Skip to main content

A Tribute to Steve Seidel

A champion of arts education and longtime anchor of the HGSE community, Seidel retired at the end of the academic year.
Steve Seidel and Yo-yo Ma
Steve Seidel with Yo-Yo Ma at the Arts and Passion-Driven Learning Institute, 2015
Photo: Jason Jong

A vital member of the HGSE community since his time as a student, Senior Lecturer Steve Seidel, Ed.M.'89, Ed.D.'95, is a valued teacher, mentor, and collaborator at Harvard and beyond. As a leader in the Arts and Education Program, the Arts and Learning Concentration, and at Project Zero, Seidel has been a true champion of the arts in education — and of artists as educators, focusing on creating support systems through alumni networks, symposiums, and professional development programs for educators promoting the arts in their research and practice.

On the occasion of his retirement from HGSE, we present the following comments, delivered by colleagues in his honor at a year-end faculty meeting. 

A Tribute to Steve Seidel

By Professor Howard Gardner

A few months ago, Steve called me — he was thinking of retirement and wanted my advice — I tried to be responsive, but my first inward thought was: Retiring?? 

How can one of my most outstanding students already be retiring? I just retired myself! Has time passed so quickly?

It seemed like some kind of category mistake, or crossed wire. But I guess it’s true.

Steve, I won’t give you advice today about retirement — that’s for another occasion. Instead I would like to reflect on our time together. My theme: “YOU kept the faith — in Seven Ways. 

  1. You first came to GSE thirty over 30 years ago. Unlike many of us,  you had been a REAL teacher in REAL school in the arts, language, theater. And though you left one school in Boston, you have never left your calling. 
  2. For your doctorate, you had a sense of what was important and studied it in depth. Shakespeare in the schools, not only for affluent students in elite independent schools or wealthy suburban public schools, but for kids in ordinary schools. 
  3. You joined Project Zero (PZ) — an organization originally founded on and deeply involved in the arts. Some of us have wavered away from the arts as a topic of study (and I include myself among the waverers). You never have! We live in acronym world — at Harvard we have GSE, HGSE, GSAS, KSG, HKS, HC, PZ,PPE, AIE, the list goes on etc. Similarly at PZ, a list of the projects in which you played a lead role are referred to in shorthand or as acronyms. For those of us on the fourth floor of Longfellow Hall, these constitute a trip down memory lane: ARTS PROPEL LCI, QUALITY, EVIDENCE, MLV, ARTS SURVIVE, etc., etc.,  The list goes on and on, and I suspect that it will continue well into the future.
  4. Leadership. After founder Nelson Goodman, and his scholarly offspring, Dave Perkins and me, launched Project Zero and ran it for a few decades, we turned to you — the younger generation — for leadership. In a challenging time, you kept the ship afloat, helped pull us out of deep waters and into smooth sailing. And you continually confirmed and strengthened our ties to the arts.
  5. Mentoring. Your relation to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of enrollees in our summer gatherings and our off-site meetings has been exemplary. You have set a very high standard. 
  6. And of course, in addition to your leadership of Project Zero, for two decades you provided careful, caring curating of the concentration, Arts in Education. Following founder Jessica Davis, you brought your distinctive stamp to “AIE,” mentoring hundreds of students, broadening the concentration’s reach and its remit, all the while speaking to today’s needs, and anticipating tomorrow’s as well. As a colleague noted, throughout much of the world, you are Mr. Arts Education!
  7. Last but of equal important, your stewardship of “Rounds.” For over 20 years, reliably, you brought educators of different stripes together — looking carefully at the range of student work and discussing it thoughtfully: You built on the approaches and insights of effective educators and modelled them for all who want to learn.

From teaching in Boston schools to becoming a world leader in Arts Ed, you have kept the faith. I have no doubt that you will continue to do so, and that the hundreds, perhaps thousands whom you have affected will continue to be transformed because of your leadership and mentorship. 

Final thought, Steve: As for advice regarding retirement, that’s for a drink in the Square.

The Art of Finding Home in a Fast-Paced Program

By Lecturer Aysha Upchurch, Ed.M.'15, faculty co-chair (with Steve Seidel) of the Arts and Learning Concentration

When you first arrive to Appian Way as a student, you feel all the feels — excitement, pride, awe, disbelief, empowered, ready, and overwhelmed. You’re at Harvard — HARVARD!! All that that is believed to mean, all that that means to you personally, and even what all that may mean to and for your family swims around in your body, head, and heart. Affirmations of “I made it to Harvard” start dancing with questions of “Wait, do I really belong here at Harvard?” as imposter syndrome starts to challenge the clear vision you articulated in your admission’s statement. A three-building campus seems gargantuan with professors of world renown ready to profess their scholarship and dare us to become masters of all this research. A small one-way street with no detours allowed as we all embark on a mission to learn to change the world.

It is an incredibly intoxicating environment, and without an anchor, you may find yourself accepting an invitation to perform your experience at Harvard, instead of truly being here and connecting — connecting with faculty, with your peers, and with the surrounding community so that you can find a way to make the nine months less dizzying and more of the investment in self and practice that you desired and deserve.

When I arrived to HGSE, it had been 13 years since completing my first graduate degree, I had just lost a parent, and I had convinced myself I was some charity case bumped up from a waitlist. With over a decade of experience in the education field and having traveled the globe as an artist, somehow this little pond of a campus within the larger lake of Harvard University was paralyzingly daunting. That first day of orientation under that big white tent on Radcliffe Yard was too much to take in. I found myself running over to a tree in the Sunken Garden to call a loved one to talk me off the ledge. I already felt like I was drowning — like what is this arts educator with a focus on hip-hop doing here? Who will relate to or understand me and how I’m trying to impact education?

And just then, a life raft was thrown to me — the first breakout session with the Arts in Education Program and our leader, Steve Seidel. From that first session to the weekly cohort class, I was able to experience care and joy-centered teaching that fosters a sense of community, and really more like family, among adults coming from literal and metaphorical different places. Wait! This is Harvard? And a professor-scholar known around the world for passion-driven and rigorous arts research can be human like this in the classroom? I mean, we are playing with clay, unpacking dense literature on arts education and policy, and connecting through a puppet show he’s doing! Oh wait, not only do I belong here but I like it here! 

Steve — I am blessed beyond words to have experienced you as advisee, student, teaching fellow, colleague, and friend. Like so many of my AIE family (alum), I know you were the anchor that allowed us to navigate our time at HGSE with integrity, joy, laughter, and yes, tears (we have all cried during office hours with you). Thank you for showing us that professors are (and should be) relatable humans in the room who are not so fixed to the syllabus that they miss the impact the real (scary) world is having on the lives of people in the room; who can disrupt power paradigms and open up class time for students to act as the instructor for parts of class where they have the knowledge and experience; and who can model how to literally pause and invite time to momentarily stand still as you gather your words thoughtfully instead of yielding to impulsive reaction. Steve, you are a master class on the art of being a responsive teacher and it has been an honor to learn from you.
On behalf of so many arts educators who traversed the revolving door of HGSE and were able to find home and be steadied by your leadership and humanity — thank you. For being a good sport when the class of 2015 dressed up like you (#blackvestday) — thank you. For nurturing the lenses we have and contributions we intend to make on the education field, not from the margins but from the core — thank you.

You have served this community so well, and now we send you off with the love and care you have given us. I won’t dare try to put on your shoes, no one could ever fill them. So my final thank you is gratitude for you guiding and training me to offer and cast that anchor in my own way to those arts educators who will come seeking to find home on Appian Way.


Pre-HGSE: Taught high-school theater and language arts in the Boston area for 17 years

1987: Joined Project Zero (PZ). He subsequently served as a project manager, a principal investigator, a founding member of the management team, a member of the steering committee, and director. His projects at PZ included The Evidence Project, Making Learning Visible, Talking with Artists Who Teach, APPLE, Arts PROPEL, Arts SURVIVE, and Rounds.

1997: Published Portfolio Practices: Thinking through the Assessment of Children's Work (with J. Walters, E. Kirby, N. Olff, K. Powell, and S. Veenema)

1998: Joined the HGSE faculty 

2000: Succeeded Howard Gardner and David Perkins as director of Project Zero

2005: Named the Patricia Bauman and John Landrum Bryant Lecturer on Arts in Education

2008: Received the Crystal Quill Award from the Shakespeare Festival/LA for his impact using professional theater to enchant, enrich, and build community

2012: Launched The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning professional development program with Silk Road 

2014: Promoted to senior lecturer

2021: Became the inaugural co-chair of the Arts and Learning Concentration

HGSE coverage


The latest research, perspectives, and highlights from the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles