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Teaching for Understanding: Educating for the Unknown

9/19/16 to 12/18/16

This is an online program.

Team Tuition: $525 per person

This program only accepts team enrollment of four to six people.

Teams will be considered on a rolling basis and notified within three business days.

Teams will benefit from having student/classroom access and, while encouraged, it is not a requirement. Teams should also be able to meet at least once a session, virtually or face-to-face, to engage in group-based activities.

Program Overview

As educators, we seek to prepare our students for the future — to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will help them become productive, reflective, responsible members of their communities as they move into adulthood. But none of us can predict the kind of future that awaits them. So how do we shape learning experiences that prepare our students for an uncertain future?

It is not enough for educators to simply to relay information or skills to our students; we must help them understand how to apply their knowledge and skills in situations that they have never encountered before. In this course, participants will learn to use the Teaching for Understanding framework as a tool for shaping curriculum and classroom experiences that help students develop this kind of robust and transferable understanding.

Program Goals

This course will help you deepen your understanding of a number of fundamental questions:

  • What is understanding, and why should it be an important goal of education today?
  • If understanding is the goal, what should we be teaching? That is, what things are most important for students to understand?
  • How can we design learning experiences that support students in learning for understanding?
  • How can we create a reflective online professional community that supports our own understanding of how to teach and learn for understanding?
Who Should Attend
  • This program only accepts team enrollment. A team should have 4 to 6 people. An organization may enroll multiple teams.
  • Teams should have access to classrooms or other learning environments. Teams should also be able to meet locally, in person, at least once a session to engage in group-based activities. 
  • Classroom teachers of all grade levels and disciplines.
  • Administrators who have responsibility for supporting curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
  • Educators working in out-of-school settings that focus on learning, such as museums, afterschool programs, youth organizations, and outdoor education programs.
The Power of Teams

Teams communicate as a single “voice” during the program. Team members complete readings and some in-classroom assignments individually and gather as a team to reflect on and synthesize their common experiences in online group posts. Teams also work on a single, team-based project that is submitted at the end of the course.

Teamwork is helpful for a number of reasons:

  • Research and experience show that team participation enhances engagement in and practical application of program content in schools.
  • The team structure enables team members to support each other using a common educational language and framework, while enacting shared strategies in a local context during and after the program.
  • Current best practices in school improvement rely heavily on teacher collaboration and learning for district, school, practitioner, and student development.

Faculty Chair

Daniel Wilson is the director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, HGSE. He is a principal investigator at Project Zero, a lecturer at HGSE, faculty for the Doctorate for Educational Leadership Program at HGSE, and the educational chair at Harvard’s Learning Environments for Tomorrow Institute, a collaboration with HGSE and Harvard Graduate School of Design. His teaching and writing explore the inherent socio-psychological tensions — dilemmas of knowing, trusting, leading, and belonging — in adult collaborative learning across a variety of contexts. Specifically he focuses on how groups navigate these tensions through language, routines, roles, and artifacts.


Tina Blythe, adjunct lecturer on Education at HGSE, has been a researcher with Project Zero since 1988. She has focused on professional development, teacher inquiry, and collaborative assessment of student work, as well as curriculum and instruction that emphasizes learning for understanding in both classrooms and after-school programs. She has taught middle school, high school, and university courses, and she currently teaches in the faculty development program at the Boston Architectural Center. Blythe is the principal author of The Teaching for Understanding Guide and co-author (with David Allen and Barbara S. Powell) of Looking Together at Student Work and (with David Allen) The Facilitator’s Book of Questions: Tools for Looking Together at Student and Teacher Work. She has collaborated on a number of other books and articles and consults to schools and educational organizations.

How Does the Course Work?

The course begins with a one-week Orientation, during which you will explore the online platform and learn about fellow members of the learning community.

Six two-week content sessions follow. The average time commitment is about three to four hours per week. In each session you will:

  • Learn new ideas
  • Review and reflect on key ideas from the previous session
  • Conduct classroom tryouts
  • Work on a project or curriculum unit
  • Interact with a coach and course peers for feedback and reflection

Please invite a few colleagues to take the course as a team (four to six per team). When working in a team, members will collaborate on most of the assignments, including the development of a shared project. Weekly team meetings (face-to-face or virtual) should be planned. We require team participation to: 1) promote a deeper and richer learning experience in your local context during the course; while 2) helping sustain the use of course ideas and professional collaboration outside of our program.

While the courses are structured and coach-facilitated, all the interactions in the course happen in an asynchronous manner. You/your team can decide when to work on the course materials as long as you submit the assignment on or before the due dates.

This online course is focused on professional development and not linked to a degree program at HGSE. Academic credit is not available for this online course. You will be eligible for a digital certificate upon successful completion of the program.

Course Schedule

Please review the course schedule and plan how you and your team will be able to participate fully in the course and complete all the coursework (several assignments in each session) in a timely manner taking into account your local holidays and vacations.

Session 1 (Orientation week), September 19 - September 25
Session 2, September 26 - October 9
Session 3, October 10 - October 23
Session 4, October 24 - November 6
Session 5, November 7 - November 20
Session 6, November 21 - December 4
Session 7, December 5 - December 18 (End of Course)


More than 95 percent of the participants in our online programs enroll with a few colleagues as a team. Team participation promotes deeper and richer learning experiences during the program, and it helps sustain the use of program ideas after the program ends.

When working in a team, members will collaborate on most of the assignments, including the development of a shared project that can be applied in their setting.

A standard team has four to six members. In many of our programs, teams are typically comprised of colleagues from similar subject areas and grade levels.

Team participation is required for this course. For multi-team enrollment, contact us at

Fees and Policies

Tuition includes all instructional materials. Participants receive a certificate of completion.

Payment or a purchase order must be received within thirty days of program acceptance and prior to the program start. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses. While a purchase order confirms a reservation, an outstanding balance is maintained until payment is rendered. If funds are unable to be processed within these guidelines, a documented payment plan is to be sent via mail, e-mail, or fax, and received two weeks prior to the program start date.

Please click here for more information on our on-campus and online refund and withdrawal policies. If you have any additional questions or concerns about your ability to participate, please contact our admissions team at or 1-800-545-1849.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education reserves the right to change faculty or cancel programs at its discretion. In the unlikely event of program changes, the school is not responsible for non-refundable travel arrangements or other planning expenses incurred.

Non-Discrimination Policy

The Harvard Graduate School of Education affirms the right of all individuals to equal treatment in education without regard to age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, handicap, national origin, or any other factors that are extraneous to effective performance. The Harvard Graduate School of Education will accommodate anyone with disabilities.

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