By Mark Neal, Project Inspire Director
The mystic poet Rumi stated: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” This quote expresses a duality that Project Inspire hopes to impart to teachers. The journey of making the world a better place through education starts within; great teachers are first and foremost great learners.
Each year, the program asks all residents to complete what we call a “change project.” At its simplest form, this is meant to be an effort that leaves the school a better place–for students, for teachers, and for the community. It starts with noticing. It should linger a while in wondering. And, it must conclude with measurable action. Dr. Edna Varner, a legendary change-maker in the Chattanooga community and member of the Project Inspire team, asks all of our residents, when thinking about topics and ideas for the change, to first look within themselves at a passion they hold dear. For it is there within our own hopes and dreams where we will find the gift that we can give as educators.
This year, as we gathered on a Wednesday evening late in the school year with warm food and a proper auditorium space, we as a Project Inspire family and movement were vaulted to a new level by the change projects put forth by the members of Cohort 12. To speak to the content of these projects would undermine the broader value of what these residents are doing with these change projects. By first looking within for change, Project Inspire residents approach teaching with a spirit of humility. They are making space for students to fill up with creativity, bravery, and newness. That’s the wisdom Rumi is speaking about. To use the words of our residents from the evening, we must first uncover the passion (a.k.a. genius!) within us, each of us, and then search curiously for that passion (a.k.a. genius!) in different forms among our peers. That’s it. Join us. Teach.
Kat Kendall, Amanda Shaw, and Sean Carrigan updated and painted (with the help of the art teacher) a decades old cafeteria mural at Hardy Elementary School, and incorporated the handprints of the 5th grade class.
Hope Chapman raised almost $3000 for Dalewood Middle School students to have copies of their summer reading books.
Mikayla Curry brought therapy dogs to The Howard School to boost morale before EOC testing and break down generational fear of dogs.
Blake Baggott had the Songbirds Foundation sponsor guitars for East Ridge Middle students who wanted to take guitar lessons from him.
Anna Lee had her students research Black individuals of interest for a Living Black History Museum at Montessori Elementary at Highland Park.
Stephaney Long enhanced Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy's College and Career Fair by taking the lead, and inviting more HBCUs, professions, and businesses.
Jesse McNutt and Lindsey Long began a community garden, including building and painting raised beds, at Orchard Knob Middle School.
Morgan Phillips added on to Orchard Knob Elementary's garden by planting foods and allowing students to take ownership of the growth.
Kara Matassino channeled her love of plants and math to build a garden and drainpipes at The Howard School.
Hilary Hodgkins saw the need for an EOC bootcamp at East Ridge High School, equating it to the extensive preparation lawyers receive to pass the Bar exam.
Trevor Wilson had a lunchroom reform by expanding places East Ridge High School students ate lunch, thereby reducing their anxiety as determined by a survey.
Amber McLemore began a now student-led newsletter for The Howard School students to keep updated on events after noticing that faculty had access to event news but not the students.
Ophelia Thornton started a now student-led newsletter that is delivered in both English and Spanish at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy.