At the Harvard Graduate School of Education Convocation exercises on May 24, Assistant Professor Karen Brennan was presented with the Morningstar Family Teaching Award. Chosen based on the nominations of HGSE students, the award recognizes a member of the faculty for their excellence in teaching and advising throughout the year.
In the words of one student, “[Brennan] is the teacher I have been looking for my whole life!” Her dedication to her students, personal investment, and time spent learning all their names and stories, thought-provoking classes, and more were acknowledged by students.
Another student wrote in their nomination, “This past semester, Karen opened one of our classes to students' families, friends and/or colleagues. I chose to bring my mother, who has never been to college and has refused to even entertain the possibility for more than 30 years. My mother reluctantly agreed to come to her first ever post-secondary class. She felt so genuinely welcome and at home in Karen's class that she has since enrolled in university classes at the extension school and has decided to return to school to earn a bachelor's degree at the age of 55. If this doesn't indicate excellence in teaching, I don't know what does.”
The Morningstar Family Teaching Award recipient was chosen using a three-stage process. In the spring, HGSE master’s and doctoral students submitted nominations for faculty members via an online poll. After reviewing all submissions, an advisory committee provided additional feedback on the nominees. Based on student testimonials and input from the student advisory committee, representatives from the dean’s office then selected the honoree.
The award includes a $5,000 prize and recognition on a plaque hung on campus. Brennan was nominated along with 46 other faculty members, with 184 students making nominations.
“I am humbled to receive the Morningstar award. My HGSE colleagues set an incredibly high standard for teaching, and are constant sources of inspiration and aspiration for me,” said Brennan. “Teaching at HGSE is such collective work and I am grateful for this opportunity to say thank you to all the people — course participants, faculty colleagues, and administration, operations, and staff — who make teaching here so joyful. In particular, I am grateful for the tremendous contributions of the 36 teaching fellows* who have served as my co-facilitators over the past five years. Nothing that I have done would have been possible without their seemingly inexhaustible creativity, enthusiasm, and support.”
Established in 2000 with a gift from Faith Morningstar, Ed.M.’87, Ed.D.’96, and her husband, the Honorable Richard Morningstar, an alumnus of Harvard College, the Morningstar Family Teaching Award is intended to recognize great teachers, but also, said Dean James Ryan at Convocation, “those faculty members that helped create supportive environments for our students. Karen Brennan’s warmth, enthusiasm, and humor has been a light for HGSE students this past year. She has exemplified what it means to be an innovative, supportive, and steadfast teacher – both in and out of the classroom – and I’m delighted to acknowledge her great work here today.”
Brennan’s research focuses on designing learning environments and how to maximize learner agency through design, personalization, and connection and reflection with materials and environments. Brennan heads up ScratchEd, a model of professional learning for educators to develop their computer science skills, utilize coding and web development to create educational materials for students, and to network together in a 15,000-member online community.
Prior to joining the faculty at HGSE Brennan received her Ph.D. in Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, and her M.A. in curriculum studies, and bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematics at the University of British Columbia.
Current faculty members who have received the Morningstar Award include Associate Professor Jal Mehta, Lecturers Terry Tivnan and Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Senior Lecturers Kay Merseth and Joe Blatt, and Professors Deborah Jewell-Sherman, Tina Grotzer, Bridget Terry Long, Catherine Snow, Paul Harris, and Monica Higgins.
* Karen Brennan would like to thank the HGSE students and alumni who have served as her teaching fellows: Willa Peragine, Christan Balch, Michelle Chung, Chris Buttimer, Tim Johnson, Mae Klinger, Tracy Elizabeth, Adrian Melia, Galen McQuillen, Kristen Nichols, Lauren Elmore, Rebecca Givens Rolland, Sarah Blum-Smith, Alexa Kutler, Alice Liou, Andrea Flores, Caroline Lowe, Katherine Hashimoto, Patrick McGuire, Paulina Haduong, Saskia Leggett, Tony Landek, Alisha Panjwani, Jenna Gabriel, Juliet Biagi, Liz Goodenough, Megan Cotnam-Kappel, Mette Bohnstedt, Laura Stankiewicz, Champika Fernando, Deidre Witan, Karen Dunham, Kelly Whitney, Lisa Hiton, Derek Ham, and Tiffanie Ting.