“Each one teach one. It was beautiful to see that philosophy in action, as our students realized they could teach and become mentors so easily.”
At the heart of Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. Instrumental Music Director Steve Toro’s project turns music students into teachers, with the philosophy of “each one teach one.”
When Steve Toro arrived in 1995, Moses Brown’s music program was limited to chorus and handbells. There was no formal instrumental music program: “I had six kids,” he recalls. Two decades later, instrumental music is thriving: over 200 lower, middle and upper school students take part in nine instrumental ensembles, student-run groups, winter and spring concerts, overnight music trips, private lessons, MB Rocks and the Student Performing Arts Festival.
Last spring, MB parent Wendyll Brown told Steve about San Miguel School, where she was a mentor. An independent boys’ Lasallian school for grades 5-8, the school had reached its 20th anniversary with an excellent record of achievement, but had no music program. How could they get one going?
Steve visited San Miguel and saw both the need and the potential. He met with school leadership and offered to volunteer with their fifth graders a few times a month, with the ultimate goal of starting a school band. The task was considerable, Steve knew: “At Moses Brown, we start instrumental music in third grade. Mary Pollart teaches our lower school students to read music and play the recorder. At San Miguel, I’d have to teach what Mary does, before I could build it to the next level.”
A few weeks after he began at San Miguel, Steve’s faculty cohort launched its year of collaboration and evaluation. “I knew right away what my cohort project had to be,” he says. He proposed to design an instrumental music program at San Miguel School, beginning with a fifth-grade curriculum of elementary music theory and recorder, evaluating student achievement by class performance and written testing. Steve would bring MB students to San Miguel with a “traveling instrument petting zoo,” demonstrating instruments. Reciprocally, the San Miguel students would visit MB’s ensemble class. Students from both schools would benefit from performance-based interaction with their peers.
San Miguel’s music program launched in September. Steve met with the fifth grade twice a month, as much as his schedule allowed. By February, the boys were ready to host the MB students: beginning and advanced lower school wind ensemble and middle school jazz band. “They played their recorders for us, and asked us to play for the whole school. I told our students, ‘here’s your chance to inspire these brand new musicians, kids your age,’” Steve recalls. “And it worked! The San Miguel students listened intently. The next time I saw them, they were ready with a list of the instruments they wanted to learn to play.”
More opportunities for growth and mentoring came on March 12, when the San Miguel fifth graders visited Moses Brown. They spent over an hour with an upper school wind ensemble. After enjoying the wind ensemble’s performance of Cuban dances – one with a salsa beat – the San Miguel boys broke into groups to try out the instruments they’d chosen, guided by the MB students. “Each one teach one,” Steve says. “It was beautiful to see that philosophy in action, as the MB students realized they could teach and become mentors so easily.” The upper school students’ proud encouragement matched the pure delight on the youngest faces. Over lunch, the San Miguel boys got reacquainted with the lower and middle school students they’d hosted in February.
Where does San Miguel’s music program go after its successful first year? “I hope I can continue to work with them,” Steve says. “The physical setting of San Miguel is different from Moses Brown, but the eagerness of the San Miguel students to learn and become young musicians is equal to that of my MB students. It’s an absolute joy to teach in both settings.” His larger goal of building an instrumental music program at San Miguel will take time, given the challenges of providing music lessons and time for frequent, consistent practice.
Yet thanks to Steve’s cross-divisional approach to the project, and MB’s commitment to service learning, several students want to keep working with the San Miguel boys. “I didn’t need to ask my students to volunteer. They said ‘I’ll do it! I’ll teach!’” A long-term partnership may have begun. “I’ll tell my San Miguel students, ‘if you make the commitment to practice and learn, we’ll get you an instrument of your own.’” A former MB family has donated a collection of instruments to this effort.
MB lower and middle school students have benefited from the exchange of visits with San Miguel, including a rare performance opportunity at a school different from their own. The enthusiastic response of the upper school musicians to each one teach one could open new doors for all.
Moses Brown’s faculty cohort system is a professional development and evaluation program for veteran teachers. Evoking our commitment to lifelong learning, a year of transformational study launches a five-year cycle of professional development. A cohort of teachers drawn from all three divisions sets goals, serves as resources for one another’s evaluations and shares professional development plans at year’s end. At the heart of the program are cohort projects, each teacher’s big idea for personal research to be shared in the classroom. The benefit to students is clear: teachers are continuously engaged in deepening their expertise, refining their curriculum, bringing the latest research back to the classroom and partnering with colleagues to improve the learning experience. A pilot cohort of six faculty began work in 2011-12, and a second group of sixteen followed in 2012-13. This year’s seventeen have already integrated their cohort projects into their curricula.