About Us

The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation is a strategic catalyst for the transformational reform efforts being led by the state of Tennessee.

By recognizing the vital role of the teacher and leader in every classroom, in every school and in every region of the state, the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation exists to support teachers and school leaders in improving student outcomes. Using our knowledge of best practices matched with the understanding of unique needs of various individuals and organizations, we create individualized educational opportunities to train and embed professional learning that supports positive student outcomes.

An educator standing in front of students.Our Mission

To support teachers and leaders in improving student outcomes through proven professional learning and to incubate innovative instructional ideas and resources

Our Vision

To become Tennessee’s premier clearinghouse and resource for professional learning opportunities and support to improve student outcomes


Our History

Announcement of the establishment of the Ayers Institute.

Established in 2012, as a partnership between the Ayers Foundation and Lipscomb University’s College of Education. The institute seeks to incubate and develop new instructional practices that best support student outcomes and have the potential to become scalable. The institute was made possible by the generous $1 million initial gift from Jim and Janet Ayers. The president of the Ayers Foundation, Janet Ayers, is a known reform-minded philanthropist who supports initiatives that have immediate impact for teachers and the students in the state of Tennessee.

Candice McQueenCandice McQueen, Founding Director

The Ayers Institute was initiated as a result of Dr. Candice McQueen’s vision for creating a high-quality clearinghouse for best practices coupled with exceptional learning opportunities and professional training to support and develop our best teachers and leaders across the state, especially in more challenged areas. McQueen served as senior vice president and dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education starting July 2008.  In January 2015, Governor Bill Haslam appointed McQueen as Tennessee's commissioner of education.

Under McQueen’s leadership, Lipscomb University's College of Education received recognition at the state and national levels for excellence in teacher preparation and teaching outcomes. In 2014, the college’s undergraduate secondary program ranked No. 2 in the nation and its elementary program ranked 14th in the nation by the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2014 Teacher Prep Review. For four consecutive years (2011-14), the College of Education was recognized by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission as one of the most effective teacher preparation programs in the state. Lipscomb was found to be among the top five programs that have consistently produced teachers who outperform other teachers in the state. During McQueen's tenure as Dean, the College of Education achieved 54 percent enrollment growth with 72 percent growth at the graduate level while adding 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and creating innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

McQueen has served on a variety of boards, including the PENCIL Foundation, STARS, the Mayor's Youth Master Plan Leadership Council, the First to the Top Advisory Council for the Commissioner of Education, and the executive committee of the Tennessee Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.  She speaks widely on transformational partnerships, leadership and redesigning professional development.  Before coming to Lipscomb and serving as a department chair, Dr. McQueen taught in both private and public elementary and middle schools where she was awarded multiple awards for both her teaching and the curriculum design of new magnet schools. Dr. McQueen has a bachelor's degree from Lipscomb, a master's degree from Vanderbilt, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

The Ayers Institute was created upon the following principles:

  • Education reform should be guided by research in global best practice in education.
  • Best practice requires implementation with fidelity, on-going research on effectiveness, and a continuing quest for improvement and innovation.
  • Teachers and leaders are KEY to education reform and achievement in schools.
  • Students can make significant achievement gains when teachers implement research-based best practices.