Inspired Teaching and Playing to Learn

With the introduction of Common Core, teaching philosophy has shifted with today’s professionals pushing for inquiry based and authentic learning. But how do elementary school teachers accomplish this? The Center for Inspired Teaching trains teacher to be innovative, active, and effective by utilizing play in order to help students learn. The Center for Inspired Teaching offers different types of training opportunities as well as an in-service certificate program focused on implementing their framework. This post will explore the main tenants of ‘inspired teaching’ and examine what it really means to play to learn.

Inspired Teaching

The Center for Inspired Teaching (CIP) has promoted project and inquiry based instruction since before they became ‘popular’ theories, but what does it really mean to be an inspired teacher? Though specific practices remain a well-guarded secret, CIP has provided us with a general framework they feel helps to accomplish this goal.

The 4 I’s

The 4 I’s are the attributes successful students in an inspired classroom should have/demonstrate. It is the teacher’s goal to provide an environment where these skills and values can be developed, practiced, and embraced.


Intellect refers to the content knowledge and, more specifically, how it is used. Students in an inspired classroom will be physically and intellectually engaged in a discovery process where they find and apply knowledge to relevant problems, situations, and experiences. By engaging with real world themes they can connect to, learning becomes real and relevant.

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Another good work for this “I” might be “experiential”. As in science, the expectation is for students to gain knowledge through a process of discovery. Students are given a question or problem they must solve and a format in which they can gather and apply the information necessary to do so. In order to be fully engaged in learning, students need to have an active body as well as an active mind. This element is crucial to making the learning process fully “experiential”. Students are not just looking through books and websites to find information; they are, building, and/or creating as well. I like to use the term experiential for this because active can mean anything from doing a scavenger hunt around the school playground to making posters or tossing a ball around the room. The key is to get students’ whole being, mind and body, involved in the learning process in order for students to experience learning and have a context with which to build strong understandings.

For some examples on how to get students moving, see my post: “Ways to Get Students Moving in Class”


Inquiry refers simply to all of the attributes that make someone a good researcher. Students in an inspired classroom will be able to develop questions and find/analyze information to form a solution backed by intellectual reasoning. In order to accomplish these tasks, students will work collaboratively with their peers and demonstrate intellectual curiosity with attention to detail and data. These attributes are essential for students to be self-directed and learn through exploration.

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Inquiry goes hand-in-hand with intellect. The goal for students in an inspired classroom is to be self-directed and involved in their learning as they seek solutions to real-world problems. In order to be successful in the ‘intellect’ realm and accomplish these goals, students need to demonstrate inquiry attributes. For this “I”, it is probably easiest to think of ‘researcher’ in terms of science. Where students may approach and analyze material differently for different subjects, the general process of research and questioning is the same.


Imagine refers to students’ divergent thinking skills. Students in an inspired classroom will be able to apply their knowledge to different situations in order to overcome new challenges. They will be creative in their approaches and embrace new challenges as opportunities to learn.

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Imagination has less to do with the technical aspects of learning and more to do with students’ attitudes towards the learning process and their ability to innovate. Inspired classrooms thrive by utilizing project based curriculum that requires students to apply their knowledge and skills in both conventional and unconventional ways. Imagination refers to the attitude and skillset required for students to excel through this type of learning. In short, imagination can be summed up using two key words:  resourcefulness and ingenuity.


Integrity refers to the students’ actions, attitudes, and behaviors that reflect good citizenship. Students in an inspired classroom will be in tune with their individual beliefs and values and be able to express them with confidence. Students will also be able and willing to listen and learn from differing perspectives/opinions in a respectful manner.

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Being a good citizen is one of the major objectives for United States education. Though this concept is somewhat general and vague, there are some common themes schools have adopted regarding this goal and it’s these that we see reflected in the integrity aspect. To put it simply, these are the skills that allow individuals to collaborate, express their opinions, and act responsibly in an extremely diverse society. There are many nuances associated with these skills and integrity encompasses these skills and attributes.

The Five Elements of Inspired Teaching

The Center for Inspired Teaching acknowledges that learning is a team effort where both students and teachers are play a role toward success. In order for students to develop the skills and mindsets to achieve the 4 I’s, teachers must include certain elements in their practice. CIP has identified five core elements teachers must include to be successful in the inspired framework.

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Mutual Respect

Teachers should know and be able to connect with their students at an individual level. They should then utilize this connection to direct how they meet student needs and address classroom management. Because interventions are based on authentic relationships, mutual professional respect is developed between students and their teacher. Through their relationships, teachers are naturally more understanding and sensitive to their students’ social, emotional, academic, and physical challenges and can be more effective when helping those students overcome their challenges. Students acknowledge that the teacher knows and understands their interests and needs and as a result, see them as being reliable and having their best interest in mind. It is essential that both teachers and students are active participants in this relationship as collaboration between them is essential to student success.

Sees Students as Experts

Teachers must see students as being knowledgeable will rich ideas and perspectives to share. This helps teachers maintain a high standard of expectations students are motivated to meet. This also helps give students voice in the classroom. Students should be the driving force behind a lesson and there should be abundant opportunities for students to express and develop their thoughts and insights into class material. Teachers should act as guides in this process of development rather than seeing themselves as the primary source of knowledge.

Purpose, Persistence, and Action

Students should be given a clear purpose that has them engage in relevant materials and tasks. This keeps students focused and helps them see the value of the academic task they are trying to accomplish. Since students are required to creatively apply knowledge and skills to solve complex problems, persistence is a necessary value. Students should be taught to persevere if one approach or understanding fails to meet the task at hand and seek new ways of approaching academic challenges. Teachers should strive to engage students in tasks intellectually, emotionally, and physically.

Appreciation for Students and the Learning Process

Teachers should openly demonstrate enthusiasm for working with students and enjoy being a part of the learning process. Students and teaching coworkers are responsive to authentic interest in promoting student and school success.

Emphasis on Diverse Authentic Assessment

Teachers should implement a variety of assessments that reflect different learning strengths in order to get a true measure of each student’s level of skill and knowledge.  The assessments teachers use should require students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations in relevant ways as an authentic means of assessment that better exemplifies student achievement.

Play to Learn

The Center for Inspired Learning follows the philosophy that most students learn by ‘experiencing’ the material. Students learn best through play, so effective lessons should engage students both mentally and physically for maximum effect. To students, a successful lesson should feel like a fun game and include activities/material that students can relate to.

When learning about Play to Learn, I couldn’t help but think that this was a fantastic way to frame inquiry based learning for an elementary crowd. Inquiry and project based learning styles are becoming increasingly popular in secondary education circles and many schools are starting to reflect these styles in their instructional framework. There is a lot of interest in inquiry and project based learning at the elementary level and arguably these elements have always been a part of elementary instruction. However, reaching the next level of effective implementation has proven difficult. Both inquiry and project based methods at a high level push for independent investigation and research toward achieving a relevant end goal. Where younger students are capable of reaching higher order thinking, some of the skills and commitment to the research process required are difficult for this age group and ultimately some of the relevance and engagement is sacrificed. In order to re-engage younger students with this process and make it exciting and relevant, it is helpful to keep the theme of ‘play’ in mind.

What kinds of activities have you done in your classroom to engage students’ bodies in addition to their minds? Share in the comments below!

This post was created in reference to the Center for Inspired Teaching website. Click here more information on The Center for Inspired Learning and the programs they offer. ((Disclaimer: FUTD is not affiliated with The Center for Inspired Teaching and does benefit from the use of their program in any way))


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