Information For:

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

News & Events

People-First Practice: Turner Cooper, L&T'22

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Learning and Teaching reflects on his time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
Turner Cooper

"Taken in November 2021 when I was able to visit Harvard campus for the first time as a student. I took this picture in front Gutman knowing the next time I would see Gutman, I would be in Harvard commencement regalia." 

Photo: Courtesy of Turner Cooper

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes graduating Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Turner Cooper will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Learning and Teaching (L&T) Program during HGSE's Convocation exercises on May 25.

Senior Lecturer Kathryn Parker Boudett, faculty director of L&T, comments on Cooper's selection:“Turner was exquisitely present in my courses this fall. He balanced frequent on-point engagement in the chat window with thoughtfully framed discussion contributions that always took the conversation to a new level. But I am most grateful for the probing questions he would stay and offer after the formal class had ended. His thirst for understanding inspired our whole teaching team to dig deeper.”

We spoke to Cooper about his time at HGSE, his future plans, and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape.

What brought you to the Ed School and what were your goals?

When HGSE announced that it was opening an additional round of admissions for the 2020–2021 academic year, I honestly took out a bet on myself. This would be my second time attempting a master’s program — the first time I had to withdraw with only less than 12 hours of credit remaining to complete my degree. There was a lot of doubt surrounding my ability to handle the workload, working full-time and being a Black man in America. So I set two goals: to learn and to graduate. That’s it. Those goals didn’t change. I learned as much as I could and now I am about to graduate. 

"It was incumbent that I humanized the people who were welcoming me into their home via Zoom. The act of seeing folks that I was engaging with as human through an artificial screen cemented my understanding of a 'people-first' practice." 

What were your experiences with online learning and what do you think makes it effective? 

Given that I was teaching second grade during spring 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, my teaching practice required that I shifted to online learning. Leading pre-service teachers during the summer of 2020 through DEI training virutally required that I humanized the people who I was inviting into my home and vice versa — it was incumbent that I humanized the people who were welcoming me into their home via Zoom. The act of seeing folks that I was engaging with as human through an artificial screen cemented my understanding of a “people-first” practice. 

I saw this “people-first” practice in Community Time with Dr. V [Christina Villarreal] making one of my classmates’ family recipe for Phở, I saw this present when Dr. Tim McCarthy halted his scheduled lecture on January 6, 2021 and named the vitriolic white supremacist violence we were witnessing with the Capitol insurrection. My professors knew I was a student and human leading a full life that is impacted by the different happenings of the world.

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

Almost every class I chose has left an indelible impact on my experience at HGSE — Karen Mapp, Christina “V” Villarreal, Aysha Upchurch, Holly Lem, Timothy McCarthy, Metta McGarvey, Kathy Boudett, Deborah Helsing, Aaliyah El-Amin, and Bianca Baldridge. Each of these professors sought to understand the humanity of their students. Not only were office hours offered — they prioritized making the lectures, syllabi, and assignments adaptive to the moment. They created experiences. Unforgettable experiences, at that! #CleanPain

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education?  

Oooh, that is a good question. Long story short. School does not equal education. In the American context, we are more committed to schooling children and adults and not educating them. The pandemic has deepened my commitment to education and not the system of schooling. 

What are your post-HGSE plans?

I am still sorting through my post-HGSE plans. I know for sure I’m going to celebrate the fact that I’m graduating from Harvard Graduate School of Education with a whole master's degree in the midst a pandemic. So plans for post-HGSE is to CELEBRATE!