Wednesday, February 10 marked the first teach-in at IMS in history. What is a teach-in? Simply put, a teach-in is an educational forum on any issue typically resulting in action. In our first ever teach-in, classes were put on hold while our faculty and students engaged in learning, workshops, and discussions surrounding the brain and education. The goal was to create an environment where students and faculty could be both learning about and teaching the same topic.

Historically, teach-ins were popularized in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, but have continued to be popular events that encourage collaborative learning and discussion. The goal for our event was to break down the learning barriers that typically exist between students and faculty as a result of professional development. It is often the case that faculty attend conferences and seminars with the intention to learn new pedagogical strategies and instructional philosophies. The result is that they bring these new ideas into their classroom, which largely excludes the students from the learning process. Head of the Upper School, Flynn Corson, specifically wanted the day to represent a breaking down of this barrier. “My hope for the day is that EVERYONE is involved in similar activity so that moving forward there can be a shared vocabulary, experience, and understanding.” What better way to explore teaching philosophies, as they relate to the brain, than to include the students in the process?

The day began with a showing of Pixar’s animated film, Inside Out. The movie tells the story of a young girl and the internal struggle of her emotions as they react and respond to big changes in her physical life. This movie allowed for reflections and observations on how our own brains work and respond to the world around us, but it also set the tone for the day. Following the movie, students broke out into small discussion groups and debated a series of questions. One such question challenged students to identify what characters exist in their own minds and which were missing in the movie. While students were engaged in this activity, faculty were attending workshops held by faculty that had attended a conference specifically about the brain and education. Coming out of these two separate sessions, the day opened up into a collaborative give and take that brought everything together. Faculty-run workshops included “Brain Anatomy,” “Smiling–Why and How?,” “Mindfulness,” “Fitness,” and many others. These workshops allowed teachers to work closely with students in introducing important topics and themes within the world of education and neuroscience. Students engaged in a variety of activities, discussions, and were able to play a role in shaping the current shift within the school towards a more science-backed teaching philosophy.

Our first ever teach-in ended with advisory groups working through a debrief and reflecting on the day with an eye to the future. The hope is that the day raised lots of questions for both teachers and students. Is there a better way to manage stress and anxiety with test taking? What methods can be used to help students become more aware of their own internal dialogues? Why do I always feel more focused and attentive after exercise? Am I creating a stressful classroom environment? The faculty have only just begun to dig deeper, and the hope is that our students are part of the process and not just the reason for it. This day was certainly a big step in the right direction.

Photos of the day can be found on Flickr.