Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students

by Center for Inspired Teaching
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Making Learning Joyfully Rigorous for Students
Speak Truth
Speak Truth

If the chaos of 2020 taught us anything, it's that our plans and goals can be thwarted by factors outside our control. But that doesn't mean we abandon the idea that we can have some control over things we wish to change. Indeed, hope and confidence in our ability to change things makes getting through the rough patches possible. A teacher who struggles to connect with a student doesn't abandon the effort mid-year. Rather, she retools, learning more about the student, seeking new connections, striving for that spark that lights the way into the possible. Similarly, schools that have been remote haven't given up on the promise of bringing students back together again even though the metrics are daunting. Rather, they plan and strategize and prepare for the day when the metrics shift in their favor. 

We can't predict what 2021 will hold. But we can guarantee it will be different. And we can help determine what happens in the new year.

Let's try new things. Let's imagine bigger possibilities. Let's strive for deeper connections. Let's be guided by and grow our Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. As the light slowly returns to our days through winter and spring, let us be part of that light, shining possibility into the unknown. 

Student Work Featured

In February 2021, we were thrilled to see the work of Real World History students showcased in two public spaces. A Washington Post article titled The Great Migration becomes a great subject for District high school students highlights the work students in this course have done over the years to record oral histories of people who were part of this moment in history. These oral histories will soon be available via the D.C. Public Library’s People’s Archive. 

Students in this program have also been working with The Phillips Collection. They created a short film modeled after Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series in addition to labels for several of Lawrence's pieces. Both will be showcased as part of a community exhibition from March 6 - May 16. Scroll down to the paintings on this page to read their words. 

As Real World History students dive into a number of other internships and opportunities in the weeks ahead we look forward to sharing their learning! 
 

Monthly Inspired Teaching Institutes

In December 2020 we began a series of monthly teacher institutes built around timely themes. In January teachers gathered to talk about "Embracing Change" and left the sessions with a toolkit for how to thoughtfully approach a change they wanted to make in their own contexts. In February we explored "Mental Wellness" and participants were inspired by the words of three young people who shared projects they'd launched in their schools to support the health and well-being of their peers and teachers. 

Inspired Teaching Publications

The following publications, authored by senior leaders and students at Inspired Teaching, offer deeper perspective into our work during this extraordinary year, and reflect our goals for children and young people. It’s our pleasure to share them with you.

PreK-12 Education Recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration – to Build an Engaged Citizenry

February 3, 2021, The Washington Post

Discussing Sedition in the Classroom, Should We?

January 12, 2021, BAM Radio Network Special Report

How to talk, and listen, to your students during times of crisis

January 8, 2021, ASCD

Speak Truth
Speak Truth
Virtual Inspired Teaching Institute
Virtual Inspired Teaching Institute
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Ask the Expert Interview Series
Ask the Expert Interview Series

Center for Inspired Teaching envisions a future in which every person is prepared to thrive in and contribute to our complex and rapidly-changing world. We believe that such a future is possible only when all children and youth have access to an education that teaches them how to think, not what to think, and includes the opportunity to engage in real life learning opportunities both in school and in professional settings. In a world where access to information is only an internet search away, students need an education steeped in experiences that help them evaluate that information and put it into use in real-world contexts.

Real World History is the only credit-bearing course in DC that draws students from public and public charter schools. This yearlong honors-level course offers 56 in-classroom hours plus 80-100 hours of work experience in an internship setting. Students learn history through inquiry, and build the skills of a historian - including contextualization, corroboration, and sourcing - through studying the Great Migration of African Americans out of the rural south in the 20th Century. Students build skills for using a variety of primary and secondary sources, including their main text, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. The culminating work is an oral history project, in which each student researches, develops questions, and conducts a 45-60 minute interview with a Washingtonian who was part of the Great Migration.

Each student completes an 80-100 hour internship at a notable national or local historical site or museum. Students see themselves as professionals, often for the first time. Each site provides students the opportunity to contribute to ongoing projects in meaningful ways while learning about public history, thereby gaining authentic career exploration and exposure to a field that is rarely introduced to high school students.

We have a fantastic group of high school students enrolled in Real World History this year, and five of our seniors have started their internships already. This is the first year we're doing fall internships and we are excited to partner with The President Woodrow Wilson House,The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and The Phillips Collection to offer these learning opportunities for our students.

Anne Taylor Brittingham, Director of Learning and Education Strategy at the Phillips Collection, has met with our Real World History students four times so far this semester, "introducing them to the life and artwork of Jacob Lawrence, talking about the Great Migration, thinking about what makes a good question (as they prepare for their oral history projects), and then talking about what makes a good museum label." Our students will be writing response labels to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series. The student-created labels will be included in The Phillips Collection Centennial installation, which opens February 20, 2021.

The Phillips Collection is planning a video component that draws from the oral history projects our students conduct with Washingtonians who participated in the Great Migration. Archives of these interviews from past years are currently being transferred to the DC Public Library for open access to the public. 

The onset of Covid-19 has moved all program activities to a virtual format. We have been able to do this without changing our timeline, content, impact, or outcomes. Over the course of our history we have adapted to changes with the flexibility we teach teachers to use in their classrooms. When faced with the obstacles presented by a global pandemic, we dedicated ourselves to expanding resources, not shrinking them. While Covid has pushed us to rethink some of the ways we do our work, it has also afforded us the opportunity to evolve and actively participate in ongoing changes to education. We are encouraged by the fact that the core qualities that have always defined the Inspired Teaching Approach are both relevant and even more critical in our current environment.



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Virtual Session of Speak Truth
Virtual Session of Speak Truth

March 2020 brought changes and challenges to the world that would have been hard to imagine even 6 months ago. COVID-19 has up-ended our norms and forced us to adapt to unknown and constantly evolving situations; this is especially true in education. Despite these challenges, Center for Inspired Teaching continues our powerful work to build leadership and critical thinking via virtual programming.

At a time when we’re craving in-person conversations and missing the flow that body language can bring to a discussion, Inspired Teaching’s Speak Truth virtual sessions offer a beautiful antidote to all the things we’re growing fond of bemoaning about video conferencing. 

It turns out that well-structured, student-led discussions can be effective both in-person AND online because the elements that make them work in a physical space actually translate pretty well to a virtual one. 

As Inspired Teacher Cosby Hunt opened a session on ZOOM in April 2020 he explained, “Student led discussions are the way things should happen more often in our classrooms. We can be starting student-led discussions even while we’re at home.” He was speaking to a group of about 40 teachers and students who represented schools from up and down the Eastern Seaboard ranging from high school students and their teachers from DC and MD public, private, and charter schools to students and preservice teachers from rural New Hampshire. 

This discussion began and was facilitated entirely by a sophomore at Georgetown Prep High School in Bethesda, MD. The topic students would debate for the next hour was: Is the novel Coronavirus exacerbating inequality? Alejandro did a stunning job of keeping the discussion flowing with questions he’d prepared ahead of time, visuals he shared to set up new lines of inquiry, and an effort to balance the voices present so everyone who wanted to jump in could do so. Here is a sampling of the questions discussed: 

  • Have people overreacted or underestimated the magnitude of this virus?
  • How can this inequality manifest itself in the nationwide switch to online school? 
  • What types of workers are facing unemployment? Is it fair to say that those of low-income working jobs are disproportionately affected?
  • How will this pandemic change how the government spends money?

Speak Truth sessions reflect the core elements of the Inspired Teaching approach. Students are the central experts. Their intellect, imagination, integrity, and inquiry drive the whole discussion. And as teachers, putting them in the driver’s seat for the discussion reflects a high level of mutual respect that they in turn learn to show one another. 

In most sessions only a handful of participants know each other in advance, and yet the discussion gets deep very quickly with students sharing their own personal perspectives on the relationship between wealth, power, and race in coronavirus response and ramifications. 

For example, in response to a question about whether education is right in the United States, a student from the Maret School in Washington, DC replied, “Not necessarily. As the government does not have any legislation pertaining to explicit human rights regulations, things like the internet for education are often left in the dust. I’d say the government views education as non-essential and therefore internet connection as an extension of that view.”

The points made by the assembled students who ranged from freshmen to seniors in high school were worthy of the most esteemed Sunday morning talk shows and the adults who joined the discussion just to listen shared their amazement after the conversation with the level of sophistication and thoughtfulness on display. 

As teachers experiment to find the best way to make use of video-time with students, the Speak Truth model is definitely worth exploring. There is a growing consensus that distance learning cannot replicate what we do in a typical school day and that the emphasis should be less on time spent vs. quality of that time. Having students plan meaningful discussions that you observe as they take place offers both a leadership opportunity for the students and tremendous learning opportunity for you as the teacher.

Even once the threat of Covid-19 passes, school will never be the same. We will continue building out our virtual and face-to-face programs for teachers and students, and use our 25-years of expertise to influence education to ensure students are in the driver’s seat of their education.

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Center for Inspired Teaching came into the new year excited to champion impactful teacher development and insightful student-led discourse. Our professional development programs for teachers and educators held numerous in-person seminars and events between January and March 2020. We championed teachers as changemakers within classrooms, and engaged students as active learners and critical thinkers to help them learn and achieve at high levels. 

We hold sessions of Inspiring Changemakers and Critical Conversationalists on a monthly basis, but in January 2020 we held an additional special session to further enable teacher development. We brought the Speak Truth program to the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) Headquarters as part of an ongoing partnership between Inspired Teaching and WTU. We invited a larger group of DCPS teachers to view a small-session of Speak Truth and then participate in guided reflection and activities that teach them how to bring student-driven discourse into their own classrooms. It was a powerful session of Speak Truth where students discussed the rising costs of college tuition, with many teachers and leaders in education in attendance. Teachers left the session feeling empowered to bring student-led discourse into their own classrooms.

In February 2020, Speak Truth, Inspired Teaching's groundbreaking program that brings together high school students from public, charter, and independent schools across the region to engage in student-led discussion on powerful topics, held an intergenerational session at EL Haynes Public Charter School in honor of Black History Month. This is the one time that educators can join in with students for the discussion. The results were a powerful and diverse conversation on the topics of representation in video games; Black girls missing in DC; hip-hop-ology; the stigma around natural hair in school; and the “right” way to protest. We are proud of the way our city's young people and their teachers are engaging in civic (and civil!) discourse.

March 2020 has brought many new changes and challenges to the world, including education. In order to adapt to a virtual learning environment, Inspired Teaching is developing new ways to engage both teachers and students online. As a way to promote continued learning and exploration, we started the #Inspired2Learn challenge. We are posing daily challenges where students can utilize their at-home and in-neighborhood environment to learn, explore, grow and change. We welcome you to follow us and take an #Inspired2Learn challenge on your own or with a child or young person in your life!

In March, we held our monthly Speak Truth event as a virtual session. We were curious about how engaged students would be in a virtual setting, and the session turned out to be amazing! The official topic focused on the importance of Black teachers in schools that serve mostly students of color. The students had a lot to say, but the bottom line is that students deeply appreciate it when their teachers show they care. We look forward to continuing to host virtual seminars for as long as schools in the DC region remain closed.

Inspired Teaching is looking forward to another successful year of teacher and student engagement; and we are committed to working with all our partners to ensure the best outcomes for our communities. 

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Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth

Since 1995, Center for Inspired Teaching has been teaching teachers – and their students - how to engage respectfully in powerful conversations.
 
Through our program Speak Truthhigh school students from public, charter, and private schools across the Washington, DC region engage in honest and respectful discussion about contemporary social issues. In 2019, students took on dozens of topics, including the New Green Deal; the psychological aftermath of surviving school shootings; the pros and cons of regulating social media; the college admissions scandal; and how to raise boys.

Through Inspired Teaching's transformative professional development programspreK-12 teachers engage in their own powerful discussions on topics ranging from how to see the best in every student to balancing rigor and joy in the classroom.

 

Integrity, civil discourse, and empathy have been at the core of Inspired Teaching’s work for nearly a quarter century. We believe school is the place where young people must learn these skills so they can be active and thoughtful participants in our democratic society.
 
And yet so many students still endure a school experience that prizes compliance and teaches them to absorb material, instead of allowing them to grapple with meaningful issues and engage authentically in learning. This problem is pervasive, particularly in schools in low income communities, where research shows students are even more likely to experience instruction that prizes compliance over engagement.
 
Whether you have supported Inspired Teaching for years, or are investing in us for the first time, thank you. We need you, our friends and co-conspirators, to keep us strong as we continue to invest in teachers and students toward our goal of creating systemic change.
 
We look forward to the day when all children learn to think critically, engage honestly and respectfully, and learn joyfully every single day in every single school.
Thank you!
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth
Students in Inspired Teaching's Speak Truth

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Center for Inspired Teaching

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @InspireTeach
Project Leader:
Caitlin Wolf
Executive Director
Washington, DC United States
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