As school leaders become more focused on successfully implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, I’ve noticed one topic is getting more attention than ever before: how important it is that principals understand the new standards and the expectations of a next generation science classroom.
I’ve been having conversations with principals who recognize that successfully making the shifts required by NGSS require that everyone, from classroom teachers to principals and superintendents, be on the same page in terms of what the NGSS call for— students learning as scientists and engineers in the classroom, developing the skills and mindset necessary to answer questions and solve problems that arise.
Ultimately, getting everyone on the same page begins with a shared vision.
Having a shared vision isn’t always easy. It requires buy-in from a variety of stakeholders, including teachers and parents, and the vision can sometimes conflict with existing teacher practices or mindsets.
Getting Buy-In for Shared Science Vision
However, there are some concrete steps that principals can take to get that buy-in.
- Make the science vision public to parents and the community and parents. This could be done by using open houses and even bulletin boards to articulate exactly what the vision is and why it’s important.
Treat the science vision as it is, something special. One way to do this is to invite an important community member, such as the district superintendent or the mayor, to participate in a school walk-through or a sit-down with teachers or students. Or post photos of science time to Facebook and Twitter. When these activities are tied to the vision, it makes the vision something special and reinforces that idea that it is shared and something that everyone is working toward together.
Once the science vision is made visible and special, it’s important to follow through to make sure the vision is actually being carried through in the classrooms.
Communication is essential for maintaining the science vision. Being visible is one of the strongest ways to communicate your commitment to the vision. Principals need to make themselves visible in classrooms through learning walks and at professional development sessions.
Both of these occasions provide principals with the chance to stay on top of their vision—is everyone on track in terms of carrying out the vision? If not, where are people falling short, and how can you help them get to where they need to be?
It’s important to remember that one part of a principal’s role is as a thought partner and first responder to issues that crop up. Being a champion of the science vision involves not only communicating the vision but also coaching people toward that vision.
In my experience, I have found learning walks to be one of the most valuable tools for making sure that all of the classrooms in a school are on the same page regarding the science vision.
Learning walks are value-adding when they are used as formative assessments with the purpose of informing principals about their own management and the instructional culture of their school.
This is because the most successful learning walks involve the observer giving constructive feedback to the teacher being observed. This gives the teacher the opportunity to receive relevant feedback on how they are implementing the school’s science vision.
When everyone is on the same page working to achieve the shared science vision, schools see the effects in student outcomes because the shared vision comes down to creating the opportunity for students to be scientists and engineers in the classroom, developing those higher order thinking skills of creating, evaluating, and analyzing, which are important in every discipline.