“Change the world through education”

May 31, 2015

Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education vows to cultivate leaders, innovators

James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

By Chung Hyun-chae

James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), said the goal of his school is to change the world through education.

“If we are to make strides in reducing inequality and increasing opportunity in this country and around the world, we must improve education,” Ryan said in a recent email interview with The Korea Times.

“Indeed, it is an issue fundamental to our very identity as a country that prides itself, and has for centuries, on the often unfulfilled promise of social mobility,” he added.

He pointed out that the United States has faced significant challenges in education, including a widening performance gap even in high-performing states such as Massachusetts.

“Too many schools are isolated by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and it remains a sad reality that a child’s zip code often dictates the educational opportunities available to them,” Ryan said.

Three core strategies

In order to accomplish the goal, Ryan said the school should be strategic.

“We want to build upon our success and leverage what we do here in order to maximize our impact,” he said, presenting the school’s three core strategies for achieving the goal.

“The first strategy is to cultivate leaders and innovators, because a leader has the power to influence the lives of millions of students, and entrepreneurs and innovators can offer bold and creative challenges to a status quo that is unacceptable.”

Students chat on the terrace of the Gutman Library on the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) campus in Massachusetts, in the U.S. (Courtesy of HGSE)

Students chat on the terrace of the Gutman Library on the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) campus in Massachusetts, in the U.S. (Courtesy of HGSE)

Unlike other countries with high performing school systems in which a teacher is regarded as one of the most respected professions, in the United States, many teachers complain about being underappreciated. For this reason, not many talented undergraduates aspire to be educators.

According to the dean, however, Harvard undergraduate students have a great interest in teaching and education in general.

“Roughly one in five Harvard seniors _ more than 275 students _ applied for Teach For America last year,” Ryan said.

Teach for America is a nonprofit organization whose ultimate goal is to eliminate educational inequity. To achieve the goal, the organization recruits recent college graduates and professors who can devote themselves for at least two years to teaching children from low-income communities.

In a bid to encourage top talent from Harvard and beyond to enter teaching, HGSE launched the Harvard Teacher Fellows program (HTF) last year.

The program, which Ryan described as highly prestigious and innovative, provides selective preparation programs for Harvard seniors to become middle and high school math, science, history and English teachers.

In their senior year from January through August, the students get field-based training and are provided continuous support through the program.

The HTF program is in line with the school’s second strategy _ “to collaborate on questions that matter.”

“We believe that many of the most pressing problems in education cannot be adequately addressed by lone individuals or by scholars from a single discipline,”

Ryan said. “Instead, our faculty members work with partners in the field to identify the questions that, if answered, promise the most gain in expanding opportunity and improving outcomes.”

The last strategy is to convert research into action.

“That’s why, last September, we launched Usable Knowledge, a website and newsletter that translates HGSE research into easy-to-digest summaries, illustrations of best practices, Q&A’s and video discussions,” Ryan said.

The websites easily explains the results of HGSE research and spreads the knowledge to improve educational practices in classrooms.

Future plan

As an organization responsible for developing pedagogies, HGSE has been trying to create a new system.

“We want to make significant investments in digital learning, with a focus on preparing new and aspiring education leaders, including principals and superintendents, both here and abroad,” Ryan said.

“We are also developing a central resource, called the Teaching and Learning Lab, to support innovative and effective approaches to teaching and learning at our school.”

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