Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What must be done to improve our schools?

This blog entry is in response to Aleta’s WAMU commentary on Wednesday, May 30, 2007. (Click here to read the commentary. Click here to hear the commentary.)

Believe in the potential of every child.
Every child possesses the ability to think critically, learn and understand information, and solve complex problems.
  • Enlist teachers and principals as allies to ensure that students spend the vast majority of their time in school engaged in these kinds of activities.
  • Provide compelling opportunities for teachers to learn how to set up problems for students to solve, so they may teach in a way that builds on students’ intellectual curiosity and innate desire to learn.

Understand that teachers are the solution.
As the primary contact for our children, teachers are the ones with the power to help students reach their full potential. Nothing will change for our schools unless teachers change what they do in their classrooms. How can we empower them to do this?
  • Instead of providing teachers with scripted curricula, challenge teachers to build their skills by analyzing the ways in which they themselves learn; understanding the multiple ways in which children and young people learn; and designing their instruction so that students are motivated to work at full capacity.
  • Shift our focus from “covering the curriculum” to ensuring students understand and appreciate the information we expect them to learn. In other words, teach children how to think, not just what to think.
Start a new conversation.
  • The next time you’re talking with your friends and colleagues who have school-aged children, instead of asking, “How is your child doing in school?” ask “How is school inspiring your child? How is it turning him on to learning?”
I guarantee you’ll have an entirely different conversation. And you’ll help us start a conversation about a kind of school experience that goes beyond conventional boundaries to challenge the imagination, inspire educators, and engage students.

Please help us spread the word!

Visit our website to learn more about Center for Inspired Teaching and the work we are doing to ensure schools make the most of every child's innate desire to learn.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Part III: Being a Student and Teacher

Judy reflects that what made the biggest difference in her growth as an artist and teacher was having exceptional teachers. She recalls her mother, a gifted musician and involved teacher, who recognized that each child learns differently and would strive to empower her students to reach their full potential.

Judy also remembers her freshman English professor who “was the first person who didn’t act like he knew all the answers but instead asked us questions.” It wasn’t till later that Judy realized how extraordinary and powerful it was that her professor focused on teaching her how to think critically rather than what to think.

Throughout her life, inspired teachers have illuminated the path Judy travels. Judy often reflects on how these teachers were able to connect with her interests and engage her intellectual curiosity.

Remembering what it was like to be a student is one of the key components to Judy’s teaching technique and enables her to connect to her students. Judy insists that it is critical for teachers to ‘become students’ and to ‘keep that line between teachers and students very fine’ so that learning is dynamic and collaborative.

Being both a teacher and student is part of what makes Judy’s teaching techniques so effective; she is able to create a space where teachers don’t just impart knowledge and students don’t just absorb it, but rather both students and teachers work together to produce knowledge.

Next week - Part IV: Nine Lives in the Classroom

Monday, May 14, 2007


Part II: Revere the Unconscious

As a young actor, Judy acted intuitively; without a technique or guiding philosophy. It was later, working with teachers who used questions to engage texts and lessons that Judy began to craft her acting technique and more generally, a world view that would inform her approach to writing, directing, and teaching.

Her acting technique, like her teaching technique, is based on using questions to guide the process of discovery. Judy likens both teaching and acting to a therapeutic process or an archeological dig in which “you must pay attention to the details and unearth the layers that will lead you to your discovery. Look for the telling details and revere the unconscious.”

To “revere the unconscious” teachers need to be attentive to the details and clues that often lie “beneath the surface.” By using questions and being sensitive and responsive to the ways her students engaged material, Judy enabled students to guide their own learning process.

Further, Judy trusts her instincts and judgments. Revering the unconscious, in this sense, means having the confidence to make in-the-moment decisions about lessons plans and classroom discussions. Judy maintains, when planning a lesson it is important to remember that there are multiple ways to reach an objective, or “a hundred keys to opening a door.”

As such, Judy lives in the “moment to moment reality of the classroom”: responding to the flow of classroom discussion and trusting her instincts to improvise within a lesson a plan. This technique creates a classroom in which students take part in guiding a lesson; making learning collaborative and dynamic.

Friday, May 4, 2007


Inspired Bloggers,

My name is Indhika Jayaratnam and I am a Program Associate at Center for Inspired Teaching. As a first time blogger and current employee of the organization, I wanted to create a blog feature that enabled me to further explore our philosophy, mission, and work as it applies to experiences in the classroom, policy, and community affairs.

To this end, I will be writing the Inspired Teacher Feature series. Each month I will interview someone invested in improving education and the school system, and I will create 4 weekly entries based on these conversations. I hope you enjoy the posts and please help make this feature an interactive one by posting some of your own experiences and thoughts!


May Feature: Judy White

For the first feature I interviewed Judy White. Judy taught Inspired Teaching's founder, Aleta Margolis, speech and acting in high school. Aleta describes Judy as the first teacher who opened her mind, intellectually challenged her, and inspired her to learn.

Judy's teaching philosophies are a big part of the Inspired Teaching history and to this day, Judy continues to work with the organization as a mentor and supporter. In this month's teacher feature I will highlight some aspects of Judy's life experiences, teaching techniques, and personal philosophies that enabled her to become an Inspired Teacher.

Part I: Discovering the Socratic Method

Before we even begin the interview Judy White, a master teacher and subject of the interview, is asking me questions.

What do I hope to learn from the questions I have drafted?

What format do I think will most effectively capture my main points?

How am I going to set up an interview-friendly space?

Judy is the first person I have picked for the Inspired Teaching Blog Feature Series and from the beginning she is determined to make our interview a learning process from which I can glean important lessons and skills for future interviews.

When I ask her advice on what she thinks is the best approach to an interview she shares some tips from her considerable experience as an actor and magazine editor but follows-up each piece of advice with, “what do you think is the right way?”

Judy’s insistence on questioning my understanding of the interview process is characteristic of her teaching philosophy: an inquiry based approach that challenges students to engage material and form their own opinions through insightful questioning. While this approach is now known in education circles as the Socratic Method, Judy began using the technique ‘accidentally’.

In fact, Judy credits her adventurous career path as actor, director, playwright, writer, and editor with forming the basis of her teaching techniques and philosophy. “My technique evolved with practice, application, and hard work,” Judy says referring to her introduction to inquiry-based teaching in acting classes and her development of the technique when directing, writing, and eventually teaching.

By constantly asking her students questions, Judy challenged them to delve deeply into lessons, form thoughtful opinions, critique arguments, and apply what they learned to other situations. The skills gained from using this method - i.e. critical thinking - are invaluable both in and outside of the classroom.

Next week - Part II: Revering the Unconscious