Town Speaker Series

Speaker series save the date.

Join us on January 13th for a great conversation. 

We are thrilled to host Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot for a presentation and moderated Q&A session with Head of School Doug Brophy. Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot is a MacArthur prize-winning sociologist, prolific author, and the Emily Hargroves Fisher Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Learn more about her work below and don't miss your chance to hear more about her research on the essential relationship between parents and teachers. 

All adult members of our extended community (current and former parents and caregivers, alums, current and former faculty and staff, grandparents) are welcome to join us for this great conversation! An RSVP is required to access the online event, so if you did not receive an email invitation with the RSVP link or if you know of a fellow community member who would like to be invited please let us know! Contact us at

Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot's Bio and Websites

Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a MacArthur prize-winning sociologist, is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Research Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she began her career in 1972. Educator, researcher, author, and public intellectual, Lawrence-Lightfoot has written eleven books: Worlds Apart: Relationships Between Families and Schools (1978), Beyond Bias: Perspectives on Classrooms (1979) (with Jean Carew), and The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture (1983), which received the 1984 Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association. Her book, Balm In Gilead: Journey of A Healer (1988), which won the 1988 Christopher Award, given for "literary merit and humanitarian achievement," was followed by I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation (1994), and The Art and Science of Portraiture (1997) (with Jessica Hoffmann Davis), which documents her pioneering approach to social science methodology; one that bridges the realms of aesthetics and empiricism. In Respect: An Exploration (1999), Lawrence-Lightfoot reaches deep into human experience to find the essence of this powerful quality. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn From Each Other (2003), captures the crucial exchange between parents and teachers, a dialogue that is both mirror and metaphor for the cultural forces that shape the socialization of our children, and The Third Chapter: Risk, Passion, and Adventure in the Twenty-Five Years After 50 (2009) explores new learning during one of the most transformative and generative times in our lives. In Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free (2012), she trains her lens on the myriad exits—ordinary and extraordinary, painful and liberating—that we make in our life journeys. Her most recent book, Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers (2016), offers an intimately detailed, emotionally powerful account of a pedagogy—of witness, growing, intimacy, and acceptance—composed by our children. 

Lawrence-Lightfoot is a member of numerous professional and scholarly committees and boards of directors including: The American Philosophical Society, The American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, The American Academy of Arts & Sciences, The National Academy of Education, Bright Horizons, WGBH Educational Foundation, The Berklee College of Music, and the Atlantic Philanthropies where she is Deputy Chair. Lawrence-Lightfoot has been a Fellow at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. In 1984, she was the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Prize, and in 1993 she was awarded Harvard's George Ledlie Prize given for research that makes the "most valuable contribution to science" and "the benefit of mankind.” In 1995, she became a Spencer Senior Scholar; and in 2008, she was named the Margaret Mead Fellow by the Academy of Political and Social Sciences. Lawrence-Lightfoot has been the recipient of thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. 

In 1993, the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Chair, an endowed professorship was established at Swarthmore College; and in 1998, she was the recipient of the Emily Hargroves Fisher Endowed Chair at Harvard University, which when she retired, in July of 2019, became the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Endowed Chair, making her the first African-American woman in Harvard’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor. 

Lawrence-Lightfoot did her undergraduate work in psychology at Swarthmore College (1962-1966) and received her doctorate in the sociology of education at Harvard in 1972.

Learn more:

The Essential Conversation

Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot's discussion on January 13th will be informed by her research featured in the book The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. 

Description from Penguin Random House:

With the insights she has gleaned from her close and subtle observation of parent-teacher conferences, renowned Harvard University professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has written a wise, useful book about the ways in which parents and teachers can make the most of their essential conversation—the dialogue between the most vital people in a child’s life.

“The essential conversation” is the crucial exchange that occurs between parents and teachers—a dialogue that takes place more than one hundred million times a year across our country and is both mirror of and metaphor for the larger cultural forces that define family-school relationships and shape the development of our children. Participating in this twice-yearly ritual, so friendly and benign in its apparent goals, parents and teachers are often wracked with anxiety. In a meeting marked by decorum and politeness, they frequently exhibit wariness and assume defensive postures. Even though the conversation appears to be focused on the student, adults may find themselves playing out their own childhood histories, insecurities, and fears.

Through vivid portraits and parables, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot captures the dynamics of this complex, intense relationship from the perspective of both parents and teachers. She also identifies new principles and practices for improving family-school relationships. In a voice that combines the passion of a mother, the skepticism of a social scientist, and the keen understanding of one of our nation’s most admired educators, Lawrence-Lightfoot offers penetrating analysis and an urgent call to arms for all those who want to act in the best interests of their children.


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