Considering the myriad of responsibilities science teachers face, it can be challenging for teachers to let go of traditional teaching practices and embrace putting students in the driver’s seat of their learning. In this post, Robyn Jordan, Associate Principal of Teaching and Learning at Mason High School in Mason City Schools, shares what role administrators have in supporting teachers as they allow students to lead their science learning.
The NGSS Challenge Collaborative brings together 18 teachers from three districts in the League of Innovative Schools who are integrating the Challenge Based Learning (CBL) framework to teach units aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. CBL invites students and teachers to learn through engaging with, investigating, and acting to solve real world challenges. In this project, teachers are designing science units in which students will drive the inquiry and investigation. For example, the topic of one of the units is about designing a neighborhood space to conserve native species. In this unit, teachers will ask students to figure out what they need and want to learn, and provide space for students to investigate the topic and come up with a solution.
My part in the Challenge Collaborative was to make sure teachers have what they need for project implementation and liaise between Digital Promise staff, teachers, and school district leaders. However, I’ve found that my most important role in this project was to serve as the biggest fan and supporter of teachers.
When creating a culture of innovation, it is important that administrators build trust with teachers. Teachers have to trust that administrators are going to support them in taking risks and trying new practices. It is uncomfortable and vulnerable for teachers to unlearn old ways of teaching and relearn new approaches; There is a strong appeal to lean on the curriculum they know and have used. Teachers need to hear from administrators that growth and learning is the goal, not perfection.
Another critical piece to shifting mindsets and teaching practices has less to do with practice and more to do with human connection. On more than one occasion I found myself saying, “I am here to support you instructionally, but I am also here to support you as a human being because I care about you.” I wrote notes of encouragement and appreciation to remind them that I was there for them on their journey. I spent time and effort developing meaningful connections and providing emotional support to teachers on a daily basis. This culture of support was contagious. Staff began to support each other on a deeper level, including modeling and role-playing elements of the challenge design for each other. They would observe each other, teach, and then provide meaningful feedback about teaching practices.
Always remember: humans first, teachers second. If you want to shift mindsets and improve teaching practices, then start by encouraging the heart of teachers.