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Institute for Innovation in Education

About the Institute

The Institute for Innovation in Education (IIE) takes an interdisciplinary approach in its pursuit of conducting educational and translational research and administering research-informed professional development initiatives with the goal of improving teaching and learning in Washington, DC, and beyond. Projects support and engage educators as they affirm, benefit, respect, and value traditionally underrepresented student groups (including students who experience racialized marginalization and students with disabilities). Researchers partner with practitioners to study educational policies and interventions using a wide-ranging set of methodological and analytical approaches. It is our belief that the complex contexts of learners, schools, and communities call for cross-disciplinary research by investigators from varied backgrounds with a scientific understanding of the processes, policies, and practices in education. Current initiatives include partnerships in early literacy intervention, teacher profesional learning, STEM teacher preparation and retention, teacher wellness, and inclusive education. 

Teacher and Girls with letter B

Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program

Apply now for the Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program (ELI Leads). This program provides funding for eight doctoral candidates in the School of Education's EdD in Education Policy and Leadership. In partnership with DC Public Schools, the project team will support ELI Leads scholars as they work to improve early reading outcomes for DC students. The scholars will gain the practical skills and leadership competencies necessary to prevent and remediate reading difficulties. Beyond coursework, the program includes three residencies, an internship in DC Public Schools, and a problem of practice dissertation focused on a real-world challenge in early literacy and special education. For more information, please visit the ELI Leads webpage


A person puts colored squares on a Pythagorean Theorem worksheetThe IIE’s work in special education teaching and learning focuses on the study of teachers’ interaction with learners and how they integrate evidence-based practices into the classroom. For the past three years, the IIE faculty and staff have partnered with the D.C. Office of the Superintendent of Education to implement the Leadership Institute in Secondary Special Education (LISSE). This intensive professional development program provides DC teachers with the resources and supports to develop leadership skills aimed at supporting the use of evidence-based practices to integrate college and career readiness, common core, and Individualized Education Program goals within the curriculum for secondary students with disabilities.

Teacher with child learning to readIn 2019, Sarah Irvine Belson, Executive Director of the IIE, was awarded a grant from the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs to support the Early Literacy Intervention Leads Program (ELI Leads). This project will provide funding for eight doctoral candidates in the School of Education's EdD in Education Policy and Leadership. In partnership with DC Public Schools, the project team will support ELI Leads scholars as they work to improve early reading outcomes for DC students. Please visit the ELI Leads webpage for more information. Applications are due on May 10, 2020.

Panamá Teach

AU SOE, in conjunction with Panamanian educators, launched Panamá Teach, an 18-month project that will include the development of an evidence-based, continuing professional development plan for in-service teachers (and leaders) in Panamá. The program will focus on increasing the number of teacher leaders experienced to train other teachers and leaders. Panamá Teach is being funded by AU alumnus and Board of Trustees member Fernando Lewis, his wife Susana, and their family.

Learn more here about Panamá Teach!

Panamá Bilingüe

In 2014 the then-incoming Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, started the Panamá Bilingüe initiative aimed at increasing bilingualism in Panamá by improving English education, targeting approximately 25,000 teachers and 285,000 students. The program was designed to improve second language proficiency for Panamanian students with the goal of increasing academic achievement and access to high-level employment opportunities and enriches cross-cultural understanding.

American University was one of over 20 participating universities that hosted English teachers for a two-month intensive course for teachers to study language teaching methodology and strategies, project-based learning, and educational leadership. Pananá Bilingüe works in tandem with AU's strategic imperative to foster external partnerships by nuturing our relationship between the university and the Ministerio de Educación de Panamá, as well as strengthening Panamanian education and enriching academic life.

Please visit our Pananá Bilingüe webpage to learn more.

Photo of Healthy Schoolhouse participantsHealthy Schoolhouse 2.0

In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and Agriculture and Food Research Inititative, the project evaluates teachers' personal health beahviors, beliefs, and self-efficacy, as well as students' levels of health literacy and nutrition knowledge, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and participation on school breakfast programs. Read more about program findings in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Healthy TotsPhoto of Healthy Tots participants

In collaboration with United Planning Organization (UPO), this program provides 12 UPO child care facilities with nutrition education, staff wellness and center wellness policies, and health promotion, increasing healthy outcomes for children, families, and staff. For more on this program, read about the Healthy Tots Act.

Learn more about health initiatives at American University at the Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities page.

A teacher and two students in lab coats look at an experimentAimed toward increasing the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in high-need D.C. schools, this program focuses on quality instruction, student achievement, inquiry, and assessments for instructional decision-making. Read more about the Lab2Class grant through the National Science Foundation's Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

A team of students talk around a tableThis program prepares students from DC area schools to compete in the High School Ethics bowl, where they confront complex issues and provide fact-based statements and alternative arguements in peer dialogue, as well as responses to ethical dilemmas posed by opposing teams and judges. For more details, visit Ethics Bowl at American University.

A woman speaks at a podium in front of the School of EducationProgram directors and administrators of community-based heritage language schools, members of language communities involved in these schools, and directors and leaders from public/private/charter schools gather for an annual conference hosted by the Institute for Innovation in Education at American University to learn about heritage language work from national and international practitioners. To learn more, visit the Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, as well as National Heritage Language Resource Center.

News and Events

9th Annual 2022 Community-Based Heritage Language Conference

Friday, October 7, 2022 - 12:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT
Saturday, October 8, 2022 - 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT

Find out more about the conference and how to register on the conference webpage.

Collaborative for Reading Science and Inclusive Classrooms The IIE in partnership with two DC Public Schools, Langley Elementary and Noyes Elementary, was awarded a Special Education Enhancement Fund grant from the DC Office of the State Superintedent of Education. The partnership aims to facilitate growth among special education and general education teachers who provide reading instruction and intervention in inclusive classrooms. To support literacy co-teaching, the project provides teams of faculty with professional development in five evidence-based approaches: building teacher knowledge, co-teaching in inclusion classrooms, screening and dynamic RTI, phonological awareness skills training, and explicit decoding instruction. From March 2020 through September 2021, this project will employ a whole-school model to support 40 general and special education teachers who collectively teach nearly 400 students each year.

Introducing the 2020 Early Literacy Intervention Leaders Program (ELI Leads) Scholarship Recipients 

Learn more about the Leads:

  • Shareen Cruz, Manager of Elementary ELA, Curriculum and Professional Development, DC Public Schools
  • Kenneth Jebra' Neat, Jr., Early Childhood Teacher / Teacher Leader DC Public Schools
  • Rebecca 'Becky' Nolin, Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI) Teacher Leader, DC Public Schools
  • Jasmine Rogers, Special Education Teacher-Resource Inclusion Teacher (K-5, DC Public Schools

Dr. Sarah Irvine Belson Contributes to Family, School, and Community Partnerships for Students with Disabilities

  • Dr. Sarah Irvine Belson is a contributing author with Anastasia Snelling and Jessica Young in Family, School, and Community Partnerships for Students with Disabilities (2019). Their chapter, "A Community-Based Approach to to Providing Health and Education Supports for Students with Disabilities in Affordable Housing," explores the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) framework as a model for improving health and education outcomes for students with disabilities (SWD).