On May 9, the Bank Street Graduate School of Education celebrated its annual commencement ceremony at the Riverside Church in New York City. This year, Eleanor Duckworth, a dedicated scholar and teacher, was presented the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa for her contributions to math and science education.
Dr. Duckworth was recognized for her life’s work in the field, including the development of a new methodology for teaching science in a way that encourages creativity, curiosity, and investigation and guides students to what she calls “the having of wonderful ideas.” As a former student and translator of psychologist Jean Piaget, Dr. Duckworth’s approach to teaching and learning is grounded in these understandings.
“Dr. Duckworth’s work changed the way we teach science to young learners,” said Cecelia Traugh, Dean of the Graduate School of Education. “She developed a teaching and research approach called Critical Exploration in the Classroom, which positions the learner’s experiences and insights in the place of highest value. Here at Bank Street, her methods are taught to each incoming class and will remain embedded in our graduate curriculum for many years to come.”
In her own speech, Dr. Duckworth quoted the words of a beloved fictional character: “Winnie the Pooh is said to have said ‘Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go to where they can find you.” Her moving reference illustrated how helping students to have “active minds” encourages them to develop questions and make thoughtful connections, which creates a space for new ideas and knowledge.
Following the conferral of the honorary degree, members of the Class of 2019 Jing-Jing Hu and Amy Won took the stage to reflect on their experiences at Bank Street and share a few key learnings. First, Hu, a graduate of the Leadership for Educational Change program, spoke about the important role of leadership in the lives of teachers.
“Leaders uphold a community. I was fortunate to be part of a cohort of extraordinary educators—each with their own background and story. As we went to class together, we have grown together, we’ve learned about each other’s lives, we’ve listened and supported one another. This is such an important factor in education—knowing that you are part of a community,” Hu said.
Next, Amy Won, a graduate of the Reading and Literacy program, discussed the values Bank Street instilled in her about teaching and learning, including meeting students where they are, listening to and respecting diversity, and practicing self-reflection.
“As we move out into the many, many, many places where we will be educators, I hope that we can hold these values close, continuing to practice and reflect,” Won said. “Too often, our society does not respect diversity … but we can act as role models and leaders wherever we are. We can be beacons of influence in our individual settings.”
The Class of 2019 also heard from Dean Traugh, who shared an inspiring message on the importance of self-care, especially for educators who work in stressful and emotionally draining settings. She urged the graduates to continue to nurture their “ethical selves” and maintain and strengthen the values they learned at Bank Street.
“Engage in exercises or practices that correspond to our values,” she said. “Recognize that the care of one’s ethical self demands lifelong and a great deal of work. Be connected to a group to have the support and community of others.”
Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, also shared advice for the new graduates, encouraging them to channel what they’ve learned at Bank Street as they face the challenges that go along with transitioning from the classroom to the workplace.
“Bank Street graduates learn to be forceful advocates both for children and for professional environments that nurture development. As they transition into the workplace, they often find that this feels like swimming upstream. Graduates, as you transition to your new school, hospital, or museum, I encourage you to draw on your experience. Draw on your classmates. Draw on Bank Street as a resource.”
Following the ceremony, Bank Street’s Class of 2019 celebrated with each other, their families and friends, and faculty and staff at a reception in Riverside Church.