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and considering common texts, units, and exams for ‘multisection’ classes.” For example, all juniors take US History but logistics and Deerfield’s commitment to small class size require more than one history teacher to teach multiple sections of US History. So historically, all juniors were studying US History but there wasn’t necessarily anything cohesive to link one teacher’s class to another’s; now, a shared vision has emerged, which includes common units with common texts and a common assessment; shared essay questions at the end of a unit; and primary source documents and secondary readings that have been agreed upon by the history teachers as critical to the teaching and understanding of US History. Department Chair Joe Lyons comments, “Summer symposiums and retreats where we establish essential questions for our students and develop common units and assessments as well as sharing resources are always great opportunities for collaboration, and my department and I look forward to them.” “Students deserve a consistently good experience from class to class

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and year to year,” says Peter Warsaw. “The foundation for that is built when colleagues talk to each other about teaching and learning— when we engage each other on a meta level.”

Generating the Spark Clearly it’s not all talk, and sometimes learning new methods requires a.) open minds, and b.) a teacher for teachers: Enter Ainsley Rose, of The Leadership and Learning Center. Rose, a 30-year veteran in the field of education, designs learning structures. He hosted a retreat for the department chairs, and at the top of the agenda was a lesson on developing protocols for examining student work. “Professional learning communities such as Deerfield need to follow certain steps if they want to gather data about teaching and— in particular—learning, in order to achieve meaningful results with students,” Rose explained. “But the focus has to be on the learning, not the teaching—it must be student-centered.” Rose then ticks off the steps for inquiry: “What do we want students to learn? How do we know they have achieved that learning? What do we do

if they haven’t? What do we do if they already know what you’re teaching? And the ‘big’ question: How do we teach in order for students to learn?” Rose acknowledges these are tough questions, and there are no immediate answers, but adds that if teachers aren’t willing to look more critically at themselves and their peers, then there will be no answers down the road, either. “This type of collaboration is so important—learning itself is a collaborative affair,” Rose points out. “The more teachers work together, the better they will be able to analyze how in a perfect world they would want their subjects to be taught; then, once they assess the gap between the way things are and the way they can become better, that’s when learning achieves a higher ground.” Chairs came away with a philosophical view of Rose’s process, agreeing that education remains the subtext of all teaching, and that they need to be conscious of how their minds work and how their students’ minds work—in short, taking the time to think about what they think about. Put mundanely, the hope is that chairs will

become more deliberate about curriculum, and in turn, more supportive of each other across departments. In philosophy class, Deerfield students learn that Socrates proposed that an unexamined life is not worth living; Ainsley Rose proposes that an unexamined curriculum might not be worth teaching—that’s a statement Peter Warsaw can get behind, too. “My ‘north’ is growth,” Warsaw says with a smile. “We should be teaching and modeling lifelong learning, and that requires constant reflection, which is essentially what we’re doing when we take the time to examine our teaching. We need to ask what our graduates will need to succeed in the 21st century, and whether our curriculum reflects a world that has changed a great deal over the last 60 years. This kind of reflection shifts our focus from teachers teaching to students learning, and it ensures that what we’re doing here remains relevant to our students and to the world.”

Spring 2012 Deerfield Magazine  

The alumni journal of Deerfield Academy

Spring 2012 Deerfield Magazine  

The alumni journal of Deerfield Academy