Published : Friday, May 6, 2016 | 1:22 PM
For at least 40 years there has been a Flintridge Prep faculty book club. While the subjects have ranged from education to fiction, from classic to contemporary works, the purpose has always been the same: to learn with colleagues, to engage and to stay current, and to have fun. As headmaster Peter Bachmann puts it, “we are modeling for students what we want them to do: to read for pleasure, to find out about the world.”
Scott Myers, the English Department Chair, says the book clubs have been valuable because “you take on the role of a student. You come to a new book with no preconceptions, you study it, stick your neck out in the discussion to defend your point of view, and you are among people whose opinions and literary insights you respect.”
A few years ago, science teacher Laura Kaufman started the existing group in a different direction. “I love reading as a way to infuse my teaching with new ideas and approaches, and I get exponentially more out of books when I discuss the reading with other Prep teachers and discuss how the topic applies to our students,” she says.
So Kaufman created “Talking About Teaching,” an informal book club open to every adult on campus. The attendance varies from about eight to 12, a changing mix of seasoned veterans and newer teachers, administrators and staff. They show up every six to eight weeks, bright and early at 7 am, to discuss and debate the latest selection over breakfast at a nearby restaurant.
Suggestions for books to read come from everyone around the table, based, perhaps, on a conference, their reading, a class they’ve taken, what’s current in the literature, what’s in the teaching or overall cultural zeitgeist. When Kaufman attended a workshop with Ron Ritchhart, author of Creating Cultures of Thinking, she and colleague Josh Perlman, a history teacher, recommended it to the group. Most recently, in response to conversations around campus about difference and diversity, the group read Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Around a table cluttered with coffee cups, bacon and bagels, the group discusses the award-winning book – in the form of a long letter to the author’s teenage son about the never-ending challenges of being black in America. Soon they are discussing how Coates’ observations and experiences translate to the classroom. “It’s important, it’s painful,” say faculty members, “and I don’t know how to approach this topic with my students. Coates helped me form a bridge between recent events and the curriculum.” They ask, “Can the book be assigned as summer reading? Can it be a ‘one school, one book’ read? Does it fit into history and literature classes only?” Heather Clark points out that it would be relevant in her chemistry classroom, too: while studying the chemistry of Flint, Michigan, water, her students discussed the impact of racism on the crisis.
Books from Talking About Teaching can often find their way into the classroom or curriculum, either directly or indirectly. Kaufman reports, “I’ve absolutely used information from the books and conversations in my classes. It also gives me a glimpse into what other teachers are doing in their classes. It certainly promotes conversations that can lead to later collaborations.”
Dean of Studies Sarah Cooper says, “I’d say Make It Stick, Cultures of Thinking, Mindsight, Why Don’t Students Like School and A Whole New Mind have had particular impact on a number of faculty. If I were to generalize, I’d say we tend to like books that confirm some of our experiences in the classroom while also providing counterintuitive insights.”
Kaufman says, “The book club is a great way to connect with colleagues and re-think what goes on in the classroom and the school. I think it’s definitely informal professional development. I believe that I work with some of the greatest minds in education, so it’s very inspiring to hear my colleagues from all disciplines discuss the latest writing and research. I love hanging out with these folks. It’s always so fun!”
Flintridge Preparatory School, 4543 Crown Ave., La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 790-1178 or visit www.flintridgeprep.org.