have attended this month – HGSE and the other graduate schools at Harvard have a never-ending stream of influential people lined up to speak to students. The hard part is choosing what to attend with a limited amount of hours in the day. In the few months I have left, hopefully I’ll be able to attend as many events and soak up as much wisdom as I can!

Sara DeWolf is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Education Policy and Management program. She has experience as both a civil litigation attorney and a public school teacher. When she’s not at HGSE, you can find her playing with her daughters and exploring Boston.

 

A Southerner Meets New England Winter

We recently had a big snowstorm—I know, surprise! So far, winter hasn’t been too bad this year, but it definitely showed up that day. I actually had a day off from classes, and a day off from my internship (yay for snow days!). Originally, I’m from Dallas, Texas, and while it snows gently on rare occasions, Texans and snowstorms just aren’t friends. To give you some context, see a weather comparison between Dallas and Boston below (yikes).

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Dallas, TX weather is on the top and Cambridge, MA weather is below.

Although coming from the south to winter in Boston is a big change, there are ways to be prepared and make the most out of a snow day!

First, winter supplies:

  1. Make sure you have a heavy coat—one with a real hood, down, insulation, and long. You may think you can get away with a cute light jacket that stops at your hips, but you shouldn’t try it.
  1. Boots! Not those cute fall booties, but actual boots with traction that are waterproof and higher than the ankle. When my foot was sinking into snow banks, I was grateful for my heavy-duty boots.
  1. Boot socks—invest in some thick boot socks for days when its really cold or you plan on being outside for a while (I have Cabin Socks from Cabela’s)
  1. Scarves, hats, gloves—warm ones, and I recommend gloves with touchscreen capability so that you can still change your music, use GPS, and answer phone calls without taking them off

And… how to make the most of a Cambridge/Boston snow day!

  • Get groceries before the storm—you don’t have to go crazy, but make sure you don’t have to get out to go get milk in whiteout conditions (speaking from experience—whoops)
  • A Burdick’s hot chocolate mix
  • Candles in festive scents like “Sweater Weather”
  • Netflix
  • Get ahead on assignments and reading
  • Get together with friends to play in the snow, or join the citywide snowball fight in Boston Commons (it really happened, and it was awesome)

All in all, I had fun in the snow, and snowy winters aren’t that bad if you come prepared.  I also took some awesome pictures while I was out playing in the snow!

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Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

Field Experience of Dreams

Is it too early to say that I love my Spring internship? Because it’s been all of one week since I’ve started my field experience position as an intern at WGBH and I am pretty much enamored.

As someone who aspires to create enjoyable educational media for children, the prospect of interning at WGBH was on my “List of Hopeful Grad School Experiences” before I even set foot on HGSE’s campus. WGBH is where so much of the educational programming I loved as a kid—like Arthur, ZOOM, and Between the Lions—was produced, so when I saw an opening for an intern in WGBH’s Digital Kids Production team, I immediately jumped at the chance.

In my first week, I’ve already had the opportunity to meet amazing people (including a few HGSE alums) who share my passion for media-based learning and I’ve been able to start some of the projects I’ll be working on over the length of my time at WGBH. I’m looking forward to a semester of learning about the overall digital production process and contributing to that process to make fun, high-quality media.

It’s been said that first impressions are lasting impressions and if my first week at WGBH is at all representative of the next 3.5 months, I think this internship will be a very meaningful part of my year at Harvard.

Monique Hall is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program. She is passionate about children’s media, ice cream, and educational equity.

 

Welcome Spring Semester!

OMG: One of my favorite slang terms. I found myself saying this a lot as I returned to HGSE for Spring semester.

OMG time to shop for classes. OMG time to choose classes. OMG time to start classes. OMG time to finalize and begin my internship. OMG I have assignments due already? OMG I missed my friends! OMG I have to find a job. OMG I’m planning a conference! OMG this year is going by too fast!

Needless to say, the first week back was stressful. Getting back into a routine is my main goal moving forward. One of my classmates and friends reminded me that although there is a lot going on in our lives, we have to stop and think about how fortunate we are to be in this place at this time. No one can take away this experience. With her encouragement and friendly reminder, I am confident that this Spring semester will be stress free (generally speaking–I can’t guarantee all the time) but most importantly it will be successful. Everything will work out in perfect timing, including securing my dream job. Until then, I am going to dive into my work and continue creating memories of a lifetime. 

Rashaida Melvin is a Master’s of Education candidate in the School Leadership Program. She has taught for three years and is excited about moving from the classroom into leadership. Rashaida is looking forward to serving both teachers and students in the future.

Course Shopping

I started this semester completely indecisive. I couldn’t decide what courses to take or what career to pursue. As I talk with other HGSE students, it’s clear these are common problems in January. Luckily, HGSE provides plenty of resources to make these decisions easier. I still haven’t made any final career decisions (look out for a future post on that), but I was able to put a class schedule together that’s perfect for me thanks to course shopping.

Choosing a class schedule is so difficult because of the wealth of interesting course options. My program, Education Policy and Management, has relatively few requirements, and I had met those requirements in the Fall and January terms. That meant for Spring term, I had the option of taking almost any classes at any of the graduate schools at Harvard (or even beyond Harvard to schools like MIT). After browsing the course catalogue at HGSE and the other graduate schools, I had a good 25 classes I wanted to take. The abundance of choice can be overwhelming when you only have time to take 4 or 5.

shoppingThankfully, course shopping is held the week before classes start. At HGSE, course shopping is a two-day event where you have the opportunity to attend 45-minute sessions on any class that interests you. The session is led by the professor who teaches the course and gives you a chance to hear about the course structure, course goals, and an overview of the assignments. Shopping sessions also give you a good feel for a professor’s style. Each course has two sessions during the shopping period which makes it easy to fit every course you’ve been eyeing into your shopping schedule.

My experience with shopping has been that it’s incredibly helpful. That was especially true this semester when I lacked a solid idea of what I wanted. Like clothes shopping, there are some outfits that seem perfect in the store window, but once you try them on you realize the fit isn’t right. On the other hand, you may try something on as an afterthought that turns out to be perfect for you. Both of those phenomena happened to me this semester with my classes. Shopping also gave me chance to put together a diverse schedule of classes with different types of assignments and subject matter. My schedule now includes a politics class full of interesting speakers, a class where I will work on a design project for innovating teacher preparation, a statistics class, and a Harvard Kennedy School class examining inequality. I started shopping feeling overwhelmed and indecisive, but finished feeling excited about the semester ahead.

Another added benefit of shopping is that you get exposure to a wide array of classes and professors. If you find yourself here next year, go to as many shopping sessions as you can, even for classes you know you won’t take. Each session gives you a glimpse of what’s going on in different areas of the field and the chance to learn more about the professors here. You’ll also get a syllabus at each session, and I actually save those in case I want to refer to any readings in the future.

Course shopping may not have solved all my problems with making big decisions, but it certainly helped me make the most of my time on Appian Way!

Sara DeWolf is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Education Policy and Management program. She has experience as both a civil litigation attorney and a public school teacher. When she’s not at HGSE, you can find her playing with her daughters and exploring Boston.

J-Term: “Putting a new memory in the minds of children…”

Harvard Graduate School of Education, in collaboration with the other Harvard graduate schools, offers January term (J-term) courses. After I submitted my last final in mid-December, I turned off my laptop for a much needed rest–both for me, and my Mac–and I contemplated whether or not I wanted to extend my break as long as possible. I debated whether I should come back to campus a week earlier to participate in J-term. Thankfully, I did. I enrolled in Professor Joseph Kalt‘s PED 501M: Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I.

I sat in the same room for four consecutive six and a half-hour days with thirty minute breaks for lunch, and I wasn’t bored for a minute. We unpacked the history and contemporary truths of the myriad sovereign Native nations. Stories after stories: this course unearthed the marginalization, resilience, and preservation of Indian country, which was never shared at any checkpoint of my k-12 or college education. PED 501M made me stop and think: how is it that none of my history courses ever talked about the sovereignty of the indigenous with reverence? This reminded me of the theory I learned in Professor Karen Mapp‘s course, Leadership in Social Change Organization, ‘asset’ versus ‘deficit’ models of thinking. I was socialized to see the deficit of Natives in my educational upbringing, never their cultural capital, which is not only in absolute abundance but in incredible nuance distinguished by tribes. Meanwhile, Professor Kalt shared a quote from an elder Native about the self-determination towards “putting a new memory in the minds of children.”

I ended up jotting down a series of quotes that will be prompts on my future journals:

  • “Even wolves have a constitution” (partially in reference to the projection of Native ‘savagery’) .
  • “I believe that friend, family, and foe should be treated equally.”
  • “Self-esteem is the ability to stop the endless loop of checking if your reasoning is true–not just reasoning, but your reasoning about your reasoning.”
  • “Education is your greatest weapon. With education, you are the white man’s equal, without education you are his victim and so shall remain all of your lives. Study, learn, help one another always. Remember there is only poverty and misery in idleness and dreams – but in work there is self-respect and independence.” -Chief Plenty Coups
  • “A sense of entitlement is one of the most dangerous things of all.”
  • “We don’t ‘eat the seed corn'” – Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett
  • “Growing up, I had about 70 first cousins–that’s a lot. Now, I have about less than 30 still alive.”

J-term revived my spirits and prepared my mind to dive back into next semester with hype. If in 11 months, you’re debating whether you should register for J-term as you’re binging Game of Thrones for the third time because you’re thoroughly convinced you learn more about EVERY character–I say commit. Plan to return in early January with your heavy coat, and be prepared to install a major intellectual update.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Taking Advantage of J-Term

winter-studying

One of the many amazing things about being a student at HGSE is the flexibility you have in creating your schedule. January term (or “J-term” as its called more frequently) is a great example. J-term is a three-week period in January that offers both for-credit and noncredit opportunities. It is entirely optional, and many students opt to take the month off to recharge. Others choose to take advantage of the courses, workshops and lectures offered. I decided to use J-term to take a 2-credit course, and I am so glad I came back to Cambridge to spend this chilly January in the warm halls of HGSE!

My J-term course is Elements of Effective Family-School Partnerships with Dr. Karen Mapp. As has been the case with all my HGSE courses, I find the course content and professor incredibly interesting and inspiring. What makes J-term unique is that it has allowed me to take a deep dive into one subject area without the buzz of distractions that accompany the regular semester. Being able to focus my time and energy on one class has made it a meaningful learning experience despite the short duration of the course (it only meets six times). And, as always, it is an excellent opportunity to meet and hear perspectives from more of my amazing classmates.

If you find yourself at HGSE next year, be sure to consider returning to campus for J-term. I think I speak for most Ed.M. candidates when I say that we share a fear of missing out on the wealth of opportunities Harvard has to offer. J-term is a great way to calm that fear and add something into your schedule that may not fit into the Spring or Fall. It is just one more way to make the most out of your year at HGSE!

Sara DeWolf is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Education Policy and Management program. She has experience as both a civil litigation attorney and a public school teacher. When she’s not at HGSE, you can find her playing with her daughters and exploring Boston.

Q&A with Gabi and Arpi

 

Many of the programs at HGSE overlap in course requirements and student interests. We (Gabi and Arpi) are in two related masters programs – Human Development and Psychology and Mind, Brain, and Education, respectively, and have many shared and unique experiences from our first semester that we would love to share with you through this combined Q&A between bloggers.

Q#1: What is your favorite place to go study?

Gabi (HDP): I’m not sure if it’s my favorite place, more of a love-hate relationship, but you can always find me at the Cronkhite reading room, hahaha! It is our dorm room study lounge, very cozy, almost always silent and occasionally we have guests who bring treats and great stories. One place I would like to explore more is the Music Department Library – it has a homey feel, with nice curtains, long wooden desks and chairs that have harps carved in them. I really liked the day I spent over there.

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Arpi (MBE): Apart from the Cronkhite reading room, I love the first floor of Gutman Library. The first floor is designated a collaborative space, so you’ll often run into classmates and cohort members working on their next big project and getting excited about their work. The cafe is also a few steps away from the study area and is quite the hidden gem of graduate school cafes at Harvard. I especially loved that during finals, the Dean’s office and Office of Student Life also provided everyone with free coffee and tea in the library! They certainly know how to support us in a stressful academic time.

Q#2: What is the coolest event you have attended here so far?

Gabi (HDP): There have been so many cool events around here! I enjoyed the Student Night offered by the Harvard Art Museum. In addition to the tours, which were lovely, they had snacks inspired by the art collections, printed replicas of art pieces which you could rent to show in your own room and temporary tattoos of art pieces. I would crack myself up every time I looked at my ankle and saw Van Gogh’s face.

Arpi (MBE): My favorite event this semester was the Harvard-Yale game, hands down! HGSE organized a fun tailgate with breakfast in the morning, after which my cohort sat together in the graduate student section, all decked out in Harvard gear. I haven’t quite found a better word to sum up the experience other than as a “phenomenon.” I have never seen so much school pride in one stadium (from both teams), and although Harvard lost, it was such a fun few hours away from our pre-finals workload!

 

Q#3: What did you do this semester that you never thought you would do?

 

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Gabi’s electrical circuit.

Gabi (HDP): I never thought I would ever build an electrical circuit! In one of our classes, Designing for Learning by Creating, we had one amazing guest from the MIT Media Lab who guided us through the process of making a simple circuit with an LED and I was surprised at how easy and accessible it was! Watching my circuit light up filled me with joy and pride.

 

Arpi (MBE): I never thought I would willingly and enjoyably stay up until the early hours of the morning to finish a class project. The professors instill you with such motivation and excitement to complete your work, which often has potential for real-world application (or is actually being applied!)

Q#4: How did you choose your Ed.M. program at HGSE?

Gabi (HDP): I knew that I wanted to study creativity, so I found out where scholars who studied creativity were, and a lot of them worked in Psychology programs inside Education schools. In addition to that, I was very interested in the idea of creativity as a process that develops over time, while we evolve as human beings. So the Human Development and Psychology program was the only one that made sense to me.

Arpi (MBE): I’m broadly interested in cognition and cognitive development, and wanted to gain a holistic understanding of how the brain develops and how we learn. Because my background is in the natural sciences, I wanted to not only continue studying this from a neuroscience end, but also gain perspective from the psychology and education fields. The MBE program was perfect for me to explore all of these fields and grapple with them equally for my research interest.

Q#5: What do you wish people knew about the HGSE cohort?

Gabi (HDP): I wish they knew how diverse the cohort is; there is no recipe for what an HGSE student is like. It is comforting for me to see that everyone is insecure about one thing or another. At the same time, everyone has so much knowledge to share. I’m probably learning as much from my peers as I am from my professors!

Arpi (MBE): I hope everyone knows that the HGSE experience is unique for each person as well. There is no singular experience or path to take here, or next step to take after HGSE. It makes for such a vibrant community and shows that everyone has an important voice to contribute to the field of education.

 

Arpi Youssoufian is a masters candidate in the Mind, Brain, and Education program. A biologist by training, she is fascinated by the classic nature-nurture debate in the context of learning development, and wishes she could take every class in the HGSE course book. She hopes to pursue either a neuroscience doctoral program or medical school to bridge research and practice in the future.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

Making Plans / Breaking Plans

Upon being accepted to HGSE, I set some lofty goals for making the absolute most of my year here. Being the natural-born planner that I am, I immediately put together a list of classes I wanted to take, clubs I wanted to join, and Boston-area organizations in which I wanted to intern. I had my whole master’s degree mapped out and needed only to execute the plan by staying on the path that I had laid out for myself. What could possibly go wrong?

(Hint: Everything.)

It didn’t take too long for all of my plans to be reduced to mere suggestions. All of the things that were a definite YES before I got to campus quickly became a definitely maybe once I arrived. And everything that had been a NO WAY turned into a hmmm, why not? I recognized very early on that not leaving room in my schedule for exploration, experimentation, and general serendipity would’ve been a huge mistake. Looking back on my Fall semester, I can honestly say that the courses and experiences that I hadn’t planned for ended up being among the most meaningful.

So, with my second and final semester at Harvard on the horizon, I will plan how I want Spring 2017 to look (because, again, that’s who I am), but, this time, with the expectation that those plans can and should be broken.

Monique Hall is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program. She is passionate about children’s media, ice cream, and educational equity.

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.