San Dieguito Union High School District teachers recently participated in National University’s Sanford Inspire program, research-based and classroom-tested professional development designed to help educators create an inspirational learning environment and impact all students lives in a positive way.
Torrey Pines High School is in its second year of National University’s high school pilot program, led by teacher Don Collins. TP Inspire includes seminars, monthly lunch modules and encouragement to investigate the free Sanford Inspire Training Modules on a variety of topics from classroom management to curriculum.
This school year, Collins has led a total of seven seminars with teachers from across the district. Over lunch, teachers shared ideas across curriculum about what works best for kids, focusing on helping students develop resilience and helping them thrive in the 21st century.
“This workshop was just what I needed to change the tone of my year. It really reminded me of what is really important,” said one 27-year teacher. “I’m excited to return to my classroom and incorporate some of these ideas into my math classroom.”
Collins has been working as a new teacher trainer in the district for the past 17 years, but the partnership with National University and Sanford Inspire represented a new challenge.
“I really had a blank slate to reflect and ask myself, ‘What makes a teacher inspiring?’” Collins said. “To me, an inspiring teacher is an agent of change. I know as a teacher I've had the opportunity to literally change lives. To help a student find a passion, open their heart or forgive a parent. In the process, my students have inspired and changed me.”
Two years ago, philanthropist Denny Sanford gave National University $28 million to create the Sanford Inspire program, to train and support inspirational teachers so that every student has teachers who inspire. National University’s college of education, which has recommended more teachers for California credentials than any other in the last 15 years, is now named for Sanford.
“We feel very privileged to be in this leadership role,” said Judy Mantle, dean of the Sanford College of Education. “It’s a privilege and a responsibility because this is a gift and it’s an extraordinary resource that we have available to us and we’re very willing to share it throughout the country.”
Mantle said National University has become a champion for inspiring teachers, developing practices and programs that can help impact thousands of lives throughout the country.
“We live and breathe it every day,” Mantle said, noting their faculty is passionate about bringing out the very best in teachers, to inspire them to “go out and make magic happen in the classroom and create a life in the classroom that is rich and memorable for students.
“It’s one thing to know the content needs to be taught, it’s another thing to be able to electrify a group of students, at any age, to be motivated and to be hungry for learning,” Mantle said. “It’s about how we engage students to attach and form relationships with peers and adults who have the capacity to influence. We have a tremendous responsibility to educate students in today’s world and we take this work seriously.
“It’s about good teaching. But it’s also about caring and inspiring.”
National University funded the small initiative to give one teacher, Collins, the release time to be able to spread its message to other teachers.
“Mr. Collins is a special kind of teacher, he just has ‘Inspire’ in his DNA. He has that light in his eye,” said Mantle. “He has lofty goals and worthy goals and I’m anxious to check in and hear about how the training is going.”
To hear the reports back from teachers, the response has been overwhelmingly positive: “An overall wonderful forum in which to share experiences and innovative ideas,” wrote one Inspire participant.
In a Feb. 23 session, teachers had discussions about strategies for helping reluctant learners, the challenges of social media and cell phones, and small gestures that can help foster connections with students—from recognizing students’ positive behaviors to reaching out when a student is struggling emotionally.
Collins spoke about ways to form relationships with students: listening, developing trust and knowing something personal about them so teachers have a way to connect and talk to them.
Collins said that kids are facing a lot at home, in school and in their community. “A lot of learning needs to occur to negotiate the hard parts of life and the issues that life can bring, ” he said, adding that the best teachers can provide that support.
“It's easy to lose touch with the humanity of the kids in all of the requirements and activity of the school year, but nobody became a teacher for paperwork and bell schedules,” Collins said. “Yet these are the requirements that can overwhelm our real purpose, to encourage and educate all of our students to be independent, successful and happy.”
One teacher who has been an educator for 10 years said she enjoyed the opportunity to connect with colleagues by listening to their struggles and successes. As was the goal, many said they left inspired by new innovative ideas.
“I most appreciated the return to the centered place where I know why I am in the classroom and what is really important,” said one participant, who has been a teacher for 33 years. “Love kids first. Teach them English second.”