The Tecolote Group at St. John’s College
The Tecolote Group believes that great books make great teachers! Tecolote honors the work of New Mexico educators at all levels and supports them in the cultivation of active learning across the curriculum. Through our yearly Colloquium series in Santa Fe we offer occasions for thoughtful discussion of important texts, and a forum for dedicated teachers and school administrators to learn from and inspire one another. Since our founding in 2001, Tecolote has hosted over 1,000 educators in our Colloquia. Our pool of dedicated Tecolote Fellows serves as a resource, supporting teachers and advocating for liberal education throughout New Mexico and the Southwest.
Everyone recognizes the need for great teachers. Yet little is done to encourage the idealism that brings talented people to the teaching profession in the first place. Current educational reform focuses on improving bureaucracy and establishing strict performance standards. Many who enter the profession with a burning passion for their books and their students find they must either settle for a limited, lifeless role or leave teaching altogether. Demoralized teachers can’t help but demoralize their students, and good teachers who would benefit from sharing insights with other good teachers often work in isolation.
Our Colloquium Series
Tecolote aims, through our Colloquium series, to provide the inspiration and renewal that come from cooperative study. Additionally, our Colloquia offer educators the opportunity to meet with their peers to think freely and exchange ideas about best practices.
Scheduled on Saturdays that avoid the busiest times of the school year, our Colloquia are based on the “Socratic” method of learning through discussion developed in the great books curriculum at St. John’s College. Participants include elementary, middle, and secondary teachers and administrators in public and independent schools, as well as a small number of college-level educators, school principals, school board members, government officials, and students planning to become teachers. Led by St. John’s faculty and other experienced seminar leaders, our Colloquia are designed to provide occasions for genuine liberal learning through discussion of carefully selected texts.
Participants attend four Saturday sessions in Santa Fe, two in the fall and two in the winter. Each Saturday session runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and follows the same structure: morning coffee and pastries, followed by a small-group tutorial, a larger-group seminar, and a formal luncheon with a brief presentation. Presentations often take the form of brief talks that supplement the material discussed in the seminar and tutorial sessions. At times we have asked teachers to lead demonstration classes with small groups of students. Presentations are followed by general discussion and questions. An evaluator attends all Colloquium sessions to assess their effectiveness and to provide guidance for future programs.
Tecolote Colloquia are:
- Non-competitive: Participants explore and learn together through supportive, shared inquiry.
- Interdisciplinary: Our discussions focus on books and questions of importance for all educators, from all disciplines and levels.
- Diverse: Participants are chosen with attention to diversity of experience, location, ethnicity, gender, and age.
- Free of charge: All books, other materials, and meals are provided at no charge, and all participants receive a modest honorarium in recognition of their involvement in this important work.
What We’re Reading
Each year the Tecolote Colloquia are structured around a theme, many of which are framed by the American experience. Recent Tecolote themes have included:
I Hear America Singing: Poets of the American Experience (2019–20): An exploration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Poet” and a series of ambitious poems that attempt to capture aspects of the American experience. Readings by Emerson, Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Simon J. Ortiz, and Claudia Rankine.
Five Plays about Justice (2018–19): An exploration of the conflicts arising out of competing conceptions of justice in the plays of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy and in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure.
Tocqueville’s Americans: Then and Now (2017–18): A reading and discussion of extended sections of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, focused on his depiction of basic democratic character types and on the challenges facing the American democracy in his time and ours.
Asking Questions (2016–17): An examination of the role that the serious asking of questions has played in science, philosophy, and education. Authors: Plato, Zhuangzi, Bassui, Carl Hempel, Pierre Duhem, Paul Feyerabend, Martin Heidegger, Annie Dillard.
The Quest for the Liberal Arts (2015–16): A study of traditional conceptions of the liberal arts and a consideration of the prospects for liberal arts education in the U.S. today. Authors: Aristotle, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. du Bois, Dorothy Sayers, J. Glenn Gray, and others.
Islam and Egypt (2014–15): The origins and central features of Islam, the concept of jihad, and the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Authors and Texts: The Qur’an, Martin Lings’ Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, and contemporary articles by journalists and commentators.
Books that Change Lives (2013–14): A close reading of Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, with emphasis on the transformative power of these works.
Economics: The Dismal Science (2012–13): An examination of some of the key ideas at the heart of the current stalemate in economic theory. Authors: Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, F. A. Hayek.
The Phenomenon of Learning (2011–12): A look at the mysterious, interrelated processes of teaching and learning. Authors: Plato, Euclid, Montaigne, Steven Pinker.
Democracy in America (2010–11): A study of the basic character of democracy in the U.S., including the interplay of liberty and equality, the nature of political associations and the judiciary, and the role of the individual in a democratic state. Authors and Texts: de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”
After participating in Tecolote Colloquia, teachers return to their classrooms refreshed and with a renewed sense of their vocation. Many teachers and administrators initiate follow-through activities, engaging their students and colleagues in reading and discussing great texts. Others develop their own related initiatives, which Tecolote helps to implement. Beyond the general approach of learning through conversation based on worthy texts, our program is not prescriptive. Teachers continue to develop their own distinctive approaches in the classroom, drawing on their work with Tecolote for ideas and inspiration.
Our participants (“Tecolote Fellows”) are educators in many different fields from throughout the New Mexico region. Fellows travel from all regions of the state and as far away as El Paso, the Navajo Nation, Eastern Arizona, and Southern Colorado to attend our Colloquia. Here’s what some of them have said about Tecolote:
7th grade science teacher: “Tecolote has been an ideal way of recharging my teaching mind! The topics and texts were appropriately challenging and the environment of a good Socratic discussion never fails to remind me of the essence of learning . . . Of all the ‘professional development’ opportunities that have come my way, Tecolote has affected me the most profoundly. This is a great thing for teachers!”
High school English teacher: “This is, bar none, the best professional development activity in which I have ever been involved. Engaging in intellectually challenging study, questioning, and conversation with my peers sharpens and inspires me to be effective in the classroom. The tutorial/seminar format gives me a new way to reach my students.”
5th and 6th grade science teacher: “I just want to thank you for opening my mind, heart, and world through this incredible gift you call Tecolote. I feel that all aspects of my life have benefited from my experiences with Tecolote and I hope that my students will continue to entertain ideas throughout their lives as well.”
High school English teacher: “My students see me now as a learner. It’s been amazing to see their curiosity about my growth. They ask me about my reading. We are now creating a culture of reading, questioning, curiosity, and equal footing.”
Founded in 2001 by St. John’s College faculty member (“tutor”) emeritus Stephen Van Luchene, and currently led by tutor Phil Bartok, the Tecolote Group was born out of a desire to support local educators in their mission of encouraging active learning. Our group takes its name from the local Spanish word for “owl” and hearkens back to Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, who has traditionally been symbolized by an owl. The name “Tecolote” reflects the Group’s commitment to both ancient Greek educational traditions and the concerns of educators in present day New Mexico. The first Tecolote Colloquium took place during the 2002–03 academic year with 65 participants. Since then, the Tecolote Group has held Colloquia every year but one, and hosted nearly 1,000 educators.
Tecolote has received generous support over the years from many foundations and corporations, including:
- The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation
- The McCune Charitable Foundation
- Natural Gas Partners
- The Still Water Foundation
- The Simon Foundation
Tecolote also benefits from gifts from generous individuals for its annual operations. In 2008, St. John’s College in Santa Fe was awarded a grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities “We The People” Challenge Grants Program to establish an endowment for the Tecolote Group.
Tecolote participants have traditionally been selected from those nominated by fellow educators or current Tecolote Fellows. We continue to welcome nominations. If you would like to nominate a colleague to participate in our Colloquia, please send us a one-page letter detailing why you believe this person should participate in our program.
Since 2014, the Tecolote Group has also accepted self-nominations. If you are interested in participating in our Colloquia, please send us a one-page letter discussing why you would like to participate.
For all nominations (of colleagues or self-nominations), please include the following information about the person nominated:
- Contact Information (email address)
- School/Educational Institution
- Role/Position (e.g. librarian, 3rd grade teacher, etc.)
- Length of time in education