Aspiring to Inspire: Inspiration vs Standardisation

As part of our teacher goals at CA this year we each set a professional growth goal based on an element from the student feedback surveys at the end of the 2011-12 year. With ‘inspired’ playing a key role in the school’s mission statement, I aimed to increase the proportion of students who respond with ‘my teacher inspires me‘. I may have sent myself on a fool’s errand, but it has given a lot to think about over the year. Other than that survey, I’m still not sure how inspiration can really be measured, which is probably part of the problem!

Last week I saw this TEDxVirginiaTech talk from John Boyer, AKA the Plaid Avenger (@PlaidAvenger), a professor at Virginia Tech who uses inspirational and innovative ways to teach his World Regions course to thousands of students. He has become a brand and an attractive force. I can see how is considered inspirational: he is funny, engaging and clearly knowledgable; he can keep an auditorium of hundreds entertained and attracts big-name guest-speakers; he gives students many ways to demonstrate their learning. The power of showmanship does a lot to inspire. So I watched this thinking about how these ideas would translate to our own small-class settings. Do we need to put on a show to inspire learners? Is empowering students more important?

Here’s the talk, give it a look:


He defines inspiration as that “transcendent moment of clarity,” stating that inspirational teachers “crack the door that you are compelled to go through.” He argues that the top goals of teachers should be inspiration, creativity and passion; we should be renamed “inspiration specialists,” so that our students are driven to learn more on their own.

But you can’t standardize it! You can’t measure it! You can’t analyse it!

If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.” (an Einstein paraphrase)

He then rails against standardisation: of curriculum, policies, teaching pedagogies, examinations. We need “more passion, less pedagogy; more inspiration, less standardisation.” He talk about the inspirational aspirations of nations to fire up generations of learners and the crushing effect of pushing standardised testing on younger and younger students. We need to aspire to inspire if we are to compete in the world with the emerging STEM juggernauts of India, South Korea and China.

It is very hard to disagree with the sentiments in his speech. He delivers it well, with passion and a hint of manic Will Ferrell. But it leaves me conflicted. I want to inspire. I aspire to inspire. But as a curriculum keener I want to know that we are teaching our students things that are worthwhile, in effective ways, that will allow them to go on to be successful; that we are building a model that will help all teachers inspire students to be in charge of their own learning and not to see inspiration as something done to them by the ‘teacher show’.

I’m against standardised testing at middle school and younger – I can’t see the point – but I do see the value of a recognised, high-quality post-16 international education such as the IB Diploma. I see the Middle Years Programme, if implemented well, as a great model for building inspired, global-minded learners; a framework that we can use to generate inspiration by design in our own school settings.

Now it’s time to inspire – take a deep breath – and think about where to go next: how to make my own classes better, to implement the frameworks in more effective and authentic ways and to lead the school through the challenges of the Next Chapter so that we emerge with a more effective curriculum and more inspired students.


Related to inspiration…

This week saw my site pass 2 million views. I often get emails, comments and tweets of thanks for the resources and ‘inspiration’. These usually come from teachers and the occasional students stuck before an exam. This project inspires me, and I’m using it to raise money for my chosen charities. If you teach science, IB Biology or have friends or colleagues that do, please share this link with them and encourage them to leave a donation if they like what they use.




One response to “Aspiring to Inspire: Inspiration vs Standardisation”

  1. Compliance, defiance and everything between and beyond that | Looking at Life Avatar

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