Training Teachers to Activate Empathy in Classrooms

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a finalist.

Training Teachers to Activate Empathy in Classrooms

Washington, United StatesWashington, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Through our training, Center for Inspired Teaching invests in teachers to ensure that schools make the most of children's innate desire to learn.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Policymakers' intense focus on academic achievement and standardized testing has resulted in a narrowing of student assessment, teacher evaluation, and even teacher training. Schools and teachers now prioritize ensuring students' academic success over the essential work of cultivating their social and emotional development. Teachers are assessed and trained based on their students' ability to pass a test. While essential, academic development is only one type of data, only one skill that children need. To truly succeed at both school and life, students need socio-emotional skills, and young classrooms are the best nurturing ground for these skills. Teacher training and professional development programs must train educators to create classrooms that build students' empathy.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In order to teach students how to think, not just what to think, to ensure school is a place where students go beyond covering the curriculum and genuinely learn the skills they need to thrive, teachers must place empathy at the core of their practice. Inspired Teaching trains teachers to listen to, observe, and deeply understand their students. Our teachers learn how to get a glimpse into students’ minds, to understand and appreciate students’ way of looking at the world. As a result teachers’ ability to empathize, to individualize instruction, and to engage their students increases significantly. Our training activates teachers' empathy for students and, through hands-on activities, teachers become learners again so they understand learning and the school experience from the child's perspective. Ultimately, Inspired Teaching is using empathy as a powerful and highly innovative way to elevate and transform not only teacher training programs, but the teaching profession itself.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Center for Inspired Teaching founded a charter school that opened this August. Inspired Teaching is the primary professional development provider for the school, helping it to build an empathetic culture. School “rules” are written not about “you” or “I”, but about “everyone” to communicate that care is taken for the community as a whole. Everyone learns. Everyone is safe. Everyone builds community. This practice invites students to think about their actions in terms of their impact on others, not their compliance with the school’s policies. Teachers are selected and trained to teach, manage the classroom, and build relationships with students and families from a place of mutual respect and understanding. All instructional practices, discipline processes, and school events are designed with students’ developmental needs in mind. School discipline is also based on the approach of restorative justice. Restorative justice uses conflict resolution techniques that turn conflicts into opportunities for learning – and where both the “perpetrator” and the “victim” are part of the resolution process. Students are made aware of the concerning behavior and are engaged to understand how such behavior compromised the safety of the learning environment. A high priority is placed on supporting the student in not feeling shamed or excluded, but rather to repair the relationship with his or her peer and preparing for a positive re-entry to the classroom community. Students are given the opportunity to “fix” the circumstance by working with those affected by the behavior.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Inspired Teaching works closely with Capital City Public Charter School to train new teachers; teachers-in-residence complete a full year of residency at this school before entering their own classroom as the lead teacher. CCPS shares our priority of training teachers to develop empathetic classrooms, engaging students in active learning as real-world problem solvers, and creating classrooms that celebrate their diversity. There are a number of other professional development programs for teachers, and new teacher certification programs, including Teach For America, DC Teaching Fellows, Urban Teacher Center, Capital Teaching Residency and university programs. We are distinguished by our commitment to developing the whole child, and prioritizing students' socio-emotional learning.
About You
Center for Inspired Teaching
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Center for Inspired Teaching

Organization Country

, DC, Washington, Washington

Country where this project is creating social impact

, DC, Washington, Washington

Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Inspired Teaching invests in teachers to ensure school makes the most of kids’ innate desire to learn. School should be good for kids!

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

We change the teacher role from information provider to instigator of thought. Teachers teach students how to think, not what to think.

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Inspired Teaching has trained hundreds of teachers to institute new rituals, practices, and active learning opportunities in their classrooms. Both DCPS and Baltimore City have requested our training for their teachers district-wide.

Survey data indicates that teachers believe our training impacted their teaching philosophy and made them more effective in creating a respectful and productive classroom community. Since taking our training, 82% of teachers say students are more engaged in class; 94% developed skills for using engaging instructional strategies; 86% developed inquiry-based teaching, critical thought and problem solving skills.

One participant, echoing the feeling of many, said, "Inspired Teaching allowed me to see the importance of releasing the power in my classroom to my students and allowing them a stronger voice."

In launching a public charter school, we have also created a demonstration school where outside audiences can see empathetic classrooms in action.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

We are striving to effect a broad change in the role of the teacher so that the norm is no longer a teacher who stands at the front of the room and provides information to students, rewards them when they’re compliant, and punishes them when they’re not. In the coming years we expect the norm to begin to shift so more and more teachers will be Instigators of Thought, who treat students with respect and teach them how to think, not just what to think.

We are doing this through:
1- District partnerships in Baltimore City and Washington, DC,
2- Developing a train-the-trainers model with a strong teacher leadership component, and
3- Continuing our support of creating a school-wide culture of empathy in the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Our model works to activate empathy inside the classroom, creating a culture for both teachers and students. A challenge for us is that students' home environments do not necessarily reinforce these lessons and some parents question the restorative justice model used at the school for discipline. We support students as they navigate these approaches and develop their own practices.

Another challenge to the creation of a school-wide empathetic culture is that it takes a long time to master all elements of this model: teachers need to learn lesson planning, instruction, assessment, classroom management, and building students' self-discipline. Incorporating all these practices on a consistent basis can be challenging but we provide ongoing mentoring and practicums to support our teachers.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Formalize our Teacher Leadership Program, empowering teachers to train their peers to build empathy-activating classrooms.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Develop Teacher Leadership curriculum.

Task 2

Piloted curriculum with small group of teachers.

Task 3

Conduct preliminary evaluation of curriculum, in order to improve the model before launching it more widely.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Our Teacher Leadership Program will be implemented across all of our programs including to at least one new district partner.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Refine curriculum, materials, and program design from pilot program and roll-out to DC and Baltimore programs.

Task 2

Establish at least one new district partner.

Task 3

Continue to evaluate the program, assessing teachers' ability to train others in creating empathy-activating classrooms.

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

Aleta Margolis taught a playwriting course to high school students in the juvenile justice system in DC. At first, few of her students were interested in reading or writing, and most said they hated school. By the end, students had written, produced, and performed a play about DC, the city’s demise from drugs and violence and its rediscovery in the year 3000 by archaeologists who uncovered artifacts ranging from currency to crack cocaine. After the performance, the cast spoke with the audience on what might have been done to save DC back in 1989. Every student wrote, read, sang, acted, contributed. They loved what they were doing, but still hated reading and writing in school because it 'didn’t matter'. Aleta began to suspect that if her students had experienced a different kind of teaching in school, and had been offered work that was important to them, they wouldn’t have ended up in the juvenile justice system. She became a teacher, and went on to found Center for Inspired Teaching.

Tell us about your partnerships

Inspired Teaching is Serve DC’s first Professional Corps in DC and Inspired Teaching’s Fellows in the Certification Program receive an education stipend from Serve DC’s AmeriCorps*State Program to pursue graduate education courses.

Inspired Teaching also partners with Capitol City Public Charter School and the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School to host its Summer Experience and house Teaching Residents. We also have a partnership with Trinity University and American University to offer Master's degree programs to our Residents and Fellows.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

A strength of Inspired Teaching is our leadership and the wealth of expertise among program and research staff. Staff members have decades of experience launching and implementing effective and innovative teacher education programs in high-need school systems for disadvantaged youth. Trained mentors help support our teachers.

Our research and program evaluation staff is led by staff with doctoral degrees from world-class research universities.

This team oversees all aspects of our program design, implementation, and evaluation and regularly reports on progress towards outcomes.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

We would be happy to collaborate with other organizations working in education to share our model and discuss our experience over the past 16 years in developing teachers' empathy and nurturing students' socio-emotional development.