Outreach: Santa Fe
The Tecolote Group at St. John’s College
Mission: The Tecolote Group strives to acknowledge the dignity of New Mexico’s teachers at all levels by providing occasions for learning through structured discussion of centrally important texts, thus bringing to life the idea that great books make great teachers. Tecolote aims further to help participants develop their practice of liberal education through their own initiatives and in general to nurture liberal learning at all levels in New Mexico.
Challenge: Everyone recognizes the need for good teachers, but little is done to encourage the idealism that brings talented people to the teaching profession in the first place. Current educational reform focuses on improving the bureaucracy and establishing strict performance standards for students. Many who enter the profession with a burning passion for their books and for their students find they must either leave teaching altogether or settle for a limited and lifeless role. Demoralized teachers can’t help but demoralize their students. Moreover, good teachers who would benefit from sharing insights with other good teachers often work in isolation.
For our schools to become truly effective, teachers must see beyond the daily press of bells, tests, papers, lunch lines, discipline, and school violence. They need a forum in which to think freely about best practices in teaching and learning. They need the nourishment of excitement and energy that comes from cooperative study of fundamentally important texts.
Our Approach: The Tecolote Group offers programs by invitation for teachers at all levels. These programs are based on the method of learning through discussion developed in the great books curriculum at St. John’s College. Scheduled on Saturdays that avoid the busiest times of the school year, these “colloquia” are planned primarily for the benefit of elementary, middle and secondary teachers and administrators in public and independent schools. Participants also include a small number of school principals, school board members, and students planning to become teachers They are designed to provide occasions for genuine liberal learning through discussion of carefully selected texts, led by St. John’s faculty and other experienced leaders.
The colloquia are characterized by the following:
1. They are designed to be non-competitive so that participants may explore and learn through shared inquiry
2. They target no particular discipline or grade level, but focus on books and questions that all teachers can profitably discuss
3. Participants are chosen with attention to diversity of experience, location, ethnicity, gender, and age
4. All books, other materials and meals are provided at no charge
5. Participants pay no fees for attending Tecolote events; in fact they receive a modest honorarium in recognition of their involvement in this important work.
Structure: Eight one-day colloquia are scheduled on Saturdays during the academic year at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each participant attends four of the eight, two in the fall, two in the spring. Each colloquium, 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., follows the same structure: morning coffee and rolls, a small-group tutorial, a larger-group seminar, and a formal luncheon with a brief presentation. Presentations are often in the form of brief talks that supplement the material discussed in the seminar and tutorial sessions. At times we have asked teachers to lead demonstration classes with small groups of students in the presence of the Tecolote participants. The presentations are followed by general discussion.
Outcomes: The greatest gift of teachers to students is the example they set. After participating in the Tecolote colloquia, teachers return to their classrooms with a renewed sense of their vocation. In addition, the experience of working together in the colloquia encourages teachers to develop their own related initiatives, which Tecolote helps to implement.
Colloquium participants initiate follow-through activities to involve their students and colleagues in reading and discussing great texts. Beyond the general approach of learning through conversation based on worthy texts, our program is not prescriptive. Teachers continue to develop their own distinctive approaches in the classroom.
An evaluator and a group of advisers attend the sessions to assess their effectiveness and provide guidance for future events.
Tecolote has received generous support over the years from many foundations and corporations, most recently including:
Tecolote also benefits from gifts from generous individuals for its annual operations. In 2008, Tecolote received an important endorsement from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) when St. John's College in Santa Fe was awarded a grant through the NEH "We The People" Challenge Grants Program to establish an endowment for Tecolote.
Stephen R. Van Luchene
St. John’s College
Santa Fe, NM 87505