The Tecolote Group at St. John’s College


The Tecolote Group believes great books make great teachers. In collaboration with teachers and education administrators in New Mexico, the Tecolote Group provides occasions for learning through organized discussion of important books and texts. Tecolote’s mission is to help participants promote liberal education through initiatives in their own classrooms and to nurture a love of learning in New Mexico.

The Tecolote Group was developed to address a persistent shortcoming in modern American educational practices. Everyone recognizes the need for good teachers, but there is often little encouragement for the passion that draws talented people to the teaching profession. The Tecolote Group was formed to support teachers who do not want to see their roles reduced to being test proctors and disciplinarians.

For schools to become truly effective, teachers must be supported in their work beyond the daily pressures of bells, tests, papers, lunch lines, discipline, and school violence. Current educational reform focuses on improving the bureaucracy and establishing strict performance standards for students; often there is little attention to supporting teachers and ensuring that educators can continue to be active learners. The Tecolote Group creates opportunities to discuss and think freely about best practices in teaching and learning.


Participants attend four Saturday colloquia each year—two in the fall and two in the spring—at the St. John’s College campus in Santa Fe.

All books, other materials, and meals are provided at no charge. Participants pay no fees to attend; in fact they receive a modest honorarium to recognize their involvement in this important work.

Program Overview

The Tecolote program follows the method of learning through discussion of important texts that is often referred to as the Socratic method, a form of inquiry based on questions that explores ideas and stimulates critical thinking. The Tecolote Group’s curricular approach mirrors the educational principles followed in the great books curriculum of St. John’s, but uses a wider variety of texts and typically targets more contemporary themes.

Each year’s session is structured around a theme, many of which are framed by the American experience. Previous topics have included political theory, nuclear physics, classical and New Mexican literature, educational theory, and modern American history. The Tecolote Group continues to explore new topics for upcoming program years.

Scheduled on Saturdays that avoid the busiest times of the school year, the Tecolote colloquia are planned primarily for the benefit of preschool, 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. Colloquia are led by St. John’s faculty and other experienced seminar leaders.

Colloquia are designed to be non-competitive so that participants can explore and learn through shared inquiry. We target no particular discipline or grade level, but focus on books and questions that are accessible to all educators. Participants are chosen with attention to diversity of experience, location, ethnicity, gender, and age.

Program Structure

The Tecolote Group holds eight colloquia each academic year, four in the fall and four in the spring. Participants select schedule A or schedule B and commit to attending four of the eight colloquia: two in the fall and two in the spring. Colloquia are held on Saturdays on the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Colloquia are held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The morning begins with coffee and rolls, followed by a small group tutorial (eight participants), a larger group seminar (16 participants), and a formal luncheon with a brief presentation. Presentations can take different forms: Often they are brief talks that supplement material discussed in seminar and tutorial sessions. Sometimes Tecolote participants will bring a small group of their own high school or elementary students to do a demonstration class to be observed by the Tecolote participants. Presentations are followed by general discussion.

Tecolote events are attended by evaluators and advisors who assess their effectiveness and provide guidance for future events.


Founded in 2001 by St. John’s College faculty member (“tutor”) Steve van Luchene and currently led by tutor Phil Bartok, the Tecolote Group arose out of the desire to support local educators in their mission of encouraging active learning. The group takes its name from the local Spanish word for owl. In the classic Western tradition, owls are typically associated with Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom; the educational philosophy guiding the Tecolote Group is similarly influenced by ancient Greek pedagogical approaches. The name “Tecolote” reflects the group’s commitment both to ancient Greek educational traditions and the concerns of present day New Mexico. The first Tecolote session took place during the 2002–03 academic year with 65 participants. Since then, the Tecolote Group has held sessions every year but one, and hosted nearly a thousand educators.