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Finding a Voice: Natasha Patterson, SLP'12

Natasha PattersonNatasha Patterson’s classmates in the School Leadership Program (SLP) paint an impressive picture of her in their nominations for the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award. They describe her as a “powerful and visionary leader,” as someone who asks “difficult and challenging questions,” and as someone whose “words strike a fine balance of bold courage and sincere compassion.” The admiration was mutual.

“I have met so many remarkable individuals who have already done and will continue to do amazing things,” says Patterson. “Their intellect, passion, generosity, and drive have inspired and challenged me in ways I never expected.”

Patterson’s talents were also recognized by the SLP faculty who consider her integral in helping push the thinking of her classmates on difficult topics of race, social class, and sexuality as they apply to learning.

“Natasha Patterson’s contributions to the School Leadership Program have been quiet, steadily growing and increasingly impactful,” says Lecturer Lee Teitel, director of SLP.  “As she has gained confidence and found her own voice, she has been a strong presence in the SLP community…. A key part of being a student in the SLP has been to contribute to the learning of classmates — a concept we call ‘stewardship.’ Natasha Patterson exemplifies that spirit and we — classmates and teaching staff that nominated her — are proud to give her this award.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for SLP, Patterson answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? I wanted to gain the confidence, capacity, and connections to challenge the status quo and transform schools into learning organizations that truly change the odds for students in urban districts.

What are your post-HGSE plans? I am going to Chicago as a part of a principal leadership program which is a collaboration between the Ed School, Teach For America, and the Chicago Public Schools. The first year I will be working as a resident principal, and the following year I plan to lead a school. Chicago Public Schools is making a lot of changes right now and I am excited to be a part of the effort. As a school leader, I hope to bring my advocacy, analytical, and problem-solving skills to assist the district in developing innovative solutions to Chicago’s most pressing education problems.

Is there any professor who significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? It’s really difficult to choose just one because they all profoundly shaped my experience here in different ways. However, Richard Elmore really challenged me to think outside the box. He painted a picture of what’s truly possible for schools when you “tear down the walls” both literally and figuratively. Lee Teitel pushed me to move beyond my comfort zone and take agency. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with him during office hours. I asked, “Do you think I’m ready to lead a school?” And he said, “I don’t have any concerns about you being a great instructional leader. That’s the technical part and you’ve got that. However, I do wonder whether or not you’ll be able to handle the more difficult adaptive challenges which is the real work.” I realized the gravity of the moment and my year here at HGSE. And I knew his concerns were legitimate.

My presence here at Harvard wasn’t just about me. I represented my hometown friends, my students, and my family — most of whom could never imagine being here. I came to HGSE to acquire tools and skills to transform schools so that one day my nephew Elijah and all students will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. If I left here without these tools, then on some level I would have failed all those I represented. When I left his office, my focus turned to seizing my moment here. For the next few months, I worked on becoming the leader that I envisioned I could be. Although I still have a lot to learn, thanks to the encouragement and support from my cohort members, professors, and TFs I’m on the path to realizing my vision of equity for all students.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? Meet and make as many friends as possible. Their support will be invaluable during the challenging moments. Attend Askwith lectures, they will be some of your best one and two hour “classes” at HGSE. Organize study groups. Get actively involved in at least one organization and if there isn’t one that fits your interests, start your own. Cross-register for at least one class at another school. Visit professors during their office hours.  And finally, maximize your year on Appian Way. Don’t worry about sleeping…you can do that next year!

For the full list of recipients, visit