Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Initiative at Penn State

Our Work

Teachers from Red Lion Area School District in a circle, talking.

Participating Red Lion Area School District educators discuss their fall inquiries. (Photo: Paris Palmer)

Professional Learning in Inquiry Communities

The Initiative breaks the mold of the one-shot professional learning workshop by creating inquiry communities. Traditional professional development often fails partly because it is disconnected from teachers’ day-to-day work and rarely includes follow-up support. The Initiative’s high-quality professional learning is intensive and extensive, improving educators’ practice and their work with students.

The Initiative’s flagship programs engage teachers in a year of inquiry-based professional learning, informed by the latest research and scholarship.

The Initiative’s programs integrate core characteristics of effective professional learning, including:

  • Content-rich learning linked directly to classroom application
  • Participation in collaborative groups facilitated by professional learning experts
  • Explicit connections to the real-world needs of teachers, students, and local contexts
  • Positioning of teachers as knowledge creators with agency in their practice
Allisyn Headshot

“The Initiative helped me build upon my base knowledge by providing historical content presented by national experts, classroom practices for creating an inquiry-based and safe learning environment for students, and a space that encourages continued collaboration with other educators and scholars.”

Allisyn S., U.S. history teacher

The Initiative customizes professional learning to meet districts’ and individual participants’ needs. The Initiative works closely with districts to tailor each program’s topical focus, duration, and structure. From the outset, Initiative personnel help participants identify their needs and goals. The Initiative helps participants save time with curated resources and one-on-one support to meet other professional requirements, such as preparing for teacher evaluations, designing lessons that address the content standards they already teach, and completing continuing education.

Once a program structure has been established, the Initiative’s professional learning experts build and sustain inquiry communities from any content area over one or more school years. These communities support educators as they implement their learning about content and pedagogy in their classrooms and schools. They also provide the resources and professional guidance that teachers need to engage in powerful inquiries with their students about difficult topics.

Inquiry Cycle

The Initiative’s yearlong programs involve three cycles of inquiry. The year begins with a shared inquiry cycle, sparked by difficult topics educators are facing and guided by content and pedagogy experts. Participants simultaneously generate compelling questions for a cycle of inquiry about their individual practices. For example, after working with an Initiative expert to learn about the role of language in historical genocides, participants generate questions about how they use language in their teaching practice. Participants collect and analyze data, draw initial conclusions, take informed action to grow their practices, and share their findings with their colleagues and school community. Throughout the process, participants engage in critical reflection on current practices in relation to principles of educational equity and trauma-informed teaching. Ultimately, participants engage their students in inquiry on relevant difficult topics.

"In education, we have become so accustomed to buying ‘cookie-cutter’ programs, then realizing it doesn’t fit us; it isn’t authentic to who we are. That’s why things in the past haven’t worked. I am starting to see how this inquiry community is something that is working. We all started with individual ideas, so when we created our group wondering, I was skeptical of how it would relate back to our personal inquiries. But now, as we sit here together, I realize it is all falling into place. We’re all in this together, and it fits all of our authentic goals."

Danielle K., English as a second language teacher
A close-up view of the inquiry question
Holocaust Education Initiative brochure cover

Click here for a sample outline of a yearlong program that could be tailored to assist a school district in achieving its goals.

Although inquiry communities can be developed over varying lengths of time, the Initiative’s programs are most impactful when they convene educators to collaborate throughout an entire school year, either at the building level or across content areas and grade-level bands.

The Initiative’s professional learning experts facilitate each program primarily face-to-face in school district buildings, while selected components are offered remotely. Beginning with one or two inquiry communities in each district, these initial programs are refined and expanded in subsequent school years.

Screenshot of the Trauma-Informed Practices online education module

Online Professional Learning Modules

Educators can access self-paced, free professional learning through the Initiative’s interactive online modules, such as the recently published Trauma-Informed Practices.

The modules introduce educators and school personnel to research-based frameworks for inquiry-based learning and teaching difficult topics with a trauma-informed lens. They provide concrete examples and opportunities for critical reflection within educators’ specific contexts and roles.

The modules also connect educators with a wealth of resources to use and share. Certified Pennsylvania educators who complete the Initiative’s modules and provide their PPIDs earn continuing education units that satisfy Act 48 requirements.


Children liberated at Auschwitz


Educators in the Initiative's programs connect with Penn State faculty members and internal partners from the College of Education, the College of Liberal Arts, Penn State Law, the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the Jewish Studies Program, the Center for Science and the Schools, and the Humanities Institute. These experts contribute content and pedagogy sessions related to difficult topics that participants teach or encounter in their practice. Click here for recordings of presentations by the Initiative's affiliated faculty and internal partners.