Melissa Baroff: Exeter Humanities Institute

Participating in a class session with fellow educators, including Duke Alum D. Adam Boaz (right)
Participating in a class session with fellow educators, including Duke Alum D. Adam Boaz (right)

This summer, I participated in the Exeter Humanities Institute at my alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy. The weeklong program was dedicated to training educators in Exeter’s famous Harkness Method. The Harkness Method is founded on student led, discussion based learning in all subjects. I worked with humanities educators in all fields, from elementary to college level, to learn how to teach with Harkness.

During this week, I was able to experience the Harkness Method from the perspective of both student and teacher. While the former was quite familiar, the latter was a valuable new learning experience. I participated in 10 english and history classes, after which the participants would discuss our own experiences with Harkness and how we might utilize the method in our own individual classrooms. This exercise allowed us to understand the experience of a variety of students. I learned many valuable lessons from my fellow educators as they shared their own experiences and expertise in teaching.

In addition to the classroom experience, the program had a number of optional seminars on a variety of teaching topics. I participated in a seminar on handling “difficult” discussions at the Harkness table. We discussed the roles of racism, sexism, and other institutional biases in education at large and how these issues can manifest in student led, discussion based learning. We also discussed a number of case studies, which allowed us to consider how we can handle problematic moments in the classroom. This seminar was particularly helpful for me, as my experience as a formal educator is limited to Elementary Latin at Duke, but I am hoping to transition to secondary school history or Latin after Duke. Hearing from more experienced educators on these topics gave me a larger perspective on secondary school teaching and some tools for my own classroom.

Participating in the Exeter Humanities Institute was an extremely valuable experience. Beyond learning the logistics of the Harkness Method, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from a variety of passionate, dedicated educators, some of whom have been teaching for decades. This experience made me more excited for my post-grad career and more passionate about education. I would highly recommend the Exeter Humanities Institute to my peers and fellow educators!