How Seattle teacher Christy Harris (MIT ’12) found inspiration to lead

When Christy Harris (MIT ’12) was an undergrad, the self-described shy, introverted student didn’t know what she wanted to do as a career.

Then she volunteered for Pipeline, a project of the UW’s EXPD (Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity) that connects UW undergraduates with educational service opportunities in schools and community organizations.

“By luck, I got paired with Broadview-Thomson School,” Harris said. “It opened my eyes to see that teaching was for me.”

When the quarter was up, the vice principal at the Greenwood neighborhood K-8 asked Harris to stay on as an hourly tutor—and offered to write her a recommendation letter to the College of Education’s Elementary Teacher Education Program.

Harris was accepted to the program, and after graduation was hired as Broadview’s only technology teacher.

“It was hard as a first-year teacher trying to teach computer science to K-8 kids who didn’t have access to computers at home,” Harris said. “UW helped prepare me to work in a school with a diverse student body, where students face a lot of challenges, but I was still craving resources and support. So I went to a lot of workshops and conferences. I was always trying to reach out. But the workshops didn’t help. Then I got an email about INSPIRE’s EduDesign Lab.”

The lab is a summer institute for teachers designed by and for College of Education alumni teachers and their colleagues through Dr. Elham Kazemi’s INSPIRE project. It’s one of INSPIRE’s multiple professional development projects for teachers. INSPIRE works with hundreds of teachers each year to build a regional network of educators dedicated to continually improving their practice. Like all of the efforts of INSPIRE, which is led by Dr. Elham Kazemi, the EduDesign Lab’s focus is on developing teachers’ confidence and capabilities through collaboration and partnership with their peers.

“It was so refreshing to be in an environment where everyone is invested, everyone is interested,” Harris said. “It was very collaborative, with no wrong answers. We were planning together and relying on collaboration like we did as students at the College of Education—but doing it as teachers.”

The experience was so powerful that Harris decided to attend the EduDesign Lab again the following year—but this time as a facilitator.

“I don’t look at myself as a leader,” Harris said. “I’m not one of those people who speaks out. I’ve always been very introverted and quiet, but the EduDesign Lab has really sparked my confidence to join leadership teams.”

One such leadership role is with Seattle Public School’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) team, where Harris now serves as one of 17 elementary teachers designing standards for Seattle’s 90 elementary schools. She’s also joined the district’s computer science leadership team, has volunteered to mentor a Seattle Teacher Resident, and plans to continue as a facilitator for next summer’s EduDesign Lab.

“I think that teachers, even if they didn’t go to the UW, take on the lab type of model of learning together, planning together, teaching it to actual students, and reflecting on it together, it would really help teachers grow,” Harris said. “Being part of a team, through the EduDesign Lab, helped me gain the confidence to take on leadership roles. We need more of that—because teaching is not a one-person thing.”

Give to the UW College of Education’s Tomorrow’s Great Teachers Today Scholarship Fund and support future teachers like Christy who are dedicated to serving in poverty-impacted schools.