Recognizing and supporting excellent inquiry-based instruction

November 18, 2015

(Photo credit: Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece – written by Aleta Margolis, Inspired Teaching’s Executive Director – was first published in Inspired Teaching’s November 2015 newsletter 

Each day, Inspired Teaching expands its reach. We just opened the application for the eighth cohort of Inspired Teaching Fellows, whom we prepare for successful and sustainable careers as inquiry-based teachers in DC. Also this month, we trained over a hundred teachers, instructional coaches, and district leaders from a dozen districts across Maryland in inquiry-based techniques – with a special focus on infusing inquiry into the study of environmental literacy. We presented at the National Conference for the Social Studies, holding up our Real World History program as a model for an inquiry-based, applied history course. Next week, I’ll take our message to Istanbul, where I will train teachers in all of Turkey’s Ashoka Changemaker Schools and, at the international Changemaker Education Summit, offer education leaders the tools to shift the norm towards inquiry-based education.

I’m proud that we’re spreading Inspired Teaching to broader and more varied audiences. This is part of the critical work of changing expectations about what students should experience in school. Every child should have the opportunity to learn by engaging with compelling questions, testing out responses, and pursuing deeper understanding. Every child should have a teacher who builds students’ Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. For a better future, we need the kind of rigorous, engaging, inquiry-based instruction that will cultivate the next generation of tinkerers and inventors, critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, and changemakers.

The challenge with changing expectations is that people must grapple with something that looks entirely different from their own experience. When one of our interns visited the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School for the first time, she was surprised by the contrast to her own time in elementary school. Instead of rows of silent, still students listening passively to a teacher’s lesson, she saw students moving freely yet with purpose, supporting their peers’ learning and growth, and exploring a variety of routes to truly understanding a complex topic. We must first recognize excellent inquiry-based instruction when we see it. Then we can support it: in our children’s classrooms, our schools, our school districts, our countries.

So what can you do? Use the Inspired Teaching “bingo card” to help identify a classroom environment that builds The 4 I’s. Share it with friends who are parents so they’ll know what to look for when visiting their children’s schools. Share it with your friends who are teachers so they can keep it in mind as they teach. If you are a parent, send your child’s teacher a thank you note when you see evidence of inquiry-based intruction – and send your child’s principal a note in support of that teacher. If you are an administrator or district leader, bring Inspired Teaching’s transformative teacher training to your schools. If you are an Inspired Teacher, continue to support your colleagues and spread the word.

Thank you for your support of Inspired Teachers everywhere. Together, we are changing the norm.

September Inspired Teaching Institute

Teachers can’t control what happens between the time students wake up and when they arrive at school but they have a lot of control over what happens when students cross the classroom threshold. Participants in this fast-paced, idea-rich Institute will learn 20 different strategies for starting the school day!