Even though it’s summer vacation, educators at Center for Inspired Teaching are still in school. But they aren’t all teaching; rather, they’re learning how to become “Instigators of Thought” during a three-week-long training course held at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.
Inspired Teaching’s Certification Program is a 24-month long accredited training that provides participants with the skills and support to become certified teachers in the District of Columbia. Its founder, Aleta Margolis was elected as one of Ashoka's first American fellows in 2001. The summer engagement is only step one in Inspired Teaching’s outline to lead teachers to become changemakers in the classroom.
During their first three weeks, a group of about 30 selected educators spend eight hours a day involved with activities to bolster their capacities to manage classrooms. When we visited, It had only been four days since the training kicked off with this group, but already the teachers knew each other by name and interacted as if they had known each other much longer.
A recent day of training was focused on learners’ needs. The teachers stepped back in time to reflect on their own experiences as students; each wrote a short poem about a bad learning experience from their student days and posted the poems on the walls around the music room in which they met. Surprisingly, their memories carried many of the same themes: teachers embarrassing students in front of the whole class, sharp reprimands from teachers, teacher who taught in a way that lacked engagement, teachers who didn’t listen to their students.
Facilitators of the program then introduced five psychological needs for effective learning: autonomy, belonging, competency, developmental appropriateness, and engagement.
Participants wandered the room, reading stories and posting sticky-notes pinpointing which of the five needs were missing in each scenario. Sitting in a circle on the floor wearing jeans and loose summer shirts, the group then discussed what they learned from each others’ stories as well as the trends they saw. This conversation opened up a cloud of thoughts about seeing situations from students’ perspectives and seeing them from teachers’ perspectives.
By delving into their own education histories, teachers focused on how they could be most mindful of their students in order to create the optimal learning experience. And when they broke for lunch, the teachers were reflective and chatty. You could see mental dots being connected about what engaging education meant to them and how they could create it.
And really, it’s all about empathy: teachers reflecting on how it was being a student, teachers listening to other teachers’ insights, teachers learning how to understand and meet the social-emotional needs of students.
Maybe summer school is a good thing after all.