Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2013

Dilara Sayeed (MS00), who promotes teacher learning around the world through her Global Teacher Project.

Dilara Sayeed (MS00) Builds Teacher Leaders Globally and Locally


By Marilyn Sherman
Dilara Sayeed
Dilara Sayeed (MS00), who promotes teacher learning around the world through her Global Teacher Project, attended the graduation of her daughter Meena from SESP in June.

The global and the local weave together in the work of Dilara Sayeed (MS00), a graduate of the Master of Science in Education program. Sayeed touches teachers worldwide through the global reach of her professional development while she also inspires educators locally to embrace a more global perspective.

At Harvard University, where Sayeed is pursuing a doctorate in education leadership, she has an innovation lab residency for her Global Teacher Project. “We’re looking at a collaboration of teachers around the world,” she says. The project offers teachers worldwide half-day or full-day webinars on topics such as the psychology of learning and curriculum design. Global communication continues on Skype, where teachers in other countries discuss their classroom successes and challenges with U.S. teachers. Sayeed’s associate in the project is a Chicago educator now living in India.

The idea for the Global Teacher Project grew out of Sayeed’s conversations with teachers internationally, beginning in 2004. At the time, she was a middle school teacher in Naperville when she received a grant to study the education systems in China and Japan. To her surprise, teachers in those countries were struggling with the very same issues she was — students at risk, engaging lessons and psychological safety, for example. “It felt like we were part of a global community of teachers,” she says.

Another eye-opening experience occurred in 2010, when hundreds of teachers attended the workshops she led in India. “It showed how hungry teachers in India were for authentic teacher development,” she notes. Further study helped her pinpoint what teachers wanted: content knowledge, classroom management strategies, curriculum designs and follow-up on how to get to the next level.

Sayeed’s outreach to educators globally has continued through numerous initiatives, such as a trip to Germany when the U.S. State Department asked her to consult on issues both countries were addressing. Most recently, she traveled with Harvard colleagues to the Netherlands, Finland and England.

Currently she’s working to find innovative methods of teacher development, as well as to boost the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs. “Strong teacher preparation programs help you feel confident and knowledgeable. Professional development helps you continue growing,” she comments.

In her quest to better education, Sayeed is devoted to professionalizing the field. “Absolutely as a society we have to address violence, poverty and family dynamics — the 1-2-3 issues — but we have to prepare teachers for the classroom too,” says Sayeed, a former faculty member of Benedictine University.

She urges teachers to keep learning and growing throughout their careers. “It’s important to us as educators to know that we are doing really valuable work for our communities. Also it’s important that we … be the best that we can be in the classroom,” she says.

Of her own teacher preparation, Sayeed credits her graduate education for giving her a strong understanding of how students learn and think. Because of the grounding in theory that she received, she says, “I felt like I became a professional at SESP.” Since then, she has kept the tradition of SESP education alive through her daughter Meena, who graduated from SESP this spring.

Originally, Sayeed sparked to the field of education not because she excelled as a student but because she had difficulty. As a child, she struggled as a learner and as a minority student in Chicago Public Schools during tense times of desegregation. “I was a minority student in a system that didn’t know how to handle diversity. … I’ll never forget how alone I felt as a child,” she says. “I went into teaching because I wanted to support those children who couldn’t escape the challenges.”

She continues to work with teachers — locally and globally — because of the obligation she feels to improve education. “One thing I learned at SESP is how important it is to be prepared to lead the next generation, to do it better,” she says.