There is power in a teaching team

Team One of the most compelling aspects of the Corbett Charter School, from what I gleaned at the IERG conference, is their method for planning lessons. They said that they don’t use any textbooks or outside curriculum — again, everything is “home-brewed.”

Four folks are on a team — that is, there are 2 teachers in the combined fourth-through-sixth classrooms (principal Bob Dunton called age grading “the original sin” of American education, and I’m prone to agree).

Let me lay out, so far as I understood it, the method the instructors at Corbett use:

  1. Members of the team research the topic their classes will learn about — say, Thomas Jefferson. They do this with all manner of books — kids and adults and whatnot — and, I presume, also with online materials.
  2. They meet together to talk about what they personally find engaging/absorbing/fulfilling about the topic, and which of Kieran Egan’s “cognitive tools” might best bring that aspect out. (For the fourth graders in the “Romantic” toolkit, that could be a sense of wonder, an identification with heroic qualities, the extremes of reality, and so on. Again, I’ve really got to post on Egan’s cognitive toolkits…)
  3. After they decide on their focus (and on which of Egan’s cognitive lenses they’ll employ), the members go back to their books, and swim more deeply in the content. It’s also only now that they talk about what they’ll do in class.

(Proviso: presumably I’m getting some of this wrong. I’m rehashing my memories of a short presentation that was itself a summary. Hopefully, though, what I’ve described above captures some of the rare beauty that is teaching at Corbett.)

One of the teachers said that they followed this method exactly, and every time.

One thing I love about this: they put the question of “what to do in class” after the question of “what is amazing about this content?” That is, they don’t explicitly talk about the form of instruction (game? debate? art project?) before nailing what the beating heart of the story is.

Precisely why I find this so spectacular I may sketch out in Friday’s post.

For me, this is a game-changer. In the past, when I’ve considered using Egan’s method, I’ve thought about doing it as an individual. And yet I’ve long known that my best thinking happens in intimate community.

This shared “geeking out” of what’s amazing about a topic — done for the purpose of inspiring students — is everything I love in teaching high schoolers. And in adult exchanges of philosophy. And in college Bible studies. And, and, and…

God, I could so imagine spending the rest of my life engaged in a team like this. Paradise.

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA