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Teacher-Driven Change, Strength-Based Models

The mission of the California Teachers Association Institute for Teaching is to enhance, support and sustain high quality public schools for all California students.  Through professional development of teachers, special programs, research, conferences, networking, and community-based coalitions, the California Teachers Association Institute for Teaching seeks to advance public education and promote the common good of our students and communities.

The Institute for Teaching (IFT) is attempting to bring a new approach to school change. Based on its work in California schools, with foundations and from discussions with hundreds of practitioners and students, the IFT has determined that school change must include two key factors: 

  1. It needs to be teacher-driven 
  2. It should be based on what is working and successful in our schools and classrooms. 

By focusing on what works in our schools, the IFT believes strength-based models for school change add a new dimension to school improvement. Strength-based models provide an asset-based approach that teachers can use to emphasize talents over weaknesses and strengths over deficits to create a learning environment that supports and encourages every student to do their best. 

IFT discovered a new sense of optimism and accomplishment when teachers were empowered to describe and define what makes the teaching and learning process most successful. As a result, IFT is now helping chapters and members become experts on solutions, as they begin to change policy at the local level.

In the beginning, the public education system involved people who dedicated themselves to their students in one-room schools or to small groups who met to learn how to read and write, how to reason and recite, and how to think and invent. Whether studying Aristotle or Plato, Latin or Greek—or how to plow a straight furrow or cook a simple meal—students came to school to seek new knowledge and new ways to live and work. They still do. 

Today’s high schools have grown beyond one-room schools to become large institutions. Sometimes they are overcrowded, often under-funded, but thousands of students and teachers are succeeding every day in learning, achieving and progressing. The relationship that matters most in our schools today is the same that existed in those one-room schoolhouses: the relationship between teachers and students.

 The CTA Institute for Teaching exists to support that relationship, to bolster its influence and provide an environment where these nurtured relationships can foster meaningful learning. IFT inspires the efforts of teachers and stakeholders to hold open the door for learning to take place. IFT facilitates new ways to encourage teachers to work together with others in the community to hold the space for revitalization of public education and a renewal of its commitment to excellence, allowing each and every student to achieve their goals. 

The Institute was formed in 1967 by the CTA Board of Directors and established as a foundation—a 501(c)(3) corporation—to assist public education in ways that CTA alone was unable to address. Since 2008, IFT has come under the umbrella of the CTA Foundation for Teaching and Learning, an independent nonprofit organization that supports CTA sponsored scholarships, awards, grants and disaster relief supporting teachers and students across California.

IFT Grants

IFT helps all students and schools by awarding innovation grants directly to CTA members and local chapters. To date, CTA members have funded 408 grant projects totaling more than $4.7 million. All CTA members are eligible to apply for an Educator grant (up to $5,000) or an Impact grant (up to $20,000).

Grant applications open December 1, 2020: Come back soon!

The strength-based grants are designed for pre-K-12 teachers and certificated support staff, ESP members and college instructors. Proposals are reviewed through the lens of IFT’s strength-based matrix by an IFT Grant Selection committee composed of outstanding teachers.

During the eleven years of the grant program, the IFT has invested CTA members’ voluntary dues contributions in 408 teacher driven grant projects. IFT is proud that the cumulative acceptance rate among grant applicants remains at over 49 percent. The total amount awarded to date now stands at $4.7 million.

The CTA Institute for Teaching congratulates the educators from the 47 local chapters that were selected as recipients of strength-based grants for the 2020-2021 school year. The recipients were awarded grants totaling $633,112.17. The 110 IFT grant applications were evaluated based on their alignment with the Seven Factors in the IFT’s strength-based matrix (see illustrations above).

IFT grants offers CTA members an opportunity to apply for funding to support a great idea or passion project! From hands-on, practical projects to engaging with parents and communities, STEM, social justice and more!

Learn more about which projects were funded for this school year and details of their projects.

Thank you responses from the 2020-2021 IFT grant recipients.


IFT programs support new approaches to school change. When we focus on what's working in schools, it adds a new strength-based dimension for school improvement and success.

IFT has organized a diverse set of CTA members to be part of IFT’s Regional Teacher Think Tanks. These ten regional Teacher Think Tanks give a voice to dozens of CTA members who are excellent classroom practitioners and passionate about sharing innovative ideas and building upon what works. 

The Expo, presented as part of the pre-Good Teaching Conferences, is designed as a showcase for exemplary IFT Grant recipients to present highlights of their strength-based projects to an audience of fellow teachers. It demonstrates that teachers have the capacity to innovate their practice and profession to connect communities with their classrooms in engaging ways.

IFT supports home visits because they work and teachers have always done them. That practice has been enhanced with a strategic focus and collaboration dedicated to this proven strategy with positive outcomes for families, staff, and most importantly, students of all grade levels.

IFT is looking to engage with members in schoolwide appreciative inquiry projects based on the identified strengths of the local school community. These field-based projects are locally designed and their successful outcomes are critical in demonstrating the efficacy of strength-based teacher driven change.

IFT supports CSGN’s mission to promote school gardens as a means “to enhance academic achievement, a healthy lifestyle, environmental stewardship, and community/social development.”



Important Reads

Ovation! Toolkit

Designed by IFT’s South Bay Teacher Think Tank members, Ovation! is intended to celebrate the daily contributions our members make in California public schools. Through this unique recognition effort, IFT is focusing on exemplary strength-based teaching. The toolkit was created so local chapter leaders will have a framework or model for building an effective Association member recognition program.

The Ovation Toolkit was created so local chapter leaders have a framework or model for building an effective Association member strength-based recognition program. 

IFT Board of Directors and Staff Support

E. Toby Boyd, CTA President 

David B. Goldberg, CTA Vice President 

Leslie S. Littman, CTA Secretary—Treasurer 

Erika Jones, CTA Board Member, District J 

Mike Patterson, CTA Board Member, District D 

Jayson Chang, Teacher | Member, East Side TA 

Eric Enriquez, Teacher | Member, Hayward EA 

Al Rabanera, Teacher | Member, Fullerton Secondary TO 

Michelle Ramos, Teacher | Member, Covina Unified EA 

Shanan Spears, Teacher | Member, River Delta Unified TA 

Jennifer Villaryo, Teacher | Member, UTLA/NEA 

Dr. Carl A. Cohn, Professor Emeritus, Claremont Graduate University

Joe Boyd, Executive Director, CTA

Wei Pan, Associate Executive Director/Controller, CTA

Anna Dilig, Accounting Manager, CTA 

Dr. Norma Sanchez, IPD/IFT Manager 

Dr. Anita Benitas, IFT Program Consultant 

Dr. Stacy Begin, CSO Liaison

Jackie Hidalgo, IFT Program Specialist 

BoMee Musetti, Field Services Specialist