Educators sometimes underestimate the shifts in teacher practices that are required under the Next Generation Science Standards.
This happens because very few educators have seen practices that reflect the NGSS's vision of science instruction in action. One consequence of this is that educators often approach the new standards with the mindset that they aren’t that different from more traditional standards, and that they just need to slightly modify their teaching practices.
However, the culture of teaching and learning needs to change dramatically. It needs to center around students asking questions and answering them through the experiments that they plan and identifying problems and solving those problems through prototypes that they create and test.
Targeted professional development can help teachers make this shift. There are three key steps you can take to make sure your professional development will support teachers as they make this shift.
Step 1: Begin developing internal champions of practice.
These champions are those teachers who have identified themselves as wanting to be better. That's the one criterion: “I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.” It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to teaching or you’ve been teaching for decades.
Internal champions can then begin to work with other teachers and provide guidance and motivation within professional development sessions.
Step 2: Recognize that professional development should be connected to issues in the teacher's instructional practice.
Every teacher is going to be somewhere on the continuum of practice. Whatever professional development is being done should relate to where that teacher or teacher team is at in their practice.
Just like students develop their skills and knowledge from September through June, looking different and exhibiting different skills from one month to the next, the same is true of teachers over the course of their career and even in the course of an implementation of resources. If every professional development is the same, that's an issue. If professional development is not directed at where teachers are at now in their classroom, then its value is diminished.
Step 3: Involve teachers in active reflection and problem-solving.
According to NGSS’s implementation guide, “Professional learning opportunities should be designed such that teachers grapple with both the science itself and how students think and learn about that science.”
In other words, people shouldn't be coming to professional development to read their curriculum binder or to hear somebody talk about the science behind glaciers melting. They should be coming to reflect and problem-solve practices. What is going on in the classroom? How are they helping students engage appropriately as scientists and engineers? How are they coaching student learning? That should be the focus of professional development.
Using Video in the Classroom
One great way to do this is to have teachers video themselves in the classroom and then take those videos back to their teams so they can get feedback on what they're doing.
A quick note here: Some people will be more hesitant to have themselves videoed. However, creating an environment that is supportive and focused on teacher development and growth will help get more people involved.
This is because you're not just looking at what a teacher is doing; you're also looking at the students. You’re studying how the students respond to what's happening and how engaged they are. What are the signs of engagement? What kinds of questions are they asking? What kinds of questions aren't they asking? What is their body language?
This can lead to collaborative analysis and discussion of specific examples of a teacher’s practice. The purpose of this is to dig into what those practices look like; what curriculum in the classroom looks like, and what struggles look like. Once you’ve done that, you can begin work-shopping strategies to overcome those struggles and how to implement better.
This is especially important because research shows that teachers who had the opportunity to analyze videos of particular teaching moments in the classroom learned more and saw greater gains in their students’ learning than teachers whose professional development focused solely on science ideas.
If you don’t implement professional development that really helps teachers understand what it means to teach well and helps equips them to communicate new expectations to students of what it means to learn well, then you're going to have students and teachers who don’t understand what’s expected of them.