Inspired Teaching Near and Far

March 30, 2017

This piece by Jane Ehrenfeld, Inspired Teaching’s Executive Director, appeared in Inspired Teaching’s March 2017 newsletter. 

How can one organization be both deeply place-based and also have far reaching aspirations for its message and vision? This is a question we’ve been grappling with at Inspired Teaching, especially since engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process last year.

I recently wrote of our deep commitment to Washington, DC, and of our growing commitment to the quickly changing broader region. Just a few days later, we learned that Inspired Teacher Jan Schuettpelz had been named DCPS’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. In addition to that wonderful news, we learned that Milton (Mickey) Bryant, a 2011 Inspired Teaching Fellow and DCPS teacher, had been named one of only seven winners of DCPS’s Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching.

At the Standing Ovation for DC Public Schools ceremony, hosted by DCPS and the DC Public Education Fund, we looked through the long list of Highly Effective teachers and recognized name after name – dozens of Inspired Teachers who were being recognized as among DCPS’s best educators. And when, in her speech, Jan thanked Inspired Teaching for supporting and strengthening her practice and boosting her morale, a cheer went up through the Kennedy Center Opera House, as Inspired Teachers and Inspired Teaching fans shouted their support for our work.

This is what it means to be place-based: to have a symbiosis in the relationship with a partner like DCPS, where we can contribute to positive change and growth in their schools, and where they can take what we contribute and build on it – both through continuing the programs that we have started, and also by honoring the Inspired Teaching pedagogy and giving Inspired Teachers in DCPS opportunities to share their practice widely with their peers. Meanwhile, we continue to work with DC public charter schools, supporting teachers in dozens of schools of all types in all wards of the city.

And what about our national aspirations? We start here with the understanding that Inspired Teaching could grow exponentially and still not directly reach every teacher in America, and also that impact can happen in powerful ways beyond the sphere of teacher training. This understanding was critical to Aleta’s decision last year to transition into the role of Founder and President; in this role she can be an ambassador of Inspired Teaching and – through publications, presentations, speaking engagements, media appearances, and beyond – can begin to shift the national conversation toward a vision of teaching and learning that embraces authentic engagement.

Our efforts to spread the message of Inspired Teaching have proceeded in leaps and bounds. Aleta was invited to present at SXSWedu in Austin, where she led a session to move innovators “From Compliance to Engagement” in their schools and workplaces, demonstrating the positive outcomes generated by an environment that engages. At the same time, I co-designed and helped lead the K-12 Education Forum at the Ashoka U Exchange in Miami, where education professionals came together to consider how to bring about a world in which every young person is excited and equipped to contribute positively to their communities. Inspired Teaching was a presence at the AASA National Conference on Education. Cosby Hunt, who leads our Real World History program, wrote for the American Association for State and Local History, explaining how our engagement-based philosophy helps students apply what they learn to practical use. By forging new alliances with like-minded organizations and thought leaders, we will realize our goal of making engagement-based education the norm.

As we spread our influence across the country, we are preparing for next year’s work in the DC region. Not only are we in the final stages of planning this Summer’s Inspired Teaching Institute for inservice teachers, we will also soon be welcoming a new cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows as they begin their journey towards successful and sustainable careers as engagement-based educators. To support our growing family and reach ever more students, we need your help. Your gifts and goodwill make our vision a reality.

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