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Celebrating Our Centennial and Looking to the Future

Dean Bridget Terry Long's opening remarks at HGSE's Centennial Kickoff.
Bridget Terry Long

Photo: Jill Anderson

The prepared remarks of Dean Bridget Terry Long, delivered at a ceremony on January 30, 2020, marking the official kickoff of HGSE's Centennial year.

OUR CENTENNIAL YEAR IN 20/20

In 1920, HGSE welcomed its first class of 64 students, and 100 years later, it's quite fortuitous that our centennial falls on the year 2020. 20/20 is the threshold for measuring perfect eye sight. And today, as I look out at this auditorium, I can clearly see a rich community of individuals dedicated to improving the world through education. 

Visit HGSE’s Centennial site for 100 Stories of Impact, regional alumni celebrations, Future of Education convenings, and other ways to get involved in the celebration.

We are a community of more than 900 students and a vibrant alumni community that is nearly 30,000 strong. We are in classrooms, district offices, nonprofits, and other organizations around the world, making meaningful impact in the lives of students and communities.

Our 74 core faculty, 83% of whom identify as women or people of color, hail from a range of disciplines and use myriad approaches to inquiry. And we have nearly 400 staff from every walk of life, working together to support and empower the larger HGSE community and the field of education.

Together, we are an innovative, impact-focused professional school that recognizes the urgency of driving change in education. We seek to promote success for all learners by putting powerful ideas into practice. Here, 100 years after our founding, HGSE is the preeminent school of education in the world — we are proud, vibrant, and ambitious, with the shared mission of improving the world through education.

REFLECTING ON THE PAST

Of course, you also hear the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” We sometimes refer to it when considering and evaluating the past. And when I look back at HGSE’s past, it almost seems as though this day was inevitable, but it wasn't. In fact, the story of HGSE is a story of pivotal decisions, of meeting challenges from within and without, and it is a story of tremendous growth and reinvention. We have changed as our country and our world has changed, just as the conception of what education should be and for whom has evolved.

This point was made crystal clear to me when I interviewed five former HGSE deans as a part of our Centennial oral history project. You just saw photos from those conversations in the video. These leaders, colleagues, and friends, are part of the fabric that has made us strong today, and they shared with me so much about what this community has fought for, weathered, and accomplished together.

  • At a time when universities questioned whether education schools were necessary, HGSE advocated successfully for education to be recognized as a profession in its own right, to be a specialized body of knowledge distinct from other areas of intellectual inquiry.
  • It was people here who to pushed to be inside schools, to be connected to learners, educators, and communities — not just researchers sitting in the ivory tower.
  • At a time when people questioned whether leaders mattered in schools, HGSE invested in attracting talent and preparing people to do one of the toughest jobs in the world, to be an urban superintendent, and then expanded this focus on leadership to empower generations of educators, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
  • It was people here who were courageous enough and bold enough to question the deeply held assumption that only some students could learn. All means all, and our community has demonstrated in hundreds of ways how success is possible regardless of background, ability, or context.
  • And it was here that people advanced an agenda that recognized that education is far more than narrowly defined academic achievement. It is also social-emotional learning, moral development and civic engagement, and learning to work collaboratively with others while also being willing to have difficult conversations.  

It is for these reasons that so many of us are proud.

CURRENT CHALLENGES IN EDUCATION

Hindsight may be 20/20, but 20/20 also conveys the idea of looking ahead with perfect clarity. Even though no one can predict what the world will look like during our bicentennial year in 2120, we know today is a time of adversity, division, and transformation in the complex ecosystem that makes up education. And this is unlikely to change soon.

At a time when universities questioned whether education schools were necessary, HGSE advocated successfully for education to be recognized as a profession in its own right, to be a specialized body of knowledge distinct from other areas of intellectual inquiry.

Despite incredible progress in high school graduation rates, literacy, and access to higher education, there are stubborn gaps in opportunity and success at all levels — from access to high-quality early childhood education; to segregation and insufficient supports and rigor in K–12 classrooms; to uneven graduation rates and looming debt in higher education. And this is all happening in the midst of dramatic shifts in student demographics; uncertainty about resources; and increasing concerns about teacher shortages and demands for greater pay and benefits.

While there is so much for HGSE to be proud of, our work is most certainly not done. We know the stakes are incredibly high and the focus on improving education could not be more important. But this is also a time of hope and possibility, and I believe that together, we are poised to bring about important, positive change in education. Right here at HGSE, there have been advances in learning science and design and the discovery of promising interventions and approaches to match to the strengths and needs of all learners. 

I feel so fortunate each year to meet and work with aspiring educators, innovators, and entrepreneurs who can’t sit still while students suffer and who want to contribute in meaningful ways. And I am heartened by the communities of practice who connect here to work together in their efforts to improve instruction and student and family supports.

Yes, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because of all of you. Your dedication, hard work, and ideas are leading the field forward, and with the many educators in the field we call colleagues and partners, we will improve the world.

LOOKING AHEAD

So with our 20/20 vision, what is ahead for HGSE? The answer is very much tied to the needs of the field — and we aren’t starting from scratch. As we consider our future, we will rely on the values and principles that have brought us here today, and you will see these ideals reflected in our Centennial activities this year.

First on the list: We conduct research that is grounded in practice and policy. Over a decade ago, this community began to define itself as being at “the nexus of research, policy, and practice” to describe our approach, and that lives on today: at HGSE, our research informs practice, just as practice informs our research.

This mindset and approach has profound implications. We ask questions that classroom teachers and district leaders want to know the answer to. We prioritize research that has the potential to have impact. HGSE was an early leader and continues to be an important catalyst for getting important, actionable information into the hands of parents, educators, policymakers, and other leaders.

We know the stakes are incredibly high and the focus on improving education could not be more important. But this is also a time of hope and possibility, and I believe that together, we are poised to bring about important, positive change in education.

We do this because we are scholars, researchers, and practitioners who care about making a difference for students today. Our faculty have too many accolades for me to do justice to all the individuals who are so deserving of honor, from being MacArthur “Genius” Award winners, inductees to the National Academy, journal editors, board members, and the winners of numerous book and research awards.

To get a sampling of the important work of our faculty, just take a look at the schedule of breakout sessions for this afternoon. You will learn of the many ways HGSE faculty have contributed to improving education through research, leadership, global partnerships, policy, supporting entrepreneurs, and teaching.

And consider our research centers and initiatives. Each is putting innovative, evidence-based research to work in policy and practice. But more than that, we are also building capacity in schools and systems by equipping educators and leaders with the knowledge, tactics, and networks they need to enhance learning environments. To give just a couple of examples:

  • The Zaentz Early Education Initiative is breaking down long-held misconceptions about early education by doing a first-of-its-kind, large-scale, population-based study of young children's learning and development.  The team is combining this with offering professional learning opportunities for early childhood educators and pioneering a fellows program to cultivate new leadership.
  • Meanwhile, the Center for Education Policy Research is working with over 150 education agencies and districts to not only do research but also to see that research be put to practical use by utilizing a broad network of stakeholders, including leaders, teachers, coaches, and analysts.

These examples are joined by a long list of many other innovative and important initiatives that I look forward to spotlighting this year.

A second theme you will see during our Centennial events that conveys our vision forward is how we are committed to evolving as a school to meet the challenges facing education. In fact, we have a long history of empowering our students to be innovators in a constantly changing world.

  • Consider our creation of the Ed.D. which established the vision of an engaged, impact-focused researcher, and eventually developed to become the university-wide Ph.D. in Education.
  • And then there’s the creation of the Urban Superintendent Program in 1990, and then the Doctorate of Education Leadership in 2010. HGSE created each to address the challenges of system-level leadership in education and how needs have evolved over time.
  • And 50 years ago, HGSE established the Institute for Education Management program to focus on the continuing professional development of higher education leaders. IEM was HGSE’s first program in professional education, and over the years, we have taught and supported hundreds of college and university presidents as well as provosts, deans, and other administrators. Our programs in Professional Education now reach more than 14,000 educators around the world each year with over 116 programs designed to increase the capacity of educators from early childhood, K–12, and higher education as well as nonprofit leaders and education policymakers.

We have a long history of not only responding to changes but also anticipating how we might contribute to the field and shape the future. And we will continue to do that, as we consider the skills and habits of mind needed to be an impactful education professional in the 21st century.  

Finally, a third very important theme of our Centennial this year will be how we stretch far beyond Appian Way. Within the larger university, we are partners and collaborators with other schools in research, teaching, and degree programs, as you’ll hear a bit about a little later.

These are stories of hope. They are evidence that we can change the world, that we can advance equity, and that we can create high-quality educational opportunities for all.

Outside of the university, our partnerships and networks of alumni and collaborators reach around the world and are a critical part of our impact model, as I already described when talking about our research. But also consider the recent work of students in the Doctor of Education Leadership Program. They are just returning from Birmingham, Alabama, where they worked to solve five significant and entrenched problems of practice for that historic district and city — so successfully so that I understand they’d all be welcomed back permanently. In the past, cohorts have done this type of work for Boston, Detroit, New York City, Atlanta, San Diego, Las Vegas, among other cities, and even the Children’s Defense Fund with Marian Wright Edelman. It is but one of the ways HGSE gives back to our local and national communities.

And, as noted before, we also have nearly 30,000 alumni — dedicated professionals who work inside and outside of schools. You will hear many stories this year, and many of them will be about our amazing alumni.  

  • Take, for example, Margot Stern Strom, who co-developed a curriculum on the Holocaust for students in grades K–8 that became the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which has grown from reaching just one school district to engaging millions of students in more than 200 countries.
  • And then there’s Geoffrey Canada. During his year at the Ed School, he says great professors not only changed his understanding of education theory, but they also taught him the importance of walking the walk. And with the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoff demonstrated that we can eliminate achievement gaps — if we do the work.
  • There’s also Ruth Wong Hie-King, an alumna of both of master’s and doctoral programs. She helped to transform the teaching profession in Singapore, giving rise to a world-class education system, and was the inaugural director of what is currently Singapore’s National Institute of Education.

In fact, there are so many stories like these, that we decided to produce a series of 100 of them for our centennial year. If you’re ever feeling discouraged, confused, or hopeless about the problems our world faces, I would urge you to visit this site. Because these are stories of hope. They are evidence that we can change the world, that we can advance equity, and that we can create high-quality educational opportunities for all.

IN CLOSING


And so as we kickoff this year of Centennial celebrations, convenings, and connections, let us consider all we have accomplished:

  • We conduct research that is grounded in practice and policy and that has had real impact in contributing to the improvement of education.  
  • We have a long history of anticipating and meeting the challenges facing education, and we will continue to do so.
  • And we extend far beyond Appian Way in partnership with our alumni and other educators to touch the lives of millions of students in every part of the world.

But this celebration is not because we are patting ourselves on the back, or because we are content to rest on our laurels. But instead, let’s use our 20/20 vision to see our accomplishments as evidence that success is possible when we bring together talented and dedicated people with ambitious aspirations for learners of all shades and ages.

And so, as we look to the years ahead, I'd like to challenge you. To invoke our illustrious alumnus, Donovan Livingston, and the call to action he gave us at Convocation several years ago:

Education “is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.”

So join together and find that one story, that one possibility that inspires you, and let it remind yourself why you are here, why you are doing this work. And then go forward, knowing that you are not alone. You are part of a family of people dedicated to changing the world through education. And we, along with the many, many educators around the world dedicated to this mission, will make the meaningful change so desperately needed by the world.

Thank you.