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The Inspired Teaching Approach

Every child, and teacher, should love coming to school.

The Inspired Teaching Approach makes that possible.


Since its founding in 1995, Center for Inspired Teaching has taught thousands of teachers and school leaders to build their practice in engagement-based education, using the 5 Rules of Inspired Teaching Improv and professional development centered on the power and importance of play. Through intensive, in-person fellowships and an array of interactive digital programs and resources, Inspired Teaching has helped to create classrooms where students solve complex problems, collaborate, and pursue continuous learning and growth — with excitement and enthusiasm.

Inspired Teachers are Instigators of Thought who center all instruction on the 4 I’s: Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. They build their classrooms around Five Core Elements: Mutual Respect; Student As Expert; Purpose, Persistence, and Action; Joy; and Wide-Ranging Evidence of Student Learning. Click the model below to learn more.

The Inspired Teaching Model

The Inspired Teaching Model

Mutual Respect means adults in school embrace relationship-based discipline, restorative justice, and other philosophies that authentically build self-discipline and intrinsic motivation, and teach genuine responsibility. Students are not expected simply to comply with rules. The expectation is that school will help students thrive. Learn More

Student As Expert means adults trust that students have the ability, and the inclination, to solve academic and social problems, instead of assuming students need adults to solve problems for them. This means student voice and ideas are abundant in every lesson, in every interaction. Learn More

Purpose, Persistence, and Action means students are fully engaged, intellectually, emotionally, and physically, in what they are doing. They persevere in solving problems, making discoveries along the way. Teachers offer feedback and support and ask thought-provoking questions, but the students themselves are in the driver's seat. Learn More

Joy means students and teachers know they are valued and feel a sense of belonging in school. It means students and teachers embrace an asset-based stance, and take pride in their work. Joy can be sparked by a special event - a dance performance or soccer game. However, joy is also an important component of the everyday experience of teaching and learning. Learn More

Wide-Ranging Evidence of Learning means multiple forms of student learning data are collected, analyzed, displayed, valued, and used to inform instruction. Students write essays, create artwork and dances, give speeches, build models, design and administer surveys, write code, create apps, create videos and podcasts, and much more—in addition to taking tests and exams. Learn More

Intellect means learning, understanding, and applying content knowledge in reading and literature, mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts, to address personal, communal, national, and global problems and experiences. Thinking critically and learning in a manner that is self-directed and fully engaged: intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Learn More

Inquiry is acting as a researcher: problem-solving, generating questions, collecting and analyzing information, and proposing solutions.Relying on curiosity and collaboration; internal motivation to learn, wonder and keen observation, paying close attention to detail and data, and devising possibilities for future investigations. Learn More

Imagination is exhibiting the skills of creative and independent thinkers: the courage to create, a joyful spirit, the ability to generate ideas and devise solutions, and the ability to learn through play. Facing challenges — in school and everywhere in life — with resourcefulness, ingenuity, and optimism. Learn More

Integrity is acting as a member of a democratic society. Demonstrating honesty: the ability to stand up for one’s beliefs; the confidence to make decisions according to one’s value system; the ability to listen to, respect, collaborate, and learn from others; and the capacity for empathy and compassion. Learn More

5 Rules of Inspired Teaching Improv

5 Rules of Inspired Teaching Improv
Respect What Others Create Say "Yes, And..." Know Your Goal Play Big Embrace Mistakes

Play Big

Embrace Mistakes

Improvisation is an essential framework for building uncertainty tolerance and teaching students to apply creative thinking to solving complex problems.

Research shows that teachers trained in the skills of improvisation are well-equipped to handle the rapidly changing nature of what’s happening in schools. Better yet, classrooms steeped in an improvisational mindset foster the kinds of engagement and feelings of belonging essential to school connectedness. The 5 Rules of Inspired Teaching Improv are a teacher’s guide for building a community full of play, creativity, and authentic learning. Click the model to learn more about each rule!

Download your copy of the 5 Rules of Inspired Teaching Improv here.

Inspired Teaching’s inquiry-based instruction is rooted in two complementary and mutually reinforcing processes of teaching and learning: the Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle for students and the Observe-Plan-Instigate Cycle for teachers. Click the model below to learn more about each.

Inspired Teaching Learner & Teacher Cycles

Inspired Teaching Learner & Teacher Cycles
The Learner's Cycle The Teacher's Cycle

The Learner's Cycle

When they are engaged in the Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle, students are immersed in learning. They take the lead in designing authentic learning experiences around their own interests and their school’s standards of learning. Each discovery leads to a new question which in turn leads to more wondering and more learning. In the Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle, Learn is not a destination or an endpoint; it is a deeper understanding, leading to a deeper wondering and new possibilities that create new entry points to further exploration. The cycle continues because what students have learned generates more wonderings that require more experiments that foster more learning – and on and on.

The Teacher's Cycle

The Observe-Plan-Instigate Cycle is the work of an Inspired Teacher. While a student is expected to follow the Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle, the teacher joins them on the learning journey while following their own cycle of Observe-Plan-Instigate. This cycle ultimately serves to ensure an inquiry-based atmosphere is at play in the classroom.

 Research Briefs

For nearly three decades, Center for Inspired Teaching has reinvigorated teachers and created change in the classroom. The Inspired Teaching Approach works because it is founded in extensive research and reviews of in-depth studies.

Closing the Engagement Gap: A Social Justice Imperative

This white paper both affirms the benefits of engagement-based education, and confirms the reality of the current “engagement gap” in this country.

Download here

The critical need for replacing compliance-based teaching with engagement-based teaching

This white paper promotes the urgent need to adopt engagement-based education in all of our nation’s schools. Most education organizations and education policymakers advocate for the need to raise “student achievement,” but too narrowly define this goal to mean only raising standardized test scores, a goal that is primarily achieved using methods that promote student compliance. Students need to be engaged for lasting, meaningful learning to occur.
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Investing in Teachers Through Mentoring

Teacher mentoring is an individualized form of professional development that involves a holistic approach to personal improvement. Mentoring is a key aspect of Inspired Teaching’s programs that ensures teachers are able to operationalize best practices.
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Inquiry-Based Teaching

Inquiry-based teaching invites students to explore academic content by posing, investigating, and answering questions. This approach puts students’ questions at the center of the curriculum.
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Inspiring Improvement: A tookit for evaluating and growing professional learning programs that promote engagement-based pedagogy

This toolkit contains resources for organizations who wish to undertake evaluation of their teacher training and professional development programs that promote teacher leadership, cultivate teachers as changemakers, and actively encourage engaging, student-centered instruction.
Download here

Relationship-Based Discipline

Relationship-based discipline is a student-centered approach to classroom management that relies on strong, mutually respectful, personal relationships to engage cooperation in the classroom.
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Radically Reimagined Relationships: The Foundation of Engagement

This project was designed to learn about schools and school systems across the United States that are moving beyond conventional, standardized, compliance-based teaching, to create learning experiences that are student-centered and engagement-based. Through our research, we found that while these schools looked different from one another as far as location, status as public/private/charter, grade levels served, and demographics, they felt the same. This realization led to an exciting discovery: the primary element connecting these schools was a shared commitment to radically reimagined relationships between students, teachers, administrators, and families. While the schools had other elements in common, including authentic learning experiences and commitments to educational equity, we found that the commitment to strong relationships was the core element upon which all others depended. The report, which synthesizes the findings from this initiative, has exciting implications for all of us working to re-imagine education.

Download the full report here

Download the report digest here

I have led professional development workshops for the past 5 years and this was of the highest quality. I had so many opportunities to reflect on my own ideas and practice, and to “defend” my philosophy through interaction with others.

— Inspired Teaching Academy Participant