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Filling a professional development need for teachers

Sanford Inspire Program receives ASU President’s Award for Innovation

Professional development modules are online and free for educators

Professional development modules are all online and free for educators.

April 11, 2016

The Sanford Inspire Program at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College was honored with a 2016 University President’s Award for Innovation. This award provides formal recognition to ASU faculty and staff whose teamwork made significant contributions to the university and higher education through creation, development and implementation of innovative projects. The innovation may be motivated by factors of social, economic, artistic or intellectual origin. Innovative ASU leaders evaluated submissions and determined winners of the award.

The President’s Award for Innovation was created as one component of the Employee Recognition Program in the mid-1990s. Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has received the innovation award three times in the last four years: iTeachAZ, 2013; Quest2Teach, 2014; and Redesigning Teacher Professional Development, 2016.

“It is a huge honor to be selected for this competitive award at an institution that is known for innovation,” said Ryen Borden, executive director of the Sanford Inspire Program. “Earlier this year, ASU was named the nation’s most innovative university by U.S. News and World Report, adding to the depth and meaning of this university-wide recognition.”

The Sanford Inspire Program leverages the resources of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to create on-demand online modules that are research-based professional development for teachers. The modules are available, free of charge, and are currently used in more than 130 individual schools or educator preparation programs in Arizona and across the country. Borden said that teachers and school leaders rate the resources positively, with 93.5 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing that the modules are beneficial to teacher practice.

The Sanford Inspire Program was praised by ASU leaders for having clear partners within the college as well as in school districts and nonprofit agencies. Additional aspects of the program that were noted as factors in winning this honor include its broad reach, shown by more than 6,000 teachers who have registered for the online courses; the program’s potential for scale and transferability; and its demonstrated success as a solution to the need for targeted and differentiated professional development for teachers. Borden said that while a lot of professional development is available for teachers, unfortunately, much of it doesn’t work.  The Sanford Inspire Program is unique in its offerings and effectiveness, as documented by teachers and schools.  

Each online module is a 60-minute micro-course and addresses a targeted area of teacher practice. With topics such as “Understanding the Causes of Student Misbehavior” or “Teaching Classroom Procedures,” the collection provides support in common areas of difficulty for novice teachers, according to Borden. The growing collection also addresses topics such as “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy” and “Problem Based Learning” that many experienced teachers will also find valuable.

The Sanford Inspire Program began in 2010 with an initial $18.85 million investment from a private donor. The program received an additional $5.9 million in 2014 to support a new focus of online professional development for teachers. The team gathered input from pre-service teacher candidates, in-service teachers, teacher education faculty and K-12 school leaders. Practitioners provided valuable insight on content and format for the online modules. Over the last two years, the Sanford Inspire team continued to collect, analyze and use feedback from teachers, faculty and school leaders to improve their work. The first module was available online in December 2014.

In addition to being honored by President Crow, the Sanford Inspire Program team was also recognized this month by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College with the college’s annual Innovation Award.

Borden said the team is developing with sustainability and scale in mind. The initial donor investment supported module creation, but over the long term, an unlimited number of teachers can access the resources with very little required beyond server maintenance. Members of the Sanford Inspire Program team are now raising awareness about the resources and building new school and university partnerships. Learn more about the modules: Sanford Inspire Program professional development overview.

In the last two years, the Sanford Inspire Program team had nine research papers accepted by conferences for professional organizations, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the Association of Teacher Educators, the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children and the International Society for Technology in Education. They continue to meet with school leaders across Arizona and are working to expand and maintain their program. Educators who are interested in learning more are welcome to attend their upcoming May 10 workshop.