Connecting Near and Far with the Innovative Teaching Collaborative
One of the more fulfilling things I’ve participated in this spring is the launching of an Innovative Teaching Collaborative at my school. We’ve got a group of 20 or so faculty who meet monthly as a large group, and weekly as small groups of 5-6 people across each discipline. During these meetings we are talking about “innovative teaching” in general. Some topics we’ve explored so far:
- Hearing from a teacher who is exploring self directed learning in his advanced calculus and chemistry courses.
- Hearing from two teachers who have developed and are teaching a senior humanities course.
- Discussing essential skills/habits of mind across the disciplines of math, science, English and languages.
- Discussing assessment and the possible elimination of grades
- Discussing project based learning
- Discussing interdisciplinary curricula, like the fascinating Ninth Grade Program at Lawrence Academy.
All of this was inspired by a post about a similar group at Loomis Chafee run by Scott MacClintic. Almost as soon as our group started meeting, I contacted Scott about the possibility of us holding some sort of virtual joint meeting. Thanks to a fortuitous free day today, we were finally able to schedule the conversation.
Last night, when Scott and I were talking he came up with a simple prompt to get discussion going—”share something innovative you are doing in your classroom or are talking about with colleagues.”
The participants from my school started off the conversation and we discussed the following ideas:
- A history teacher looking to find a way to develop an international collaboration with a school in Israel and other parts of the Middle East for his History of the Middle East course
- A project I’m helping to lead where seniors in our tutorial program are experimenting with blogging.
- A biology teacher who is exploring misconceptions by having his students conduct “person on the street” interviews of other students and adults in our community with basic biology questions like “why do we breathe?”
- A French teacher who is having her most advanced students do semester long projects exploring complex ideas like developing a researching language instruction in middle school and then delivering a presentation for teachers our local district
- A Spanish teacher who had her most advanced students each choose a text and then lead a few weeks of class discussion on that text as a culminating project in the second semester.
- Getting rid of math placement tests and instead developing an integrated problem solving course that all of our new students would enter. After a month or so, students would then be placed in different sections based on the interest and ability they’d shown in this integrated class.
Our colleagues at Loomis shared the following ideas:
- Developing new ways of embracing online learning—stipending teachers to create review courses to bridge the transition between first and second year languages, or to cover foundational topics in algebra/geometry.
- Exploring ambient music creation in a music theory class and sharing works on Soundcloud.
- Working to prepare for the new AP curriculum in Spanish
- Developing an all school composting program that diverts 6 tons of food waste and turns it into compost for local gardens.
In this hour long meeting, I came away with more than half a dozen new ideas for my own teaching and school. Perhaps most surprisingly was almost every idea I heard from colleagues at my own school was new to me. Mostly it’s a reflection of how busy we all are and how little time we have to share.
It also makes me think how easy it is to tear down walls of the insular boarding school world. It is common knowledge that boarding school is a “small world”—even when I had been teaching only a few years, I seemed to “know” someone who was teaching at a dozen or more boarding schools around the nation. But at the same time, really didn’t know much about those people or the schools they taught at, since I never really took the time to build meaningful connections with colleagues outside my school. There’s something about being in a fully self-sufficient community that can lure you into the myth of intellectual self sufficiency as well. It’s my hope that tools like Twitter, Google+ and conversations like today can help us to overcome that myth.