Tribute to Steve Seidel

An essential member of the HGSE community since he was a student, lecturer Steve Seidel, Ed.M.’89, Ed.D.’95, is a valued teacher, mentor and collaborator at Harvard and beyond . As a leader of the Arts and Education Program, the Arts and Learning Concentration, and Project Zero, Seidel has been a true champion of the arts in education – and artists as educators, focusing on the creating support systems through alumni networks, symposia, and professional development programs for educators promoting the arts in their research and practice.

On the occasion of his retirement from HGSE, we present the following comments, delivered by colleagues in his honor at an end-of-year faculty meeting.

Tribute to Steve Seidel

By Professor Howard Gardner

A few months ago Steve called me – he was thinking about retirement and wanted my opinion – I tried to be reactive, but my first inner thought was: retire??

How can one of my most outstanding students already retire? I just retired myself! Has time passed so quickly?

It looked like some kind of category error or a crossed thread. But I guess it’s true.

Steve, I’m not going to give you retirement advice today — that’s for another time. Instead, I would like to reflect on our time together. My theme: “YOU kept the faith—in Seven Ways.

  1. You arrived at GSE more than 30 years ago. Unlike many of us, you were a REAL teacher in a REAL school of arts, languages, theater. And though you left a school in Boston, you never left your calling.
  2. For your doctorate, you sensed what was important and studied it in depth. Shakespeare in schools, not just for well-to-do students in elite independent schools or affluent suburban public schools, but for mainstream school children.
  3. You have joined Project Zero (PZ) – an organization originally founded and deeply involved in the arts. Some of us have drifted away from the arts as a subject of study (and I include myself among the hesitant). You never have! We live in the world of acronyms – at Harvard we have GSE, HGSE, GSAS, KSG, HKS, HC, PZ, PPE, AIE, the list does etc. Similarly to PZ, a list of projects in which you have played a leading role are referred to by shortcuts or acronyms. For those of us on the fourth floor of Longfellow Hall, these are a trip down memory lane: ARTS PROPEL LCI, QUALITY, EVIDENCE, MLV, ARTS SURVIVE, etc., etc. The list goes on and on, and I suspect it will continue long into the future.
  4. Leadership. After founder Nelson Goodman and his college offspring Dave Perkins and I started Project Zero and ran it for a few decades, we turned to you – the younger generation – for leadership. In a difficult time, you kept the ship afloat, helped us out of deep waters and sailed smoothly. And you have continued to confirm and strengthen our links with the arts.
  5. Mentoring. Your relationship with the hundreds, if not thousands, of registrants at our summer gatherings and offsite meetings has been exemplary. You have set a very high standard.
  6. And of course, in addition to your leadership of Project Zero, for two decades you have provided careful and caring curation of the Arts in Education concentration. After Founder Jessica Davis, you brought your distinctive stamp to AIE, mentoring hundreds of students, expanding the scope of the concentration and its assignments, while meeting today’s needs and anticipating those of tomorrow. As a colleague pointed out, in much of the world you are Mr. Arts Education!
  7. Last point but just as important, your management of “Rounds”. For more than 20 years, you have reliably brought together educators from different backgrounds – by carefully examining the range of student work and by thoughtfully discussing: you have relied on the approaches and ideas of effective educators and modeled them for anyone who wants to learn.

From teaching in Boston schools to becoming a world leader in arts education, you’ve kept the faith. I have no doubt that you will continue to do so and that the hundreds if not thousands of people you have touched will continue to be transformed through your leadership and mentorship.

Final Thought, Steve: As far as retirement advice goes, it’s for a drink in the Square.

The art of finding your home in a quick program

By Lecturer Aysha Upchurch, Ed.M.’15, Faculty Co-Chair (with Steve Seidel) of the Arts and Learning Concentration

When you first arrive at Appian Way as a student, you feel all the thrills – excitement, pride, awe, disbelief, empowered, ready and overwhelmed. You’re at Harvard — HARVARD!! All that is believed to mean, all that it means to you personally, and even what it all may mean to and for your family swims in your body, your head and your heart. Affirmations of “I did it at Harvard” begin to dance with questions of “Wait, do I really belong here at Harvard?” as impostor syndrome begins to challenge the clear vision you expressed in your admissions statement. A three-building campus seems gargantuan with world-renowned professors ready to profess their scholarship and challenge us to become masters of all that research. A one-way street with no detours allowed as we all embark on a mission to learn how to change the world.

It’s an incredibly intoxicating environment, and without an anchor, you might find yourself accepting an invitation to live your Harvard experience, instead of really being here and connecting – connecting with faculty, with your peers and with the surrounding community so that you may find a way to make the nine months less dizzying and more of the investment in yourself and in practice that you desire and deserve.

When I came to HGSE it had been 13 years since I had graduated with my first graduate degree, I had just lost a relative and had convinced myself that I was a charity case off a list of waiting. With over a decade of experience in education and having traveled the world as an artist, this one-campus little pond in Harvard University’s largest lake was chilling. That first day of orientation under that big white tent on Radcliffe Yard was too much to take in. I found myself running to a tree in the Sunken Garden to call a loved one to talk me out of leaving the ledge. I already felt like I was drowning – like what is this hip-hop arts educator doing here? Who will or will understand me and how am I trying to impact education?

And just then, a life raft was thrown at me – the first breakout session with the Arts in Education program and our leader, Steve Seidel. From that first session to the weekly cohort class, I was able to experience a caring and joy-centered teaching that fosters a sense of community, and truly more like family, among adults coming from places different in the literal and metaphorical sense. Expect! Is it Harvard? And can a professor-researcher known worldwide for his passionate and rigorous research on the arts be human like that in the classroom? I mean, we play with clay, unpack dense literature on arts education and politics, and connect through a puppet show he does! Oh wait, not only do I belong here, but I love it here!

Steve – I am blessed beyond words to have known you as a counselor, student, teacher, colleague and friend. Like many of my AIE (alun) family members, I know you were the anchor that allowed us to spend our time at HGSE with integrity, joy, laughter and yes, tears (we all cried during the hours of office with you). Thanks for showing us that teachers are (and should be) human beings in the room who aren’t so attached to the curriculum that they miss the impact that the real (scary) world has on people’s lives in the classroom. Hall ; which can disrupt power paradigms and open up class time for students to act as instructors for the parts of the class where they have knowledge and experience; and who can model how to literally pause and invite time to momentarily stop as you put your words together thoughtfully instead of giving in to an impulsive reaction. Steve, you are a master class in the art of being a responsive teacher and it was an honor to learn from you.

On behalf of so many arts educators who have walked through the revolving door of HGSE and been able to find a home and be supported by your leadership and humanity – thank you. For being a good sport when the class of 2015 dressed like you (#blackvestday) – thank you. For nurturing the lenses we have and the contributions we intend to make in education, not from the margins but from the core – thank you.

You have served this community so well, and now we send you with the love and care you have given us. I won’t dare try to put your shoes on, no one will ever be able to fill them. So my final thank you is gratitude to you who have guided and trained me to offer and drop this anchor in my own way to arts educators who will come looking to find their home on the Appian Way.

Strong points

Pre-HGSE: Taught high school theater and language arts in the Boston area for 17 years

1987: Joined Project Zero (PZ). He went on to serve as project manager, principal investigator, founding member of the management team, member of the steering committee and director. His projects at PZ included The Evidence Project, Making Learning Visible, Talking with Artists Who Teach, APPLE, Arts PROPEL, Arts SURVIVE and Rounds.

1997: Published Portfolio Practices: Reflecting on Assessing Child Labor (with J. Walters, E. Kirby, N. Olff, K. Powell and S. Veenema)

1998: Joined the HGSE faculty

2000: Succeeds Howard Gardner and David Perkins as directors of Project Zero

2005: Named Patricia Bauman and John Landrum Bryant Lecturer on Arts in Education

2008: Received the Crystal Quill Award from the Shakespeare Festival/LA for his impact in using professional theater to enchant, enrich and build community

2012: Launch of the Arts and Passion-Driven Learning professional development program with Silkroad

2014: Promoted to lecturer

2021: Became the inaugural Co-Chair of the Arts and Learning Concentration

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