Each month we will profile a member of the Bok staff in order for our friends and colleagues to learn more about us, the full range of work that we do, how we approach our work, and what is happening in the world of teaching and learning from different perspectives.
Rebecca Miller Brown, Assistant Director, Graduate Student Programming
Q: What’s a job or experience you have had that has been surprisingly relevant to the work you do now?
A: My first job after finishing my PhD was teaching kids all sorts of crafts – weaving, knitting, embroidery, sewing, quilting – at a summer craft camp at gather here, a craft store and studio in Inman Square. While this obviously involved teaching (and learning...I did not really embroider before needing to teach it), I am constantly reflecting on how teaching and learning these handicrafts immediately reveals how necessary a growth mindset is, both for learning these particular skills and really for learning anything new. Even with all my teaching experience I am still surprised by how quickly an openness to making mistakes or an expectation of feeling challenged or uncomfortable can evaporate, even for a 10-year-old! I continue to teach knitting to adults and kids, and a first lesson in knitting is actually a lesson in developing a growth mindset. I try to bring this awareness to my work with graduate student teachers, who may be learning about teaching while teaching for the first time. A major part of learning something new is patience – becoming comfortable with the feeling of discomfort and taking the time to reflect on the progress you have made.
Q: Describe a project that you are excited about right now.
A: I have been working on redesigning our web pages for Bok Teaching Certificates. This project encapsulates so much of what I appreciate about working at the Bok Center: it’s a highly collaborative process, with a lot of feedback and iteration to get it right; it’s an opportunity to learn something new, in this case to continue to build my expertise in web design and accessibility; and it’s focused on deepening the impact of our programming. Now I am working on creating a virtual gallery to showcase recipients of the Bok Teaching Certificates, which means I have the chance to talk with past participants in our programs and think about the best ways to share their reflections on their development as teachers with the Harvard community.
Q: What do you love to do when you’re not doing teaching and learning work?
A: I love to make things. I always have a knitting project with me, and there’s usually a sewing project or two waiting to be finished, but I could be persuaded to try my hand at making just about anything. This impulse is partially inspired by my grandmothers, for whom “making” – whether it was lye soap for washing clothes, Black Forest cake for family gatherings, cane webbing for a worn-out chair, or an overly complicated jester’s outfit for my Halloween costume – was in their DNA. I am also drawn to the haptic nature of these skills and the ease with which the products can be shared. I taught myself to knit the summer before I started my PhD in Classics, and it became an invaluable complement to the mountains of reading, writing, and translating that never seemed to diminish. But after a week of knitting a little bit every day, I could have a washcloth! Or in a couple of weeks I could have a hat! Not only does it feel satisfying to have made a thing and then be able to wear it or gift it to someone, knitting itself has become a skill I can share. I have become a knitting teacher to so many people over the years, including fellow graduate students in my department, new friends at gather here, and now with my amazing colleagues at the Bok Center!