At the Harvard Graduate School of Education Convocation Exercises on May 23, Senior Lecturer Elizabeth City, faculty director of the Doctor of Education Leadership Program, was presented with the Morningstar Family Teaching Award. The award recognizes a member of the HGSE faculty for their excellence in teaching and advising throughout the year, and the recipient is chosen based on nominations of HGSE students.
As one student wrote, “Time and time again, Liz has come up as the professor who has made an indelible mark on people’s lives.” City’s abilities to push students’ thinking through asking hard questions and giving honest feedback was noted. “Liz not only asks questions that are important, she asks questions that won’t go away – questions that linger and lead to more questions,” wrote another student.
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.
"Liz City exemplifies what it means to be an extraordinary teacher, mentor, and leader," said Dean James Ryan. "When students comment on her ability to ‘[make] us see pieces of ourselves that we miss,’ they reveal their appreciation of her great insights as well as her deep care for them. I am delighted that her above-and-beyond support of HGSE students is being recognized by the Morningstar Award."
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 those faculty members that helped create supportive environments for our students. The award includes a $5,000 prize and recognition on a plaque hung on campus. City was nominated along with 52 other faculty members, with 246 students making nominations.
“No matter what my titles are, my professional identity first and foremost is TEACHER. I experience so much joy and feel so whole, so alive when ‘teaching,’ which I see as basically every interaction I have with students. Every moment with students is an opportunity to help them grow, and in the growing, I too, am changed,” said City.
“The award is special because it comes from students’ nominations; it means that they know who I am trying to be for them, which is a respectful, challenging, caring facilitator of their learning,” she continued. “I always tell educators that if you want to know something about schools, teaching, or learning, ask the students. They’ll tell you. Students at all levels are astute arbiters of learning—and that means my own students' words affirm for me that I have helped them make some learning magic happen. This shared experience of powerful learning is important not just for them, but for all the learning they will make happen for others over their careers. And besides all that, it’s tremendously fun.”
From her early passion for literacy as a middle school Humanities teacher to her current work in developing leaders, common themes in City's work are collaboration, evidence-based discussion, asking the right questions, thinking and acting strategically, and learning through doing. Earlier this year, in collaboration with MIT’s Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), and thanks to a $30 million grant from Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founders of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, City spearheaded the launch of Reach Every Reader, a five-year initiative that will combine both institutions’ expertise in cognitive science, reading, learning technologies, and evaluation to help all children thrive and succeed as readers — across schools, homes, and communities.
“I love to see moments when students are wrestling with something that really challenges them — challenges their assumptions, challenges their notions of what’s possible, challenges them to hold multiple truths at one time — in short, rattles their prior ways of making sense of the world,” said City. “I love to see evidence of learning and impact in the world, and to see students challenge each other—some of my favorite moments are listening to them ask each other questions, not let each other off the hook, and also seeking to understand one another, even when that requires effort.”
Current faculty members who have received the Morningstar Award include Associate Professors Karen Brennan and 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.
“I am inspired by my students every day because they believe deeply in the potential in every learner; they know that equity and excellence are not an accident and require skillful and courageous leadership; and they know that we all need to keep on learning in order to make the possible real,” said City. They hold themselves, one another, and me to high standards, with a generous heaping of the grace and love needed to learn fully.”