Reframing the purpose of school

February 17, 2016

(Photo credit: Sammy Magnuson/Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece by Aleta Margolis, Inspired Teaching’s Executive Director, appeared in Inspired Teaching’s February newsletter. 

What kind of school experience do all children need?

At Inspired Teaching, we believe every child should have a school experience that builds his or her Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity®. These 4 I’s are inherent qualities that must be fostered with care. The Inspired Teacher who focuses on the 4 I’s does not fill students with information, but challenges students to wonder, experiment, and learn.

The 4 I’s are deeply intertwined, and they mutually reinforce one another. You can see how they work together in the classrooms of Inspired Teachers across the city. A Real World History student practices the skills of a historian by interviewing a senior Washingtonian who participated in the Great Migration, learning how to research, ask thoughtful questions, connect meaningfully with someone unfamiliar, and tell her subject’s story with authenticity and respect. Students in the high school physics classroom of a SCALE Teacher Leader engage in the process of scientific discovery as they learn about energy and how it impacts our world. Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity activate as the students purposefully play and seek to understand the mechanisms in toy cars, miniature solar-powered weathervanes, hot packs, and more.

These powerful learning experiences lead to success by conventional measures, to be sure. In school year 2014-15, the majority of the partner schools for the Inspired Teacher Certification Program were among the top performers on the PARCC standardized assessment, scoring significantly above the averages in both the DC public schools and public charter schools. Learning in this way also enables children to grow as intelligent, creative, responsible, and caring contributors to our world.

Last week, I hosted an event at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, bringing together about one hundred women working in education in the greater DC area. The Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennifer Niles, gave the keynote address. She challenged us to confront the entrenched historical biases that create divergent educational experiences for different groups of children, according to their backgrounds. Not every school, she and panelists noted, is like the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School; not every school respects and builds the Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity of all students.

Most students do not have access to the kind of school experience they need in order to thrive – and we must change that. Panelists described many of the ways in which they are confronting the challenge. Inspired Teaching’s strategy is to work with teachers. Recently, we engaged a subgroup of teachers who work with the Inspired Teacher Certification Program in an exercise to measure their exponential impact on the lives of children. So far, through classrooms they have led and classrooms of Inspired Teaching Fellows they have trained, this small group has reached 1,080 students. In five years, they will reach 12,000. In ten years, 36,717. That’s a lot of students, and it represents only one small piece of one of the many programs we run and have run over 20 years. And we still have much more work to do.

Join the movement to transform the school experience for all students. Reframe the discussion about the purpose of school. Advocate for an education that builds the 4 I’s in every student. If you’re a teacher or you think you might want to be one, work on your skills as an educational changemaker with us. The Inspired Teacher Certification Program is accepting applications from aspiring teachers until March 15; the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School is hiring lead and master teachers; and our professional development programs for inservice teachers, BLISS and SCALE, will be offered in DC public charter schools starting this summer. We’re always appreciative of all those who support our work in many ways and spread the word about Inspired Teaching.

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!