Inspired Teacher Leaders and Mentors

October 21, 2015

(Photo credit: Bria Stephens/Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece was written by Aleta Margolis, Inspired Teaching’s Executive Director. This piece appeared in Inspired Teaching’s October 2015 newsletter. 

On a recent visit to the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, a student and I were discussing what he was working on. He then asked me about my work. “I teach teachers,” I said. “Did you know that teachers are learning as much as you are every day in class?” Without batting an eye, he responded, “Of course!”

When I was growing up, teachers seemed distant, static, and omniscient. In the classrooms of Inspired Teachers, they’re the opposite: relatable, dynamic, and committed to continuous improvement. Learning is not confined to a particular building or a particular moment in time; rather, it is something you do every day of your life.

At Inspired Teaching, we know that being a lifelong learner is a position of strength. We know that great leaders dedicate themselves to continuous improvement. They reflect on their practice and identify areas of growth. They approach their professional and personal development as a joyful and ongoing challenge. They change themselves, so that they can lead others to change. This is the work of the Inspired Teacher. We support them along the way.

In the Inspired Teacher Certification Program, we pair each new teacher with experienced classroom practitioners who act as “critical friends,” engaging their mentees in discussion and reflection, broadening their experience, and encouraging independence and risk-taking. This intentional program component builds better Teacher Leaders and it contributes to our exceptionally high retention rates.

A key finding in the Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study, as noted by Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week, indicates the importance of mentorship: “80 percent of teachers who had a mentor in their first year stayed in teaching all five years, 16 percentage points more than teachers who did not have an early mentor.” 92% of Inspired Teaching Fellows in our residency-based program are still teaching today. The majority of these teachers move on to formal leadership positions – even as they stay in the classroom.

The experienced teachers in our district partnerships also benefit from the support and guidance of “critical friends” – Inspired Teaching staff and their fellow teachers. We train cohorts of Teacher Leaders to be Instigators of Thought, to develop standards-aligned curricula, and to train their peers district-wide in inquiry-based instruction.

The professional learning community that grows out of this work – among Inspired Teachers and between Inspired Teachers and their peers district-wide – is crucial to shifting the norm in instruction. Ms. Aqueela James, the principal of John Burroughs Elementary School, says she is excited to have four of her teachers enrolled in Inspired Teaching’s SCALE: Science Curriculum Advancement through Literacy Enhancement because “teachers learn best from teachers.” In fact, studies show that teachers are five times more likely to incorporate changes into their classroom through work with a peer coach rather than through any other form of professional development.

This month, you’ll read about Teacher Leaders and school leaders who are growing in their own practice, supporting others as they grow, and changing the norm in education from their classrooms. I founded Center for Inspired Teaching twenty years ago because I believed then, as I do now, that teachers are the key to educational reform. We continue to mentor, coach, and cultivate Teacher Leaders so that, together, we can build a better school experience for all learners.

Learn more about Inspired Teaching and our 20th Anniversary celebration. 

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