This year, with the ease in Covid-19 travel restrictions, we were successfully able to host a Harkness training session for our high school teachers. The school hosted Ms. Molly MacKean, who used to work at Phillips Exeter Academy where the Harkness approach to learning was developed. She is currently the Upper School Division Head at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.
Harkness is a student-driven approach to learning with a focus on collaboration and respect. A group of students and one teacher sit around an oval table and discuss the subject at hand. At the table, all voices are equal; students explore ideas together, develop the courage to share their thinking, and through a compassionate approach to listening they develop the empathy to understand one another and the subjects being discussed. It’s not about being right or wrong or winning a debate, it is about building deep, meaningful connections and understanding through dialogue.
The Harkness approach has been used at CAC since 2014 and teachers in the English and Social Studies departments engage regularly in the discussion-based learning that is central to the philosophy. This training allowed teachers to further develop their skills and techniques for use in the Harkness classroom as well as developing resources to use with students in future. The experience was enriching and stimulating and teachers left the session feeling excited to dive straight into more Harkenss discussions around their tables in the coming weeks.
This is in line with CAC's focus on encouraging teachers to pursue professional development opportunities that not only enhance the CAC education experience, but also enhance the overall teaching standards for our faculty. "The English and SS department's were fortunate to have a great deal of time to work one-on-one with Molly regarding our recent Harkness training. We were able to ask questions, problem-solve and just freely discuss our experiences, concerns and understandings about what Harkness looks like here at CAC," was what the one of our HS teachers, Ms Ashley Gramolini, had to say about the training she received.
"At the end of the day, my biggest takeaway was that Harkness is a philosophy, not a table nor a style of teaching, and thus can look differently in different settings and situations. It's about empowering students and treating them like human beings and being a partner in their growth and learning. As teachers, we should never stop being role models of learning and humility for our students," she added.