This past Friday was my first full grade-level training day for this school year. And even though I did about ten of them last year, I was beyond nervous. I didn't go to bed until far too late (or early), slept fitfully and was up before the crack of dawn. Does that ever go away? Last year's professional development was well received, but there's no guarantee that the goodwill would carry over into this year. Turns out that my fears were unfounded and the day was a success.
Fast forward to this morning...I received an email from a science supervisor in Newark, NJ. He came across a reference to one of my blog posts in the NGSS newsletter and shared that his attempts to introduce the NGSS to his teachers had not been well received. He asked what I had done to be relatively more successful with our amazing teachers. I think there are three short answers: start with their concerns, teach in context and be genuine.
Before did my first training day I chatted with some teachers that I knew were opinion leaders. What were their biggest concerns? As much as I love science, I realize that not everyone else shares the same passion. Their biggest concern last year (and probably still this year)? Common Core. They were being assessed on new standards and didn't have officially adopted curricular materials from which to teach. Ouch.
So, when the email went out in August (we start school early) saying that everyone in grades 3 through 8 had NGSS training, let's just say that the reaction wasn't exactly positive. "One more thing?!" they cried. "Why now?" "Can I opt out?" Double ouch.
I was adamant that training start now because I know that the transition to NGSS-aligned instruction could not possibly happen over night. To expect that from any teacher is to expect failure. That's not cool and I respect my teachers far too much to set them up to fail. Change takes time. Change takes patience. If you know me at all, you know that patience is not my strength.
So, my first day of training with each grade level was focused on the connections between Common Core and the NGSS. Don't view the disciplines as separate, look at them for the rich and dynamic learning ecosystem they can provide when combined. No more science time, math time, writing time, reading time, etc. Let's just have learning time. It's all intimately and inextricably connected. Splitting them apart is counter-productive and inauthentic to say the least. In the first day, I walked teachers through a lesson sequence, as if they were my students, to show them all of the rich possibilities that exist for addressing Common Core within science. I'd like to think it was a beautiful thing and it seemed that the teachers agreed. Awesome.
Day 2 took it a day further and addressed the other major concern of my teachers which was engineering. Engineering intimidates a lot of folks. Heck it intimidated me when I first experienced it, which is sad because students love it. Again, the day consisted of a new instructional sequence with an engineering challenge serving as the opportunity for application of knowledge in a new context. Many teachers reported going back to their classrooms and doing the activities, and some even shared that they were surprised how engaged their students were. I tell you, engineering is some powerful awesomesauce in the land of NGSS because it eliminates the "Why do I need to know this question?" Double awesome.
Throughout the PD days, I included the general introduction to the NGSS that you would expect, but it was all intertwined with the lesson delivery and the activities we did. It was all done in context. We talked about the shifts as we experienced together lessons that highlighted them. Context matters. Finally, I'm a genuine person. I empathized with them that they were teaching CCSS without materials. It stinks. I can't solve that problem. Fortunately, however, I can promise to support them to the best of my ability in science. And while we're not ready to adopt NGSS materials as a district, I sought to provide them with some lesson sequences to test the waters a little bit at a time. I told them that I loved them, and I meant it. I shared my love of science with them. I got so excited that I jumped up and down (like a fool)...seriously. But that's just who I am.
Who I am is constantly changing and evolving as I continue to learn and grow over time. I hope, however, that I never lose sight of what it took to get where we are today in our district with respect to the NGSS. That's not to say we're done or that we don't have a long ways to go. We do, but I have all the faith that we'll get where we need to be in due time. So, many thanks go out to the teachers I work with who humored and continue to humor my craziness about pikas, science and all things geeky. I love you all and couldn't be more thankful to be learning on this journey with you.