Hagedorn Chair Goes to English Teacher Kyle Hanford ’97


Editor’s note: this address was given by Dean of Faculty Peter Valine during Convocation on September 13, 2019.

The Hagedorn Family Faculty Chair was established in 2006 by Robert Hagedorn ’76 and his wife, Meladi (parents of Gregory Hagedorn  ’06).

This year’s recipient of the Hagedorn Chair is a popular and dedicated colleague who joined the Williston faculty in 2011.

In the classroom his English students experience a safe and engaging environment in which to learn and grow.  His students enjoy his energy and enthusiasm, while simultaneously finding his approach to learning both accessible and effective.  A strength of his teaching is the strong connections he fosters with each of his students.  He takes the time to inquire about them, and then listens attentively to their responses.  As one of his students observed, “He gets to know each of us on a personal level and understands how to handle each of us differently.”  In creating his lesson plans he models the risk taking that he asks his students to emulate.  He challenges his students by providing provocative prompts that require them to discover and explore both essential and existential questions.

His pedagogy increasingly utilizes student facilitated and student-centered discussions.  By muting his voice and not biasing the conversations with his own interpretations, he empowers each of his students find their own voice and to actively push themselves to think deeply and develop their own understandings.  He supports his students through a thoughtful process of continual and individualized feedback, while also emphasizing the health and vitality of the collective class experience.  His Department Head, Sarah Sawyer writes that “His classroom is a collaborative and dynamic space in which students are willing to make a mistake or try out a new theory.”

His colleagues enjoy his energy and sense of humor.  While he is often in the middle of the banter on the third floor of the Schoolhouse, he is also often at the center of rich conversations on teaching and learning.  He is eager and thoughtful in helping to mentor new colleagues, and generous in sharing resources and ideas with all members of the department. His colleagues respect his probing questions that explore the rationale for choosing texts and that challenge basic assumptions and goals.

His growth as an educator stems from his constant commitment to self-improvement.  He earned a master’s degree at Middlebury College’s Breadloaf School of English which nurtured his love and passion for literature.  He has taken the initiative to attend workshops at Bard College’s Institute of Writing and Thinking with the result of adopting more freewriting and visual teaching strategies into his constantly evolving pedagogy.  His participation in Philip Exeter’s Humanities Institute resulted in his leadership in encouraging and refining the use of the Harkness Method of student directed discussions.

In a self-evaluation he stated that a primary goal of his work at Williston is to assist the development of “thoughtful and empathetic human beings who are able to clearly articulate their beliefs and ideas.”  In addition to striving toward this goal in the classroom, the dorm, and the athletic arena this passion is also seen through his work in the organization Boys to Men and his commitment to the education of young males in our community on what it means to be a good man.

When this Hagedorn recipient arrived on campus back in 2011, he was actually returning to his alma mater.  In his post-graduate year at Williston in 1997 he was inspired by his teachers and his experiences in the community, and he acknowledges that this opportunity was life-changing.  He is now passionately immersed in paying that experience forward, and we are thankful that he has come full circle to motivate and inspire our current students.

It is my privilege to announce the new recipient of the Hagedorn Family Chair is Kyle Hanford.