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Lifting Student Voices: Lisa Nam, PSP'19

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Prevention Science and Practice reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Lisa Nam

Photo by Jill Anderson

The Intellectual Contribution Award is an honor that recognizes 13 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. The award will be presented at Convocation on May 29.

When Lisa Nam enrolled in HGSE’s Prevention Science and Practice (PSP) Program, she was given a great gift: The principal of the Neighborhood School in Boston, where she teaches fifth and sixth grade, allowed her to continue in the classroom part time. This was especially valuable since Nam “loops” with her students, meaning that she continues with the same kids as they rise into sixth grade from fifth.

“Being with those hilarious, brilliant young people every day is my dream job,” she says, noting that she will return to the Neighborhood School full time once she graduates.

“I was so lucky to be with young people most days out of the week this year, thanks to part-time teaching and a practicum placement through PSP,” Nam continues. “Whatever I discussed on campus was attempted right away in my classroom the next day — whatever I saw and heard from my middle schoolers was applied to my theorizing and reflecting as well. In a society where teaching is held in lower regard than other professions, even within the education field, I benefitted from my peers at HGSE who believed in the rigor and intellectual pursuit that is inherent to classroom teaching and counseling.”

In selecting her to receive the Intellectual Contribution Award for PSP, Nam’s fellow students honored that commitment. “Lisa’s warm demeanor has created a sense of community for many students in PSP,” says Senior Lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer, faculty director of PSP. “According to students, Lisa’s critical consciousness, educational perspective, and background experiences have enhanced their learning in classes and beyond throughout the year. Students appreciated her ‘ability to ground text in educational realities’ and her ‘willingness to lead alternative learning spaces for learning and growth.’”

Here, Nam reflects on her year at HGSE and looks at her future in education:
What was your goal upon entering the Ed School? As an elementary and middle school teacher, I was angry about the lack of counseling training that teachers are required (or allowed) to have. I was fortunate to be trained as a critical pedagogue, and I have always been supported in the belief that my ultimate goal as a classroom teacher is to step aside and make room for students to uncover, analyze, transform, and liberate the world. But how can young people do this if they aren’t given the tools to free their internal worlds first? Learning and unlearning about systemic oppression is an intensely personal process for students of all identities. Teachers who are truly in touch with their students’ needs are constantly being asked to provide emotional support, but we aren’t being trained on doing so in effective, critical, and trauma-informed ways.

As a teacher in a counseling-focused program, one of my hopes was to gain more concrete therapeutic skills that could be applied to every conversation, lesson plan, and restorative process in my classroom. We learned in Group Counseling that successful groups take on lives of their own, and student participants learn to lead each other in healing. My goal was that through my graduate training, my students themselves would gain new skills as leaders and community members who can name hard feelings and process power-based conflicts.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Dr. Aaliyah El-Amin, Dr. Gretchen Brion-Meisels, and Dr. Deepa Vasudevan always centered our past and future students in their classes and relationships with us. They modeled lifting up student voice by making sure that both content and pedagogy reflected this value. Whether that was by literally putting young people at the front our classes or by co-creating with children and adolescents in their research, they walked the walk about youth engagement.

I once read that every learning environment should borrow from the interactive, choice-based practices of kindergarten, and these professors’ classes proved that highly rigorous graduate education can (and must!) also be playful, artistic, well-choreographed, and kinesthetic. By watching their pedagogy and work, I learned that it was possible to balance research and academia with the real world of schools and communities.

What will you change in education and why? I’d love to remember and hold up the folks who are already doing the work of critically educating and engaging with young people. Focusing on everything there is to change can lead to hopelessness — honoring those who came before us and showed us how to care for and be with children feels more hopeful. There are teachers, counselors, activists, parents, guardians, support staff, and leaders who are actively fighting every day to restore love and humanity in our students’ lives. There are indigenous lessons and values, ancient practices and beliefs that we can return to — sometimes being a decolonized educator means imagining a new world by remembering where we come from.

I don’t think I alone will ever change education — but I do think connecting with radical community can heal the isolation, competition, and dehumanization that white supremacy, adultism, and other forms of oppression have caused in our schools.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Spiritual community. I’m grateful for my friends in Boston who help me take care of my heart and spirit. Thank you to everyone who listened, celebrated, mourned, and sat mindfully with me this year. You helped me remember my humanity in moments when it was easy to let a degree or a title define me! I hope I was able to do the same for others as well.

Read about the other recipients of the Intellectual Contribution Award and learn more about HGSE Commencement 2019.