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The work that Center for Inspired Teaching does is so important. I have seen the educators in action and felt the positive energy they bring to their classrooms. To raise the bar on quality, we need engaged, highly educated teachers who, like those selected for Inspired Teaching’s program, want to make a difference in a child’s life.

— Stacey L. Collins, Manager of Client and Community Relations, PNC
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Oct 19 01:40 pm

How can schools promote social justice & student action? Learn more from our ED @janeehrenfeld via @washingtonpost

My Visit to Center for Inspired Teaching

August 12, 2013

This blog post was written by Lauren Coletta, Senior Change Leader at Ashoka.

As a new person at Ashoka, I was eager to get out and learn more about the innovative work Ashoka Fellows are doing around the world, in particular how they are pioneering ways to build cognitive empathy and social and emotional learning skills to better prepare children for a rapidly changing world. My first experience was just this July when we visited Aleta Margolis, an Ashoka Fellow since 2001, at the Capital City Public Charter School where her organization, Center for Inspired Teaching, was training their Inspired Teaching Fellows – new teachers being certified through Inspired Teaching’s 24-month teacher preparation residency program. Aleta explained that in order for Megan Noack (my wonderful intern) and me to understand Center for Inspired Teaching’s instructional philosophy and approach, we would participate in activities as if we were teachers-in-training like the rest of the group. I found the idea exciting and a little intimidating at the same time; I haven’t been in a classroom as a student in forever.

To reinforce how important teachers are in creating a supportive, child-centered environment for creative learning, Inspired Teaching’s facilitators took us through one exercise where we all stepped back in time to reflect on our own experiences as students, writing down our most negative learning experience. Although I haven’t thought about it in years, mine rushed into my head immediately. It was in first grade when my teacher bullied us with her yelling and screaming, making a boy named Eddie cry in front of the whole class.

After we wrote down our stories, we stripped away any unnecessary words, hung them on mounted sheets of construction paper on the walls, and then walked around to read what our colleagues had written.  It was really amazing; most of the stories took place when the participants were very young, but these memories had stayed with them. Almost all of them involved some sort of humiliation, misunderstanding, or a teacher’s lack of patience. It was astounding how similar they were.

The facilitators then helped us think through what we had learned from each others’ stories. This conversation opened up a cloud of thoughts about seeing situations from both the students’ and the teachers’ perspectives. The soon-to-be-teachers discussed how sensitive young children are; how powerful teachers can be in shaping their students’ futures, their attitudes about learning, and their feelings about themselves; and how memories of bad classroom experiences can last a lifetime. We also explored our experiences from the positions of our former teachers, considering how their actions may have been well-intentioned or a result of the heavy pressures that teachers face from outside the classroom. As the exercise progressed, our group learned how to empathize with both the student and the teacher.

The whole morning was a real eye opener for me. Center for Inspired Teaching’s approach is a true frame change for how we educate kids and prepare our teachers to foster the social emotional learning skills and cognitive empathy that are as essential to today’s kids as literacy. If we want young people to be the leaders we need for tomorrow, we need to treat them with respect, help them to master empathy, and show them how to be creative, take initiative, and work well with others. In other words, teach them how to be changemakers in a world that is going to require those skills to be successful.

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