My QWST for Meaningful PD

I decided that the 2012-2013 school year would be my last year teaching science and health to my beloved middle schoolers. To understand why I left, though, it’s important to first understand why I became a teacher. I entered the profession to not only empower children to understand the world in a different (scientific) way, but to also challenge myself as an educator to think about the world differently – to challenge my assumptions and reflect upon my values in an effort to be a better teacher (and person). After five years of teaching, I became increasingly aware of the growing imbalance between my two reasons for becoming a science teacher. I felt deep satisfaction in developing a science practice community with my students – facilitating their engagement with talking, writing, thinking, and doing science. I felt deeply frustrated, however, by the lack of meaningful professional development that sincerely valued my own learning. Professional development time had become a glorified staff meeting in which teachers were told about the newest jargon-y thing like “flipped classrooms.” It felt as though we were robots checking in to get our software updated for the month. We were not treated as professionals with expertise. The complexity of our work was not validated. I was not validated.

It was with this dissatisfaction that I went back to school to work with teacher educators who envisioned a different kind of professional learning – one anchored in my own questions and goals. Anger had slowly been replaced by a keen realization that teachers’ professional learning can draw upon individual expertise and tap into the complexity of teaching. It *can* be a space for teachers to ask questions without feeling belittled. It *can* be a space to share stories of failure as well as success. It need not be a space where we feel silenced. Neither should it be a competition about who did the best lesson. I joined the Activate Learning team to share these insights in the form of instructional strategies that open up meaningful dialogue for teachers in professional development. These strategies rely on teachers’ unique knowledge of their classrooms and grant them opportunities to talk about problems of practice. They are designed to be ongoing so that we can revisit and delve deeper into pedagogical conundrums. They don't assume one right answer to such mysteries; rather, they assume teaching is hard work and full of trade-offs that we must consider. In short, we offer a professional learning space I wish I had as a teacher - one that supports, challenges, and validates teachers as they work to improve their own practice.

Heather Milo
Science Education Consultant
IQWST Research and Development