As an intern with Center for Inspired Teaching, I have gotten to work, play, and dance with Teacher Leaders over four intensive weeks at the summer session of the Inspired Teaching Institute, I have curated and captioned engaging classroom photos, and I’ve helped design events.
Last month, I had the most captivating experience yet. On a visit to the Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School, I got to see what it looks like when Inspired Teaching is infused into every classroom. As I walked into the building I expected it to be like my elementary school: students sitting in their desk, in total silence, as the teacher lectured. It was totally different – in a great way!
The visit began with a short introduction to Inspired Teaching. School staff discussed how the school’s goal is to build the 4 I's in every student: Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity.
Immediately, I began to notice evidence of teachers fostering the 4 I's in the classroom. School staff talked about how it was “Everyone Counts Week,” which involved a series of special discussions, workshops, read-alouds, and service projects with the goal of building students’ self-esteem and empathy as a foundation for preventing bullying. Throughout the entire discussion, students and their teachers were moving throughout the building and heading outdoors to engage in learning through purposeful play.
Upon entering the first classroom, a student welcomed me in and informed me that they were in reading workshops. Groups of students were in their favorite classroom reading spots engaging in stories together. In the PreK classroom, I observed a student struggle and persevere as he tried to figure out how to make his magnetic tower taller without it collapsing. Other PreK students explored real world connections as they explored what blood is made of by playing with a mixture of red and white “blood cells.” To master their weekly vocabulary words, students in another classroom engaged in a wide variety of work: a game of Bingo with words (or “Wordo,” as the students called it), word puzzles, and a word hunt.
One student looked in his notebook for vocabulary words, seeking to complete the challenge as efficiently as possible, while another student imagined a more physical approach to the challenge as she searched around the classroom, looking up and down to find more complex words. No matter what grade level the classroom was, one thing that remained consistent throughout was the presence of movement and joy.
After we toured the classrooms, visitors and staff gathered together to discuss what we had seen and to compare it to our own school experience. Seeing students being able to move around the classroom freely was very compelling for me. I thought back to 6th grade when I was sent to the principal’s office for failure to sit in my chair the “correct” way. I remember how hard it was for me to sit facing forward, feet on the floor, while remaining fully attentive. I truly enjoyed seeing how students at the Demonstration School were invited to be comfortable in their school space and to learn the way they do best.
I also reflected on the times we had visitors when I was in school. We were told to ignore the visitors and continue on with our work as if the visitors did not exist, which was nearly impossible for an inquisitive and easily distracted student like myself. In contrast, the students at the Demonstration School were so excited to welcome us into the classroom and tell us about the books they were reading, the stories they were writing, the games that they were playing, and most importantly, the things that they were learning.
After this recent vist, I now understand, more than ever, how Inspired Teaching’s teacher training model truly is “building a better school experience for students.”
Inspired Teaching has been featured on Euronews' Learning World an international program dedicated to covering education innovation across the globe. Click here to view the video!
The news program visited the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School to observe inquiry-based, student-centered instruction and to learn what’s possible when students and teachers treat one another with Mutual Respect.
One of the featured voices in the video was that of Mr. Jon Berg, a first grade teacher at the Demonstration School and a 2012 Inspired Teaching Fellow: “I felt like the Inspired Teaching School really provided me with a place where I would be able to think outside the box and teach my students in the best way that I felt they needed to be taught. When students feel that they are cared about and that they are equal and that their perspective and voice matters, it creates this security and safety that is required for students to take risks and make mistakes.”
Each day, Inspired Teaching expands its reach. We just opened the application for the eighth cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows, whom we prepare for successful and sustainable careers as inquiry-based teachers in DC. Also this month, we trained over a hundred teachers, instructional coaches, and district leaders from a dozen districts across Maryland in inquiry-based techniques – with a special focus on infusing inquiry into the study of environmental literacy. We presented at the National Conference for the Social Studies, holding up our Real World Historyprogram as a model for an inquiry-based, applied history course. Next week, I’ll take our message to Istanbul, where I will train teachers in all of Turkey’s Ashoka Changemaker Schools and, at the international Changemaker Education Summit, offer education leaders the tools to shift the norm towards inquiry-based education.
I’m proud that we’re spreading Inspired Teaching to broader and more varied audiences. This is part of the critical work of changing expectations about what students should experience in school. Every child should have the opportunity to learn by engaging with compelling questions, testing out responses, and pursuing deeper understanding. Every child should have a teacher who builds students’ Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. For a better future, we need the kind of rigorous, engaging, inquiry-based instruction that will cultivate the next generation of tinkerers and inventors, critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, and changemakers.
The challenge with changing expectations is that people must grapple with something that looks entirely different from their own experience. When one of our interns visited the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School for the first time, she was surprised by the contrast to her own time in elementary school. Instead of rows of silent, still students listening passively to a teacher’s lesson, she saw students moving freely yet with purpose, supporting their peers’ learning and growth, and exploring a variety of routes to truly understanding a complex topic. We must first recognize excellent inquiry-based instruction when we see it. Then we can support it: in our children’s classrooms, our schools, our school districts, our countries.
So what can you do? Use the Inspired Teaching “bingo card” to help identify a classroom environment that builds The 4 I’s. Share it with friends who are parents so they’ll know what to look for when visiting their children’s schools. Share it with your friends who are teachers so they can keep it in mind as they teach. If you are a parent, send your child’s teacher a thank you note when you see evidence of inquiry-based intruction – and send your child’s principal a note in support of that teacher. If you are an administrator or district leader, bring Inspired Teaching’s transformative teacher training to your schools. If you are an Inspired Teacher, continue to support your colleagues and spread the word.
Thank you for your support of Inspired Teachers everywhere. Together, we are changing the norm.