This profile was prepared when Aleta Margolis was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Aleta's approach differs in several distinctive ways from the approaches used in other professional development programs. First, she emphasizes principles that can work across different subject matters, grade levels, and classroom environments. Second, she emphasizes a student-centered classroom and helps teachers see themselves not as directing this environment, but as part of it. Third, she admits only teachers who self-select into her programs, thus ensuring an enthusiastic and receptive audience. Fourth, she provides active monthly follow-up to participants to maintain their enthusiasm and skills. Fifth, she goes beyond the classroom, bringing her methodology to other "teachers" as well, including individual tutors and community organizations. And finally, she has designed a detailed plan to replicate her teacher-training model in a variety of educational settings across the country.In Aleta's new teacher training model, teachers first examine themselves as learners through specific exercises that show how different individuals learn best. Then teachers look at their teaching methods, even down to the details of what materials they place on the walls of their classrooms. Next, teachers engage in a discussion of their best practices in order to discover their underlying teaching philosophy. Subsequently, they rework their individual teaching methods to incorporate an approach and philosophy that reaches all learning styles, one that is active and flexible, and one that teachers have found for themselves, not one given to them through a set curriculum. Her professional development programs for teachers, which range from one day to one year in length, expose teachers to the work of expert educators and researchers through a 100% participatory process. Teachers learn to create innovative lessons, which, for example, might include physically acting out a statistics scenario or math lessons based on the geometrical properties of the human body. Other activities engage both the intellect and lived experience, such as the creation of a class constitution, which allows students and teachers to work together to establish and enforce classroom rules or the development of a scientific research project which is based solely on participants' questions about the way life works. Believing that ineffective teaching is causing our public education system to falter, Aleta is piloting an innovative idea that will reshape the role of teachers and, in the end, schools. By bridging the gap between their personal philosophies and their classroom practices, she is helping teachers bring out the genius within each of their students.
Featured in Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, by Bev Schwartz (2012)