My first visit to the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School

November 10, 2015

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

This blog was written by Bria Stephens, an intern with Center for Inspired Teaching. 

As an intern with Center for Inspired Teaching since May, I have gotten to work, play, and dance with Teacher Leaders over four intensive weeks at the summer session of the Inspired Teaching Institute; I have curated and captioned engaging classroom photos in the 20th Anniversary social media photo campaign; and I’ve helped design events like our Back to School Night at Nationals Park.

Last month, I had the most captivating experience yet. On a visit to the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, I got to see what it looks like when Inspired Teaching is infused into every classroom. As I walked into the building I expected it to be like my elementary school: students sitting in their desk, in total silence, as the teacher lectured. It was totally different – in a great way!

The visit began with a short introduction to Inspired Teaching. Kate Keplinger, Chief Operating Officer, and Deborah Dantzler Williams, Head of School, discussed how the school’s goal is to build the 4 I’s in every student: Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. Visitors were then given an Inspired Teaching Bingo card to help us identify the 4 I’s in action throughout the school.

bingo-cardImmediately, I began to notice evidence of the things listed on the Bingo card. Deborah and Kate talked about how it was “Everyone Counts Week,” which transformed OSSE’s enrollment audit into a series of special discussions, workshops, read-alouds, and service projects with the goal of building students’ self-esteem and empathy as a foundation for preventing bullying. Throughout the entire discussion, students and their teachers were moving throughout the building and heading outdoors to engage in learning through serious play.

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Upon entering the first classroom, a student welcomed me in and informed me that they were in reading workshops. Groups of students were in their favorite classroom reading spots engaging in stories together. In the PreK classroom, I observed a student struggle and persevere as he tried to figure out how to make his magnetic tower taller without it collapsing. Other PreK students explored real world connections as they explored what blood is made of by playing with a mixture of red and white “blood cells.” To master their weekly vocabulary words, students in another classroom engaged in a wide variety of work: a game of Bingo with words (or “Wordo,” as the students called it), word puzzles, and a word hunt.

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One student looked in his notebook for vocabulary words, seeking to complete the challenge as efficiently as possible, while another student imagined a more physical approach to the challenge as she searched around the classroom, looking up and down to find more complex words. No matter what grade level the classroom was, one thing that remained consistent throughout was the presence of movement and joy.

After touring the classrooms, visitors and staff gathered together to discuss what we had seen and to compare it to our own school experience. Seeing students being able to move around the classroom freely was very compelling for me. I thought back to 6th grade when I was sent to the principal’s office for failure to sit in my chair the “correct” way. I remember how hard it was for me to sit facing forward, feet on the floor, while remaining fully attentive. I truly enjoyed seeing how students at the Demonstration School were invited to be comfortable in their school space and to learn the way they do best.

I also reflected on the times we had visitors when I was in school. We were told to ignore the visitors and continue on with our work as if the visitors did not exist, which was nearly impossible for an inquisitive and easily distracted student like myself. In contrast, the students at the Demonstration School were so excited to welcome us into the classroom and tell us about the books they were reading, the stories they were writing, the games that they were playing, and most importantly, the things that they were learning.

Visiting the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School was a great experience. Now I understand more than ever how Inspired Teaching’s teacher training model truly is “building a better school experience for students.”

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