Jul 5, 2019

Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students

As we continue to work directly with students and teachers in the Washington, DC region, we are also reaching out to teachers, school and district leaders, and parents across the United States to encourage them to become changemakers on behalf of all students. Toward that end, Inspired Teaching recently published a white paper, 'Closing the Engagement Gap: A Social Justice Imperative.' This document provides powerful research showing why it's critical to ensure all students, especially students living in low income communities, experience an education that emphasizes authentic engagement, not obedience and compliance.

The report reflects our long-held belief that how we teach students is a critical piece of educational equity, and provides and expands upon the following recommendations:

1) Build strong relationships through an asset-based approach to working with students.

2) Honor and center students' funds of knowledge and ways of knowing.

3) Engage students with learning experiences that are meaningful to them, that are relevant to their lives, and that bring them joy.

We are pleased to share this report with all of our supporters. Please share it with the teachers, school leaders, and students in your life. And thank you for your support of Center for Inspired Teaching! It means a great deal to us and to the students and teachers we reach.


Apr 12, 2019

Inspired for Life: Inspired Teacher Leader Josiane

Josiane Blackman recently retired from E.W. Stokes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., but she’s still a familiar face there. She works a few mornings each week to observe classes and help teachers solve problems.  “After I retired, there was no question of my severing my relationship with Stokes,” she says. “When I was hired twenty years ago, I committed myself totally to the growth of my school. So, I feel privileged to be still contributing.” Josiane participated in one of the earliest Inspired Teaching Institutes 20 years ago.

How would you describe your experience at the Inspired Teaching Institute?

Inspired Teaching was transformational in my life. I have vivid memories of the amazing work. There were many wonderful activities, but for me one of the huge shifts I remember having to make as a teacher was sharing power with students. I came from culture with adult-centered classrooms, and respect for elders was a given. Here children were more independent thinkers, and adults really had to assert themselves. The Center for Artistry in Teaching [now Inspired Teaching] gave me real tools that I could start using right away. The tools were more mental tools, shifting my thinking on many things, like the idea that learning could involve the whole body, and the whole child. To me, that was revolutionary.

Most of all, it was the idea of sharing power, through practices like the class constitution, that was key to my growth. Focusing on self-awareness and reflection was also crucial. Self-assessment remains the bedrock of any growth for a teacher.

When you go into a classroom to observe, what do you identify as the characteristics of a really great learning experience?

For me the first thing is getting a sense of peace and comfort in the classroom. You walk in and it is palpable.

I remember walking into a 2nd grade classroom that was co-taught. Co-teaching is complex with several teachers planning together, and at Stokes, they’re planning together in several different languages. It’s easy for things to get chaotic. However, when I walked into this room, I was awestruck. I was happy to be there. It was comfortable, peaceful — you felt like you could breathe. The teacher was relaxed. She had everybody engaged. She planned carefully, and ensured that she and her co-teacher had the same expectations for their children.

I recall the teacher helpfully redirecting a child, “Your friend is new to French. Help your friend float, not sink, as we discussed in science.” I thought that was amazing, the way she connected her redirection to the science content they’d been discussing earlier.

The level of engagement would be something I would also look for very intentionally. How excited are students about what they’re doing? How does the teacher instigate participation in appropriate ways?

What does it mean to you to be a Teacher Leader?

I’m still connected with my school and I go back a couple mornings a week to observe in classrooms and coach teachers. It’s not my nature to be front and center, but to me, being a leader means pushing that self-reflection. Teacher Leaders are self-reflective and committed to growth — and inspire others to do the same.

What advice would you give to a first year teacher?

I would say, use the greater part of your energy in becoming the best manager of your classroom that you can be. We are so caught up in the content and the deadlines, because they’re thrown at us all the time. The school year is like a never-ending treadmill because there is so much to cover. I would say, step back and be clear about your priorities – one of them should be being the best manager you can be. I don’t mean manager in a paternalistic sense, but in terms of building deep relationships. Think of the children you have in front of you and work on creating a strong, trusting relationship with each of them.

Jan 11, 2019

Teacher Feature: Mr. Thomas

Inspired Teaching caught up with Jake Thomas, Inspired Teaching Fellow (‘17), who went through his Residency experience with us last year and is now on staff teaching 4th graders at Bancroft Elementary School.  Here, Jake tells us about a job that takes “a lot of time and a lot of heart”, and he shares an alternative way to think about the achievement gap.

Why did you decide to become a teacher?

I had a lot of awesome teachers in elementary, middle and high school and I really looked up to them. I wanted to give to others what those great teachers gave to me. I admired them because they were really focused on and caring about everyone’s needs. I was also drawn to them; they had a really great presence and they made learning really fun. I decided I wanted to do that for others, by spreading joy in my own classroom.

Why did you choose the Inspired Teaching Residency?

I heard a lot of really great things about the Inspired Teaching Residency and I met a lot of great alumni of the program. The Inspired Teaching Residency’s philosophy is really aligned with what I think a good teacher should be. It focuses on students learning through discovery and exploration.

I have also noticed that while there are a lot of really great and really fun teachers out there, too often getting one of those teachers is a privilege based on where a student lives, or even what they look like. I appreciate that Inspired Teaching advocates for, and believes in the importance of, creating an education system where students of all backgrounds have Inspired Teachers.

What’s something new you have learned during your first few months as a Teacher of Record?

Honestly, I’ve learned that I have a long way left to go, but that I am ready for this! I am a better teacher than I thought I was. I learned that being my authentic self goes a long way. Students know who I am, and they trust me, and respect who I am. This year has shown me how much I learned in my Residency Year, in terms of what makes a good teacher – establishing mutual respect, building trust and communication.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching in DC?

I love the community that I teach in right now. The school that I work at, Bancroft Elementary, is really diverse and has an authentic school culture. The community feel is really genuine, thanks to the families, leadership, and staff. People are happy to be here, and enjoy learning.

What major challenges do you see in education right now?

One thing that I’m really excited about is that at the school where I teach, there’s a sense of urgency to address the achievement gap – or as I like to think of it – the opportunity gap. Not all students have the same opportunities to be successful and I think this opportunity gap is the biggest challenge in education across the country. It’s important to realize that there are students that don’t have their needs met, in the way the system is currently working, and those kids can’t be forgotten. Sometimes those students get pushed aside and buzzwords like teacher effectiveness and metrics like test scores take priority. It’s different at Bancroft, where there is a strong focus on equity.

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a 2019 Inspired Teaching Fellow?

The program takes a lot of time and a lot of heart. It will challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged before. If you are convinced you want to teach, and if you want to be an Inspired Teacher, there is no better avenue. It’s going to be really hard and really great at the same time.

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