The Inspired Teaching Demonstration School in Edgewood, Washington DC is for pupils aged three up to 12 to 13.
The area used to be one of the poorest in the US capital but has changed and has moved up market. The pupils come from across town including some wealthy parts.
Parents have chosen this school because of the way it focuses on students as well as the teachers who themselves are taught to serve as a facilitator and coach to support the pupils learning and to bring out a pupil’s maximum potential.
“Viewing children as coming to school with gifts and with a natural curiosity that is how every decision we make is made. What is best for kids? What shows kids that they are respected? How do we surface their voices and make their voices the most important voices in the room?” explained Deborah Dantzler William, head of school.
The groups are small with several teachers in each class. Even pre-schoolers are viewed as partners, as future adults and responsible citizens. The teachers work on the same eye level as their pupils, thus creating an environment of trust and respect. As teachers respect the right of students to make decisions about how they approach learning, students accept the responsibility to do their best work.
“There is in traditional education a view, especially across the United States, this mental picture of the teachers standing in front of the classroom at the board writing information that the students are kind of mindlessly writing down, copying information.
‘What our idea is that the teacher should be an instigator of thought. Obviously, the teacher knows more than the students, they understand the curriculum, they understand the standards. It is really their responsibility to ask the right questions, to engage students in inquiry-based instruction that allows students to make their own connections so that they can deepen their understanding.”
Reflection, on the part of students and teachers, is a key component of Inspired Teaching. The teacher challenges students to reflect on their work and the school challenges teachers to reflect on their work, their successes, and what they have yet to accomplish.
This process of self-assessment involves constant examination and re-examination of the learning process, material learned and the approaches which were tried – especially on the part of the teacher.
“I felt like the Inspired Teaching School really provided me with a place where I would be able to think outside the box and teach my students in the best way that I felt they needed to be taught. When students feel that they are cared about and that they are equal and that their perspective and voice matters, it creates this security and safety that is required for students to take risks and make mistakes,” opined Jon Berg, first grade teacher.
Making mistakes is no drama, it’s human. Teachers are trained in-house to convey this message. Thus, they make students comfortable to take risks and be bold. The result: kids not only develop a familiarity with content, but a deep understanding of it.
“We are letting them really engage with what we are teaching them, all the materials and also think on their own, like go anywhere they want with all of their ideas. We really are getting at their imagination and their inquiry that they really are just thinking about. All the aspects of the lesson, I think it’s really important, it makes school way more fun,” explained Jay Banks, first grade teacher.
Inspired Teaching believes that each child can achieve at high levels without having to surrender their intellectual curiosity and passion for learning. This is meant to be a lesson for life.
Empowering educators to become changemakers
Motivation in education is key. More than 300 million children in developing countries are now enrolled in school but but they are not learning. Teacher commitment is disturbingly low. In India, for example, every day one in four teachers is absent.
Teachers could make the significant biggest difference to address this learning crisis, but in practice are neither motivated nor equipped to effectively do so. That’s not the case for English teacher Rashmi Mishra, who takes her profession seriously and loves her job.
“I bought a laptop for myself just for school work, as I was really motivated. I bring it to school every day. I see such good results in the children that I feel I should have done this much earlier,” she explained.
She is part of the Teacher Changemakers Movement developed by STIR education. It finds teachers with an initial spark of innovation and commitment within the existing school system. They are then formed into local teacher innovation networks.
Sharath Kumar Jeevan, is the founder and CEO of STIR:
“Everyone has written off teachers. We often think of them as the problem, not the solution. We want to change that picture and really give them confidence to step up and lead a transformation in their profession,” he said.
“STIR has given us a platform for motivation, they give certificates on a big stage to teachers who excel. These teachers are motivated and seeing them, other teachers too are motivated to excel,” added Rashmi Mishra.
In total 12,000 teachers are part of STIR Education’s network impacting half a million children in various states in India and in Uganda as well. Thirty to 40 teachers in the area are part of a local Changemaker network, where they exchange ideas and discuss problems faced in their classrooms. Some teachers have informally created WhatsApp groups among themselves.
“When I first came to this school, the students were lacklustre. They would come in, sit down, copy what’s written on the blackboard, dream in class and not pay attention to what I was teaching them. At the time, I felt really bad. When the STIR programme started, I adopted new teaching techniques like those where children make words with pictures. From the pictures, they made words and then sentences. I don’t get funds for these and do it myself, because I love what I do,” explained Vandana Gupta, an assistant teacher at Malhaur government school.
Her methods got the backing of two of her pupils, Meher and Alisha who are both in Grade 8.
“I’ve had many teachers who have tried to make me understand. But I don’t know why I can’t get it quickly. But Ms Vandana teaches us so well we understand very quickly,” said Meher while Alisha added: “She gives us different creative materials and she teaches us. We learn to do these creative articles and make them at home.”
Thanks to the Teacher Changemaker movement, educators exchange more information and interact to get new and creative ideas for their classrooms.
“Teachers are the engines of progress in a school system. They are the real agents of change and if you can really get their mindsets to be positive to really help them feel they can make a difference, enormous change can happen,” concluded Sharath Kumar Jeevan.
STIR works in partnership with governments. The government of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh has incorporated the STIR method for their teacher training programme.
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