Inspired Teaching

A few months ago The Boothby Institute and a group of Maine teachers entered into an experiment which has the potential to alter the effectiveness of education at a global level. It was our supposition that a group of teachers who chose to come together to explore what it takes to be an inspired teacher could clearly define it and outline exactly what was necessary to produce that result. Here’s where we started and the result.

March, 2008
It is our intention to end the myth that we do not know what inspired teaching is and how to achieve it. For the past twenty years we have listened to those who suggest that the accumulation of facts and information are what is critical. It is our experience that in order to create inspired learners, we must encourage, grow and nurture inspired teachers. Do we want people who know facts or who know how to find them? Do we want thinkers or those who can regurgitate? Do we want creative people who are self-starters or followers? Could there be a connection between what we have been doing in the preparation of teachers and what we require of them and the difficulties that have arisen in our global economies?

June, 2008
Here’s what that group of people developed.

“Inspired Teaching”

The following definition of “Inspired Teaching” describes both the attributes of inspired teachers and things one must do to achieve that result. It was developed by a group of public school teachers and administrators in Maine School Administrative District #9 in cooperation with The Boothby Institute. Valerie Benton, Suzanne Loring, Helen Buzzell, Diane Wyder, Priscilla Conner, Delana Yeaton, Chris Wyder, Fatma Perry, Lisl Fuson, Laura Ouellette and Bill Cumming participated in the conversation. It is not intended that this or any definition be agreed with or considered “the definition of inspired teaching.” What is important in every teaching environment is entering into a conversation about inspired teaching and developing a working, ever expanding, alive definition that fosters inspired environments and supports those who create them.

Inspired teachers…

  • love kids and demonstrate kindness toward them.
  • teach students first, then subjects.
  • are passionate about their subject area.
  • make the choice each day to be inspired before entering the classroom.
  • are personally motivated.
  • are always 200% prepared.
  • realize that students need to take responsibility for their own lives and their own learning.
  • are present in the moment (bring their full attention to their actions and words).
  • are open to miracles (that every student has the capacity to create a meaningful, productive, contributory, joyous life for themselves).
  • know that the value of a person has nothing to do with their academic achievement.
  • know that what a student did or did not produce yesterday has nothing to do with what they achieve today.
  • take care of themselves and encourage students to do self-care as well.
  • make constant connections between their subject, their students and life in general.
  • are excited about what students are passionate about.
  • recognize that a diversity of approaches reaches more students.
  • are comfortable in their own skin and with their teaching style.
  • make a personal connection with their students before beginning a lesson.
  • know that every student wants to be valued.
  • learn every student’s name within the first week of class.
  • recognize that our teaching technique is part of who we are and may be different from other teachers.
  • reflect upon what’s working and not working both in the classroom and personally and make corrections accordingly.
  • know that results, academic and otherwise (students owning results, behavior, being responsible), are an indication of whether what they are doing is working.
  • recognize that making mistakes is an opportunity to know what you don’t know and to do something about it for themselves and their students.
  • know that everything we do matters.
  • are lifelong learners.
  • are resilient optimists.
  • are at peace, secure within themselves.
  • do the best job they can do each moment.

Students become self-motivated, responsible, self-disciplined, inspired and empowered around inspired teachers.

So what’s the significance? This is a group of teachers who came together to discuss the topic of inspired teaching with the stated purpose of defining it and describing, if they could, the ways one could become an “inspired teacher.” People were asked to align on every piece of the process, agreeing to accept a piece of the definition only if it truly fits from their point of view and describe access as they experience it. People came to this from distinctly different places. Some were wondering if they wanted to stay in teaching. Some thought they were inspired and wanted to be more effective. Others were simply curious. Aside from the definition/access process, here is what a few of them had to say about the experience:

Reflections

1. In order to be an inspired teacher, I have learned that the connection I make with my students is the most important thing. I need to believe in their capacity to learn; I need to help them see that their education is their responsibility; I need to take care of myself; I need to communicate (and mean) that I care about them and their futures; I need to be mindful and present; I need to choose loving-kindness as a framework before the start of each day; I need to promote their wellness as people and I need not to take things personally and use my words for good with my colleagues.

2. After teaching for forty-three years, I thought I was an inspired teacher. I have tried to learn from my peers, learn from mistakes, keep an open mind to new techniques, put the needs of my students first, tried not to be judgmental of students, set attainable standards, maintain classroom control, make learning a meaningful experience, make my classroom environment inviting and one that belongs to students as well as me, and connect with each student on a positive, personal and professional level. I realize that it has been my own experiences that have inspired me to teach. I am much more aware that I must be able to separate the student from his/her behavior. I now look way beyond the displayed behavior and seek the individual worth of each student. I know that a student’s behavior is not necessarily who or what he/she is. I have daily tried to demonstrate inspired teaching. I do a check in with each student on Monday. I ask how the weekend went. Students are given the opportunity to share or not share. This is a way to let the students know that I care about them and how their lives are evolving. I have noticed that more students are feeling comfortable in this sharing process and a bond of trust has emerged. I have put more energy into assisting students in making choices in their lives (educational or personal). I have seen behavior improve and change for the better. Kindness is demonstrated daily among all people in the classroom. This kindness started with me and I began to see my students emulate my behavior. My simple courtesy was the first step, compliments for good work, attire and success on the playing field, appreciation for a helping hand. Behaviors have started to change. Students began to make eye contact with me and not other students. I never ended a conversation with a student until I asked her/him if they were complete with the results of our conversation. Each and every day, I feel I am more effective as a teacher and my students know I do love and care about each and every one of them.

I have never worked with or taught children with special needs or learning handicaps. Had one of my colleagues not approached me about accepting this student into my Advertising class, I would have missed out on a challenging but wonderful learning experience. I now know I was afraid of failure and believed he would not be able to meet or complete my course expectations. How wrong I was! This young man tested me, pushed my buttons but proved to me that he could meet the challenges expected from each and every assignment. We learned to respect each other, communicate effectively, stretch abilities and realize success not dreamed possible. His attendance became near perfect, motivation came from within not necessarily from me, foul language all but disappeared, manners seemed to be natural, not forced, he appeared to be comfortable among his peers because he was successful – he felt good about himself. His worth in the world was a given and he now realized his worth. Throughout our time together I have seen a side of this young man that many of his teachers possibly never saw. He demonstrated an innate ability to create ads using computer programs, tests were taken with assistance, his test scores were honorable and his job working with a mason has resulted in summer employment and we are researching the possibility of credit on a college level. He completed an impressive sales presentation to his peers and did a wonderful job! He was a little nervous in the beginning but as he progressed in the presentation, his confidence became evident. He was prepared with facts, props, business cards and a very impressive demonstration of the product he was selling. CLASS LOVED HIS PRESENTATION! (Best of all was the fact that he knew that all these successes were successes he had created.) What a great experience this turned out to be. I have already asked a special services teacher to keep my Advertising class in mind for next year.

3. I have grown tremendously and I have learned that I still have more to learn. I have learned to love myself as who I am. I have learned that at least “five” people love me (who needs the whole world?) and there is always room for more. I have realized that I do matter in the world. I have come to know that the small points of touching a person’s life will not (necessarily) be “wow” moments but quiet breezes blowing through life….. moments of being effective without notice. These have helped me, the teacher, to understand and create the kind of classroom where these things can be accessed by all.

4. I know how easy it is for fears, the worldly practices and everything else material around us to KEEP US FROM ENJOYING our freedom…. But still I have freedom and I can access its power….this is simply the power to choose….and more and more and more and more I can see my choices improving and giving me more peace and joy….and also bringing peace and joy to others…the question of INFLUENCE came up during class and it troubled me for even then I pretty much thought I don’t really have influence on anything/ anyone…it was during a self-care moment in the morning soon after that I figured it out and that day I received a great e-mail from my French exchange kid stating in other words how much I had influenced him about his opinion about Americans which in turn he shared with many others….Yes, I believe I have influence in everything I say and do… and I enjoy it….I enjoy saying the encouraging word and giving the smile and slowly I am getting the confidence to speak with authority about this process of accessing the power within…..

Implications

If a group of teachers from rural Maine, volunteering for a wide variety of reasons can collectively develop and seemingly benefit from such a process, why couldn’t this conversation be held in every school?

Would that impact a sense of ownership and purpose relative to school?

Is it possible that these specific words and this definition are not at all what is important, but rather that the conversation takes place and the goal of inspired teaching is set?

What does this say about the capacity for all things being within all people?

How often are the outcomes of events dramatically impacted by the intentions of the participants at the beginning of the process?

What if everything we think we know about what we are capable of is limited by what we think people are capable of?

Which school would it be where you think this conversation might not be important?

What will it take to begin?

With all my love and every blessing!
Namaste!
Bill