Identity, vulnerability, and courage in classroom discussion

Christina VillarrealChristina “V” Villarreal, Lecturer on Education and Faculty Director of the Teacher Education Program, empowers, uplifts, and nurtures communities of students every year through her popular course Ethnic Studies and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). With pedagogical approaches grounded in ethnic studies, she works with students to co-create a classroom community where vulnerability, courage, and honesty are encouraged and valued. Through discussion facilitation, Villarreal creates space for students to bring their lived experiences to topics and shares her personal and political views together with them. She also utilizes small break-out groups for in-depth sharing and a physical circle for large-group discussion to facilitate more democratic engagement.

Team-based learning in a foundational course

Carrie Conaway, Senior LecturerJames Kim, Professor of EducationCarrie Conaway, Senior Lecturer, and James Kim, Professor of Education, teach the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s new foundational course, Evidence. The course trains students to understand and apply a variety of evidence to a real-life problem of practice. In order to learn about different types of evidence and how to apply it to solve real-world problems, students work in small teams using team-based learning (TBL). Conaway and Kim use survey data to construct teams that are diverse in terms of background, program, and comfort with different types of evidence. Each group activity is centered around a different component of a case developed from Kim’s research. The activities culminate in final recommendations for how to improve literacy outcomes for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. 

Learning from and giving back to the community through the classroom

Deborah Jewell-ShermanDeborah Jewell-Sherman, Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership, helps students develop leadership skills and a deeper understanding of the work involved in being a systems-level leader. In her two-term course, The Workplace Lab for System-Level Leaders (WPL), students actively collaborate with school districts across the nation, including the local Cambridge, Lincoln and Boston public schools. Jewell-Sherman intentionally scaffolds the course from personal introspection to undertaking significant problems of practice for sitting superintendents and CEO’s of educational entities. Before students are assigned to teams that maximize diversity in leadership and communication styles, they deeply reflect to identify their core values. “In terms of practice,” she notes, “it’s important to know who you are and for what you stand.” Groups collaborate on simulations and analyze case studies based on real-world problems while leveraging recent research. Later, students work directly with community partners and present recommendations in a “New Haven” run before hosting an on-campus final “Broadway” run to a full audience. In January, Jewell-Sherman typically takes students on a four-day trip to a school district or educational entity in another state to collaborate on new projects.

Incorporating social support and love into the classroom

Gretchen Brion-MeiselsGretchen Brion-Meisels, Lecturer on Education, focuses on ensuring that holistic support is apparent and felt deeply in her classroom. From listing mental health resources on all her syllabi to convening opening circles to build relationships at the start of class, Brion-Meisels incorporates ways of “checking in.” In her course Establishing Loving Spaces for Learning, students are asked to keep reflective journals and share them with a peer to engage in a conversation around their experiences. “Fundamentally, my biggest goal is to normalize the idea that everyone needs support. We’re all works-in-progress, learning and growing, but also with a lot to contribute to each other’s growth.”

Engaging real-world stakeholders to provide feedback to students

Jal Mehta, HGSEJal David Mehta, Associate Professor of Education, directs students to use design thinking and interact with real-world stakeholders when making proposals to improve educational systems in his course Deeper Learning for All: Designing a 21st-Century School System. At the end of the semester, students present final projects to panels of educational experts ranging from superintendents to K-12 teachers to Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty. 

Lending structure to collaborative work

Kathy Boudett, Into PracticeKathryn Parker Boudett, Lecturer on Education, carefully structures the way students learn to collaborate with one another in her course, Data Wise: Using Data to Improve Teaching and Learning. For example, she models collaborative learning through an open discussion of student feedback, or “pluses and deltas,” collected in the previous session with the whole class. She also makes sure students receive plenty of experience putting into practice the ideas from one of the core texts for the course, Meeting Wise: Making the Most of Collaborative Time for Educators. She does this by teaching them to use “rolling agendas” (which can be used by student groups working in any discipline) via Google Docs. The template makes it easy for students to remember to collaboratively set objectives, delegate tasks, and document the ongoing work of their teams. Boudett, or one of her teaching fellows, can then access the shared document to provide formative feedback in real time.

Teacher/learner dependency: A classroom culture of reciprocity

Kay MersethKatherine K.  Merseth, Senior Lecturer on Education, creates a culture of reciprocity in her classroom where students and instructors are expected to both teach and learn. “The two words are often interchanged because they are inextricably linked – learners need teachers, and teachers need learners.” She establishes this in part by requiring attendance and learning students’ names.

Communicating course culture: Beyond the syllabus

Karen BrennanKaren Brennan, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, designs her syllabus for T550: Designing for Learning by Creating to not only communicate the plan for the course, but to introduce students to the course culture.