In coming to the Ed School, Salt River Pima, Laguna Pueblo, and Thai educator Morgan Barraza had one thing in mind: becoming a more effective teacher for her students — present and future. Teaching English for the three years on the Laguna Pueblo reservation and in Aztec, New Mexico, she became distinctly aware of the unique problems faced by rural schools and enrolled in the Learning and Teaching (L&T) Program’s Instructional Leadership Strand seeking ways she could be of greater help to her students.
“Given the diversity of needs and backgrounds (Native, white, Latinx) in my classroom,” she says. “I was interested in exploring liberatory pedagogy as well as trauma sensitive practices.”
Now a budding researcher, Barraza will return to teaching with the goal of passing these new skills on to her students and working together to develop strategies and solutions that will help improve the school, the community, and beyond.
“I want my students to see themselves as researchers and guide my research in what culturally responsive teaching means for rural/reservation Native students versus urban Native students,” Barraza says. “I want my students to drive, challenge, and add to the current research that defines Native and liberatory education.”
A leader and active member in many student groups while at the Ed School, including FIERCE (Future Indigenous Educators Resisting Colonial Education) and the HGSE Rural Educators Alliance, Barraza, as noted by a peer who nominated her for the Intellectual Contribution Award, “never shied away from difficult conversations with peers and professors and she modeled what it means to stand up for what one believes in.”
“Morgan epitomizes what it means to be a passionate, focused, feminist activist. During her time at HGSE she has raised the consciousness of all of us, peers and professors alike,” says Senior Lecturer Katherine Boles, faculty director of L&T. “[She] is an extraordinary, inspirational leader who has raised critical issues and the level of conversation at HGSE around important social issues. She leaves a powerful legacy that will affect all HGSE students and faculty now and in the future.
Barraza will receive the Intellectual Contribution Award for L&T at Convocation on May 23. Here, Barraza reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education.
Have your goals changed at all since coming to the Ed School?
Yes and no, I still want to continue teaching, however, I have always been torn between teaching and pursuing research. Thanks to Dr. [Aaliyah] El-Amin’s Emancipatory Inquiry class, I am inspired that I can do both. I now see myself as a teacher researcher and seek to aspire my students to see themselves as researchers as well.
What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
Tribalism takes many shapes and forms, in our efforts toward justice we have to expand our definition of community and avoid excluding and isolating ourselves from building solidarity.
I have noticed and experienced that shame has a tendency to humiliate and shut down conversations and learning. Rather than “calling out” my students, I will think more critically and compassionately about how to invite students into difficult conversations.
Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?
Houman Hourani’s Theory and Education. This class and Houman are both problematic and inspiring. Although at times Houman’s “experimenting” went too far, it required my peers and myself to find the courage within ourselves to challenge his pedagogy. Systemic change will not occur by replicating the status-quo, this change requires suffering, risks, mistakes, experimenting, courage, and love; I witnessed and experienced this all in his class.
What advice do you have for next year’s students going through your program?
1) Practice silence, notice silencing and silence, and disturb the silence
- Practice silence – Take moments of silence to truly reflect and listen.
- Notice silencing and silence – Notice the topics and voices that are censored to uphold the “popular and politically correct” viewpoints, notice your own silence in moments when you want to/need to speak up.
- Disturb the silence – Disturb the silence that may exist in the classroom and yourself when it comes to addressing uncomfortable but necessary topics such as race, class, privilege and oppression.
2) Learning and teaching through organizing
If your classes and coursework are not addressing issues that matter to you and your communities, organize and mobilize your classmates, professors, and administration for support. Tap into the incredible knowledge and experiences that your classmates have to offer.
3) Theory AND Practice
Ensure that the texts you are reading are just one of the many ways to understand social justice. Interact with young people and community members outside of the Harvard campus, learn from them how they understand social justice.