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Teacher-Training Initiative to Inspire Students Receives Part of $28M Donation

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A teacher-training program with an emphasis on inspiring students—not teaching content—is getting a huge investment.

T. Denny Sanford, a banking entrepreneur and philanthropist, has donated $28 million to the private, nonprofit National University System in support of three education initiatives: Sanford Harmony, Sanford Inspire, and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy. 

Sanford Inspire is the professional development program, which was developed by the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in 2008. Sanford's vision is to improve student outcomes through improving teaching.

"Teachers are taught to teach subjects, as opposed to inspiring students," Sanford told Education Week Teacher. 

When Sanford delivers speeches to large crowds, he will survey the audience by asking who had more than one or two teachers in the first nine years of their schooling who were truly inspiring. "It's lucky if I get 5 percent of hands going up," he said. But "the people going into education ... their goal is really to help civilization."

Sanford Inspire seeks to bridge that gap. There are currently more than 60 training modules available for any teacher to access, free of charge, and new ones are created on a regular basis. The program targets both preservice and current teachers, and has impacted about 25,000 educators total so far. 

The modules, which typically take less than hour to complete, fit into themes of the learning environment ("Addressing Bullying Behavior" and "Creating Classroom Rules"), preparing and facilitating instruction ("Delivering Effective Feedback" and "Design a Problem-Based Learning Experience"), student motivation ("Giving Effective Praise"), student growth and achievement ("Assessing Students During Cooperative Learning"), and professional practices ("Coping With Teacher Stress" and "Working Against Racial Bias"). 

Jamie Manburg, the director of Sanford Inspire, said the modules help fill a void that's often found in teacher preparation programs—which is that they may focus too much on the theoretical, and not enough on the practical. Sanford Inspire seeks to give teachers practical tools that can help them motivate students and encourage them to succeed.

Fourteen higher education institutions share and integrate the Sanford Inspire content, with their PK-12 partner school districts. Manburg said he hopes that collaborative will expand to 20 institutions by the end of the year, but teachers at any school of education or school district can access the content. 

"It's such a dynamic and changing environment out there," said Michael Cunningham, the chancellor of National University System, which houses Sanford Inspire and works to disseminate the program on a national scale. "There's nothing like that first day in the classroom when you're confronted with different issues that come up. [Teachers] say, 'Holy smoke, how do I handle that?' [There are specific classroom-management techniques] that many inspirational teachers already know—a lot of teachers don't have that."

The other initiative, Sanford Harmony, is for boys and girls in pre-K through middle school to learn how to build relationships and better understand each other. The goal of the program is to lower the divorce rate in the country. The program is in place in 2,700 schools right now, including in New York City, Los Angeles, Clark County, Nev., and the Chicago area.

The $28 million donation is for the initiatives' expansion and distribution across the country over the next three years. The Sanford Harmony program will be expanded to other languages, for example, and has recently launched a social-emotional learning app for any teacher to download and access materials like whole-class discussion topics, peer activities, and real-life, problem-solving scenarios. 

Sanford Inspire is also undergoing two research studies, Manburg said. One is an overall assessment of the program, while the other is a case study of an as-yet-unnamed college of education working with a K-12 school district. Manburg hopes to have results from that case study by the end of the year. 


Related Stories on Sanford's Initiatives:

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