What is crew? What does a strong crew look like?

In an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, there are not classrooms or teachers; there are crews and crew leaders. “What does that really mean though?” is a question you might ponder (and one I certainly did at the beginning of the year as a new EL teacher). EL Education explains the concept of crew often with the turn of phrase “We are Crew, Not Passengers.” By calling groups of students crews rather than classes, we imply that the only way to go forward and to progress is together. We value collective and individual social and academic progress. We find joy and value in operating as a team.

At Detroit Prep, crew is more than what we call our team. Crew is also a dedicated and structured time at the beginning and end of each day. We circle up, greet one another, engage in purposeful games and readings connected to our Habits of Character and reflect on our progress toward individual and collective goals. Time in crew is not a nice add-on to learning but rather a necessary precursor; students of any age need to first feel accepted and safe before they are willing to engage in deep, rigorous learning and take academic risks.


Though crew is off to a strong start at DP, we still have room to grow. After a recent visit to Polaris Charter Academy (DP’s mentor EL school in Chicago) my mind is brimming with ideas. As we move toward the coming year, I am actively contemplating how to improve our sense of crew. How can structures be set up to facilitate group goal setting and celebrate group progress toward goals? If these structures were in place, could students have more ownership of our school community and be more responsible for keeping one another academically on track? How can crew time be strategically utilized to teach about culturally-relevant figures who exemplified strong character? If we grounded crew in a historical understanding of our current identities, might we be better poised to equitably interact and fulfill our school’s mission/vision? Luckily I, like the students, am not alone to grapple with these big questions and with the large task of building our crew. We are a DP crew, and we will work together to build an even stronger community and sense of crew for our second year.