This morning, over orange juice, coffee and red grapes in the theater room of the Capital City Public Charter School, a small group of interested educators, scholars and citizens listened as Center for Inspired Teaching’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Julie Sweetland, explained what makes the Center’s work so powerful.
Inspired Teaching is the entity most responsible for the new charter school (scheduled opening Fall 2011) for which I currently serve as Board Chair. And the event allowed Sweetland, an articulate and charismatic spokesperson, to clarify what distinguishes her organization from other alternative certification programs in the city, and nationwide. “Over the past 15 years,” she explained, “our work with thousands of educators has helped us learn more about what it takes to be an inspired teacher. That works begins with our search for people with an inspired mindset — we want builders, and people who are excited by confronting new challenges in their work, not blockers, or people who would rather do what they’ve always done.”
Sweetland went on to define the three central tensions Inspired Teaching wants its teachers, and staff, to be aware of. “The first is balancing the tension between radical creativity and structured execution,” she said. “The second is balancing the need to be both nurturing and impact-driven. And the third is maintaining an approach that allows for both decentralization and integration.”
One of the participants asked her to elaborate. “We believe that a healthy learning environment must have all of the following: Autonomy (for both the teachers and, occasionally, the students as well); Belonging; Connectedness; Developmentally-appropriate activities; and Engaging learning opportunities. And all of our work is geared towards helping teachers do each of those things at the highest level.”
I urge all of you to learn more about Center for Inspired Teaching. Check out their web site, and let me know what you think of their philosophy. Our hope is that, beginning in 2011, the Inspired Teaching School can begin serving as a catalytic force of change in the city, and spur other schools to invest in the capacity of teachers to keep placing a high priority on student achievement and mastery of challenging material — and stop doing so at the expense of sharpening students’ creativity and intellectual curiosity.