Why the US Navy’s TOPGUN School Might be America’s Best Teacher Training Institution

Begin with a pure mission, dedicate to the future, commit to continuous change and adaptation, raise the bar for everyone.

Ira David Socol
Teachers on Fire Magazine
4 min readJun 19


An F-35 US Navy fighter with the shoulder patch for the Fighter Weapons School.
The real TOPGUN world is not the movie.

In the late 1960s, the US Navy and Marine Corps faced a critical issue. In the skies over Vietnam, new Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and the capabilities of new and improved Soviet MIG fighters were resulting in a horrific loss rate for fighter pilots (or, “Naval Aviators” and “Marine pilots” to be linguistically accurate).

Out of that critical need, the Navy’s TOPGUN school was developed.

- Aspiration. Aspirational Peers.
- Hands-On Learning.
- Transferable Skills Expected.
- Relevance. Grounded in real-world needs and desires.
- Dispositions are as important as skills and academics.
- Real World Research Based: Constantly updated curriculum. Constantly updated methods.

While having the privilege of working with Nevada educators on the amazing Portrait of a Learner Project, I had the additional privilege of visiting Naval Air Station Fallon and spending a morning talking with a graduate of, and an Instructor at, the Navy’s TOPGUN Fighter Weapons School — an officer in the US Marine Corps. And I will be the first to admit that I had no idea that I would be discussing a teacher-training institution (this is not a place for observers, it is a classified facility — and unlike some others, I take “classified” seriously), and I definitely didn’t expect to be hearing about what might be the best teacher-training institution I know about.

Teachers gather to review their transformative accomplishments and plan their next steps.
Nevada “Portrait Pilot” educators review the year’s transformative accomplishments and plan for the future.



Ira David Socol
Teachers on Fire Magazine

Author, Dreamer, Educator: A life in service - NYPD, EMS, disabilities/UDL specialist, tech and innovation leader for education. Co-author of Timeless Learning