Note: This article is cross-posted in the CSSA Newsletter. Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents here.
Many districts employ a professional growth model for their tenured faculty members for evaluation. Instead of a traditional clinical observation with post-observation follow-up, teachers can develop a project to improve their own teaching and learning. This performance-based approach to teacher development and school improvement allows teachers to take ownership of their growth and learning. Outcomes expected from a professional growth project might include:
- Empowering teachers to analyze and improve their own strengths and areas needing improvement
- Empowering teachers to adjust their teaching as compelled by internal desire, student needs, or societal demands
- Empowering teachers to engage in a search for relevant compasses to guide the thoughtful implementation of education of children.
Undoubtedly empowering teachers to improve should be linked to improved student achievement, which should be measured in many, various, authentic ways. In essence, growth models can allow teachers to conduct their own inquiry into a relevant, important topic that can improve their instruction.
As science educators, we subscribe to an inquiry philosophy for teaching and learning. Simply put, inquiry is learning by questioning and investigation. Underlying an effective inquiry program are philosophies associated with problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking, oral and written communication, and the active and reflective use of knowledge. Inquiry learning has the instructional goals of teaching scientific knowledge and processes of research, while nurturing a commitment to scientific inquiry, promoting open-mindedness with an ability to balance alternative perspectives, and a cooperative spirit and skill. If we ask our students to do it well, why not be leaders to them by example?
As science education leaders, we have the opportunity to empower our teacher to seek out inquiry professional growth opportunities to better develop their instructional potential. However, embedded in our responsibility is to develop the leadership potential in each one of our constituents. Teachers often have amazing skills, knowledge, and dispositions that they should be encouraged to share with others.
How do we empower our teachers to share? We can encourage them to include in their professional growth plans opportunities to share their knowledge with others as part of their end products with the Science Education Community:
- Presenting a workshop at a district or school professional development session
- Presenting a workshop at the Connecticut Science Teachers Association Annual Conference
- Writing an article for the Connecticut Journal of Science Education or the CSTA newsletter.
- Writing an article for a national journal: The Science Teacher, The Journal of Chemistry Education, The American Biology Teacher, The Physics Teacher
These are activities that many teachers would not consider doing on their own, but with gentle, supportive encouragement from a compassionate leader, they might. The courage to step beyond oneself, to take a risk and be willing to share is not always easy, but we do our profession a disservice when great ideas exist and they are not shared on a larger stage.
We ask our students to share their work in authentic settings. Perhaps it’s time we evaluate ourselves and our colleagues as life-long learners and ask if we collectively are willing to take the risks that we expect from our students: to develop our own inquiry skills, leadership, and innovation and have a willingness to share with an authentic audience who would find value – our own peers.