During my 18 of years teaching at the secondary level, I have participated in quite a few professional development programs that have allowed me to learn, grow as a science teacher, and even travel. Summer, in particular, is the perfect time for science teachers to participate in these opportunities or research what’s available for the following summer.
One way teachers can find meaningful and enjoyable summer professional development workshops or activities is through professional journals and websites, which announce summer workshops and courses offered through various organizations. Some of my best summer experiences resulted from following up on small announcements in journals.
Teachers should also check with state or local science coordinators. In Utah, the science coordinator regularly posts inservice opportunities on his website. Many opportunities—such as two-week teacher internships and subject-specific enrichment, licensure, and endorsement courses—are offered at the district or state level, usually at little or no cost.
School principals are also a great resource. Teachers should notify their principals to be on the lookout for opportunities. My most recent research experience came about because my principal was handed a flyer during one of his monthly meetings.
In most cases, program applications are short; usually, teachers are only required to answer a few essay questions and include a current resume and a few letters of recommendation. If resumes are kept current and letters of recommendation are saved on file, filling out multiple applications for a given summer is actually quite easy. Teachers should apply to many different opportunities and not become discouraged by rejection. Many of the best programs are competitive, but most also look for a mix of veteran and new teachers.
Professional development benefits
Countless reasons exist for attending professional development activities. Practical motives include getting a license or endorsement in a specific subject, re-licensure, recertification, and salary increase. Basic enrichment is a great benefit of professional development. Learning something new and returning to the classroom with fresh lesson plans, ideas for classroom activities, a few posters, and new skills is a great way to start off the school year. Teachers may also be able to do a little traveling or make some extra money through opportunities. I have attended workshops around the country, and in every case the travel, room, and board were paid through grants or a sponsoring agency.
To make the most out of professional development, teachers should:
- Use the experience to remember what it is like to be a learner. Every internship or research experience that I have attended made me uncomfortable at first. Like a classroom, there will be a wide range of abilities within the workshops. Teachers will probably have to “learn the ropes” from someone more knowledgeable.
- Ask questions and try new things. I had never taken an astronomy class when I was suddenly assigned to teach one. I found help in a summer astronomy workshop and two online courses. This provided astronomy basics, access to image processing software, and a feel for recent developments in the field.
- Keep a log of what is done. Teachers should take time to write down ideas for how the material can be implemented (both immediately and long term) in the classroom.
- Pick someone’s brain. I admit that I am a thief. I have “stolen” some of my best teaching activities and ideas from other workshop participants.
- Use the opportunity to look for other opportunities. Either by talking to other participants about what they have done, or by getting on a mailing list as a participant, I have been given access to additional opportunities.
Professional development keeps teachers invigorated and energized about teaching. So get out there and see what you can find. You’ll be surprised at what you may learn.
NSTA provides a number of professional development opportunities for science teachers. For more information, visit www.nsta.org/professionalinfo. Also visit the NSTA Web Calendar for a listing of professional development opportunities outside of NSTA.