INSPIRE builds connections to promote great teaching

Teachers working together and learning from each other sounds like a fundamental, common-sense idea. But surprisingly, only about four percent of practicing teachers ever get the chance to collaborate with their colleagues. That’s a systemic impediment to great teaching being tackled by INSPIRE, an innovative College of Education program.

Led by Geda and Phil Condit Professor in Math and Science Education Elham Kazemi, INSPIRE is growing in impact as it enters its third full year of implementing its “big idea” of bringing educators’ “knowledge and expertise together in the same room, at the same time, to plan together and then try things out with students right away.”

“The work started with Learning Labs developed in the College’s Teacher Education Program about 15 years ago,” said INSPIRE Managing Director Deborah Massachi. INSPIRE’s work is a direct result of that strong foundation in teacher collaboration built by other College of Education researchers over time, Massachi said.

“All our work is really about building collaboration across the College of Education and the community, as well as helping connect folks in schools and district offices and other organizations that serve kids,” Massachi said. “We know adults learn better when they can practice what they’re learning right away, which is why we focus on the Learning Lab structure.”

INSPIRE has applied that structure to four main efforts.

The TEDD portal

One ongoing project is INSPIRE’s Teacher Education by Design website, launched in 2014. The site, constructed collaboratively with users, offers tools for teacher educators to help other teachers hone their skills in literacy, math, science and ELL. Since its launch, Massachi said TEDD has attracted nearly 700 registered users locally, nationally, and even internationally.

“TEDD is open source, with free access to anyone who’s interested,” Massachi said. “We’re working right now to make it more interactive so people can share their learning. A lot of our current work is focused on elementary teachers—so we’re starting to build resources for secondary teacher educators.”

Learning Labs

Since mid-2014, INSPIRE has been using the Learning Labs model to connect and support Puget Sound region principals, coaches and teachers in developing ambitious teaching practices. They have witnessed school teams getting better at collaboration, eliciting student thinking, establishing high expectations for student learning and gaining skills for pushing that learning forward.

“In September, we hosted our first Learning Labs Network meeting, bringing together leaders to think through challenges and solutions across districts,” Massachi said. “It’s one piece of how we’re building connections.”

Alumni Networks

The summer of 2015 marked another milestone for INSPIRE, when it launched its first week-long EduDesign Lab for College of Education alumni.

This summer, about 15 elementary teachers participated in the second EduDesign Lab. They dove into Next Generation Science Standards together in a field program with partners from the Woodland Park Zoo, Magnuson Nature Programs, Camp Long and others, along with teacher education experts.

“The EduDesign Lab really focuses on helping teachers build their own leadership, and finding ways to build learning communities with each other,” Massachi said. “We invited our alumni participants to bring along a colleague or two from their schools. We know teachers are much more likely to be supported in continuing the work if they have colleagues in their building who are thinking about the same things.”

Partnerships in and out of schools

INSPIRE’s latest project is called Partnerships for Early Learning. It aims to create collaborative opportunities for educators both inside and outside of schools, to help P-3 students with literacy, science, and math.

Partnerships for Early Learning brings together UW Bothell and Seattle faculty with stakeholders from local schools, King County Libraries and YMCA Powerful Schools. Together, they’re working to leverage and strengthen existing relationships between the participants, build read-aloud toolkits for parents, teachers and librarians, and develop new training opportunities.

“We see the work as something that’s evolving organically,” Massachi said. “We consider ourselves a resource for the College of Education. There are lots of people here who are making strong connections with the community. We want to be a resource for them when they have an idea they want to pursue, or have already started and would like some support to help develop their project. We’re always interested in helping people make connections.”

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