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The Joy of Teaching: Sedia Dennis, L&T'13

Sedia Dennis BayardWhen Sedia Dennis entered the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Program last fall, she already had a master’s in teaching ESL. Still, she came to the Ed School hoping to “fill in any gaps” and to delve deeper into the subjects that her program represents: learning and teaching. Now, she leaves even more determined to create positive learning environments for her students.

“I will continue infusing my classrooms and other learning spaces with joy and empathy while simultaneously continuing to be as conscious as possible about making pedagogical choices that are rooted in inclusion, morality, and the awareness of who the learners are,” she says.

Dennis moved to Cambridge from Washington State, bringing her biggest cheerleader along for the ride. Her young son has proven the perfect companion throughout her year at HGSE, providing tremendous amounts of support and inspiration, not only to her, but to her entire cohort.

“Sedia Dennis has consistently demonstrated her warm connection to the L&T cohort, and she has joyfully included her young son in many L&T events and activities. (In fact, he has become an unofficial member of the L&T cohort!),” says Senior Lecturer Katherine Boles, director of L&T. “The L&T cohort has been enriched and inspired by the life and career choices Sedia has made, and they have been inspired further by her enthusiasm and positive ‘can-do’ activist attitude that celebrates education as a vehicle for the improvement of the lives those who are most in need.”

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

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? My 10-year-old son (whose name happens to mean veritas) is my biggest inspiration. He is the kindest, most thoughtful, most loving person I know. I strive to be my best self for me, yes, but I also cultivate myself for my son. He’s given me high fives all year. “Mama,” he’d ask, “Did you finish your neuroscience paper?” If he received a “yes,” I’d get a high five, a hug, and the biggest smile ever. If he received a “not yet,” I’d get concerned eyes and a gentle pep talk. We motivate each other and want to shine for each other — and although I am definitely his guide and take that role seriously, I would love to be more like him when I grow up.

Any special study spots? Now that I am graduating, I can reveal my secret study spots. They include two spots (the quiet room and the garden room) in Harvard’s best library (Gutman, of course), and Lamont library, next to the Harry Potter books.

What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program? I would advise next year’s students to get to know the other Harvard schools, drink as many hot chocolates at Burdick’s as possible, really explore the books in the Gutman stacks (what a collection!), and pace yourself during the first semester.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … Being the co-winner of the 2013 Harvard Kennedy School talent show was probably my biggest surprise this year.  I was so nervous during the audition that I played the wrong guitar chords. Thankfully, we sang well enough to be invited to participate. After the actual show was over, we had packed up our things and were putting on our jackets as they announced the winners, and we were shocked when they told us to take them off again because we had won!

What will you change in education and why? If I could change one thing in education, it would be to ensure that all educators are mindful of the importance of not only teaching to the intellect but also to the spirit. When we teachers attend to the spiritual aspect of learning and teaching — that is, when we are mindful of and in tune with our own and learners’ emotions in connection to the subject matter and the learning process — we can better find ways to help learners enter into the content and engage with it. When learners are at ease, they can more easily turn their attention to learning rather than simply persevering and surviving.

Read profiles of the other master's students being honored with the 2013 Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.