The Next Generation Science Standards have changed the game by shifting the expectations of teaching and learning. Anytime somebody is being asked to change the way they do their job, you have to anticipate that that's not going to be an easy transition.
However, administrators sometimes assume that once is enough when it comes to professional development. In some districts, the culture of professional development is teachers get together for an hour or a day every quarter or trimester. Sometimes it's just teachers coming together to discuss what they’re doing, but that’s not sufficient.
In fact, that’s not even really professional development because it's not professionally developing a teacher into more of a professional than they were when they walked in the door.
Administrators also sometimes misunderstand the purpose of professional development.
Purpose of Professional Development
At its core, professional development is about engaging teachers in understanding how to better create and facilitate learning opportunities, and how to communicate expectations to students by gathering and using formative feedback.
This cannot be achieved through a once-and-done approach.
The way to create coherent and continuous opportunities for teacher learning is to start off with professional development where you gather educators together and set the stage for the year.
Involve people in reflection of their practice and implementation in the classroom.
Once you leave that session, engage in observation. As an administrator, you need to be regularly observing classrooms and teachers need to be observing each other. In that process, people should be observed by a peer or by an administrator every other week.
This is less daunting than it sounds. Observations are really formative feedback. If you have common planning time, use one of those meetings every month for teachers to observe one of their peers who is teaching at that time.
Even though that might put some demands on scheduling, it’s actually an efficient use of prep time because it allows teachers to hone their craft. Principals should aim to visit teacher's classrooms once a month on learning walks.
Science Time on Learning
Another tip is to rethink the effect of science time on learning on ELA and math. Many times there are budget and resources for professional development but it has all gone to ELA and math because people believe these two subjects are most important since that’s what they’re measured against.
However, if you are implementing Next Generation Science Standards properly, your professional development will help teachers understand how science time on learning brings the ELA standards to life and actually requires students to engage in and develop the math practices.
Think about science as a time when students learn how to develop and use the ELA and math skills in real-life contexts in a way that's engaging and hands on. This provides a tremendous opportunity to improve your ELA and math scores at the same time as developing professional development for science.
This support for teachers should extend beyond the actual implementation period of NGSS. NGSS’s implementation guide [link to guide] recommends that, “Even once the transition to the new standards is “complete,” that is, everyone thinks they are doing what is needed, teachers and leaders should continue working to improve their understanding of the NGSS and of how best to support students’ learning as described in the NGSS.”