Having worn most hats in education at one point or another in the past seven years, Tim O'Brien decided to go back to school to determine how he might contribute to the field in the future. O'Brien, Ed.M.'08, chose the Ed School for its diverse course selection, which provided him not only the opportunity to deeply examine his many experiences in education, but also prepare for the rest of his career.
"As a former Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, New York City teacher, licensed sea captain, and head educator of an ocean classroom prior to coming to HGSE, Timothy O'Brien is a 'stealthy leader' who truly embodies the values, energy, and breadth of the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Program through his focus on student work and professional development of teachers," says Lecturer Sally Schwager, Learning and Teaching program director. "He has also demonstrated steadfast leadership at HGSE through his revival of the historic social entrepreneur student organization called BRIDGE."
Upon being honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for the L&T Program, O'Brien answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.
Did you have a favorite class? [Professor] Robert Kegan's seminar, Personal Learning and Professional Development, created a place where students could examine the ways they make meaning of the obstacles and challenges we face in our work. His class reminded me that regardless of how competent or expert someone is in their field, there are underlying assumptions about ourselves and each other that can prohibit success in our work lives or prevent valuable partnerships from forming. Bob is also en excellent teacher; his humor and instruction will inform my own practice for the rest of my career.
What are your plans for life after HGSE? I am going to Washington, DC on a fellowship with Education Pioneers to help teachers tackle specific gaps in students' performances in an effort to create model lesson plans. DC Public Schools is actively attacking the achievement gap like no other, and I am excited to be a part of the effort. It will be a very exciting place to be.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? Be curious and never be afraid of asking the stupid questions. The person next to you is probably just as curious as you are and afraid to ask. Never underestimate the amount of learning that can be done over a drink with a colleague.
Is there any professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? [Professor] Eleanor Duckworth has been a powerful force in my learning. Her approach to teaching and learning is very respectful and patient. Everyone should be required to take Eleanor's class. The notion of the teacher as a researcher who strives to learn as much as possible about what their students know and how they make meaning is a very demanding notion to actually implement. Eleanor's curiosity and patience is inspiring. There are tremendous applications in her work for both teachers and leaders. T-440 is the cornerstone of my developing theories on education and I am certain that "Critical Exploration" will inform how I engage with the world and others for the rest of my life.
What advice do you have for next year's L&T students? Make as many friends as possible. Organize study groups to discuss readings and courses. Cross-register in at least one class and meet classmates at other Harvard schools. Start an organization on campus. Take advantage of half-price meals at Grendel's Den. The tiny hot chocolate at Burdick's is not enough and the large one will make you sick.