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The Power of Connectedness: Eliza Harris, L&L'20

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Language and Literacy reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Eliza Harris

Eliza Harris: "Good ole GUTMAN! Gutman Library was there to support me through every emotion imaginable as a stable emblem of my dynamic transformation this year. No one was out of reach here. No one was out of place here. This was my second home, my meal plan, my accountability buddy, and central hub for meeting the most prolific minds from around the world."

Photo courtesy of Eliza Harris

The Intellectual Contribution Award 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. Eliza Harris will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Language and Literacy (L&L) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 28.

Senior Lecturer Pamela Mason, faculty director of L&L, comments on Harris' selection: “Eliza Harris has extended her commitment to educational equity through her coursework and fieldwork in the Language and Literacy Program. She served as an instructional coach and mentor to students in the Teacher Education Program and completed her fieldwork as a literacy coach intern at the Rindge Avenue Upper School. Eliza has contributed to the learning of her classmates through her focus on culturally relevant pedagogy and to the Language and Literacy cohort as a member of the advisory board. As one of her peers stated, 'Eliza is the epitome of the values of HGSE. She mentors pre-service teachers, she is fully invested and passionate about all her classes, and she pushes her friends to think critically and envision a liberated world. She is truly a gem.'"

We spoke to Harris about her time at HGSE, her future plans, and what the new normal in education might look like:

What are your post-HGSE plans?

Eliza Harris: After HGSE, I will begin my work as an assistant principal of instruction back home in San Antonio, Texas. Along with that, I will be working alongside of my co-founders and stakeholders of the San Antonio community to address the need to disrupt oppressive structures within public schools. By 2021, I plan to launch a consultancy to assist with building critical social consciousness around equity and an online repository of high-quality, openly licensed bilingual curricula that is culturally responsive, social justice, and SEL-oriented.

"Knowledge shared in community has tremendous value, and if I make the decision to withhold what I have learned, I miss out on the knowledge of others. Our connectedness to one another creates immeasurable power." – Eliza Harris

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?

EH: Before coming to HGSE, I would often create imaginary gatekeepers to determine what I was, or was not, qualified for. As a former poster child for imposter syndrome, I allowed myself to believe that what I had to contribute was irrelevant and unworthy of a listening ear. Something that I am taking with me that I have learned by example of my peers and mentorship of the staff is: I am the one who decides what is available to me. Knowledge shared in community has tremendous value, and if I make the decision to withhold what I have learned, I miss out on the knowledge of others. Our connectedness to one another creates immeasurable power.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

EH: I chose the literacy coaching track to have a deeper connection to adolescent reading development and andragogy. Dr. Mason, Dr. Jacobs, and Dr. Snow taught courses that centered around comprehension and adolescent literacy; each demanding that I reconsider what comprehension in literacy truly is. With Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Snow, I was challenged to perceive content-based disciplines as the driver of literacy. With Dr. Mason I was pushed to examine the connection between vocabulary development and its connectedness to successful reading development. Each of their classes has significantly shifted and solidified my beliefs around language and literacy instruction.

Although I did not have the privilege to take her course, my work with Dr. V [Villarreal] as a field supervisor in the GTEP program has significantly shaped the way I understand critical facilitation in support of adult learners. She often modeled the love she had for students within her cohort and across HGSE. I admired the way she would demonstrate transparency, critical dialogic engagement, and radical compassion all while remaining true to her authentic self. I look forward to emulating my own version of this as an educational leader moving forward.

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

EH: This pandemic has not shifted my views of education as much as it has confirmed my beliefs on what young people need in the classroom — particularly students from trauma-impacted communities. Our new context has deeply exposed the justifications that the education sector has made for turning a blind eye to the inequities that marginalized communities face daily; exposing the bare-bone reality of how we have defined schooling for so many years. We have a global trauma on our hands compounded by the persistent disregard for our country’s willingness to give black and brown people up for sacrifice as they hold most of the labor that is absent of remote work privileges. Institutional racism is literally killing off communities of color and yet some schools are operating as if it is business as usual. Even if every student in the country has access to a laptop and high-speed internet, we cannot ignore the simple truth that the status quo was simply not enough. As I transition to life post HGSE, I will further lean into my beliefs that critical, inquiry-based, and trauma-informed pedagogy are necessary approaches in the classroom.