January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Me? A Leader? In Science?

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Barbara Woods

To move work forward in any kind of initiative, it takes all sorts of leaders. It can be especially powerful when leaders emerge that don’t necessarily consider themselves leaders, at least at the outset. In the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District’s (GJUESD) efforts to move the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into implementation with a gradual district-wide roll-out, this leadership mix has proven essential to the work.

In the spring of 2014, the GJUESD decided to seek at least one representative from each school site to join an NGSS implementation committee that would begin working out details for moving the work forward over a multi-year time period. Informed by the California Science Teachers Association about the CA NGSS Rollout #1 – a collaborative effort of the California Department of Education, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, and K-12 Alliance/WestEd – several of our district leaders attended the event at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. It was there that we learned of the Early Implementation Initiative to become a lighthouse district in creating systemic change through implementation of the NGSS. As a district already involved in several labor-intensive initiatives, it seemed unrealistic to go for this opportunity. And yet, in analyzing its structure for leadership and training, and the time line for implementation, the grant matched the tentative plan that district leadership had already sketched out. So, after careful information gathering from each school, and analysis of the district’s capacity for adding another layer of leadership and growth, the district superintendent, Karen Schauer, gave the green light and the application was submitted.
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In the meantime, site representatives were sought. With no knowledge of whether or not we would receive a grant that could support stipends, teachers signed on for what they thought would be an ordinary district committee that had something to do with some new science standards. But “ordinary” did not last long. With “yahoos” of celebration and “oh boys” of “what did we get ourselves into?” the news that our district was funded for this leadership opportunity changed things in a big way.

As the team gathered with other Early Implementer districts for the first time on the evening of August 3rd and listened to inspiring messages from Kathy DiRanna – K-12 Alliance, Steven Pruitt – Achieve, and Trish Williams – California State Board of Education, moment by moment it penetrated that this was a work far bigger than just a science grant. This was an opportunity to pave a pathway for California and the nation in creating a paradigm shift in how students experience science in their classrooms, and in how students think and communicate as they figure out concepts and ideas, rather than being “told” a body of knowledge to memorize. Yes, the scope of this work went far beyond science and each individual classroom. During that short yet limitless hour, it became clear that working together to move this work forward meant impacting students’ future opportunities as they caught the vision of what learning truly was about. This was an opportunity to work together to create systemic change.

And so, the work began. With the invaluable support and guidance provided by the WestEd/K-12 Alliance staff developers, each teacher leader “jumped right in” and began giving their students science experiences that, in many cases, they hadn’t even imagined would be possible. And the students are responding. Academic conversations, in which students question each other, question data, and work together to figure out and understand phenomena, are becoming the norm. “Can we do science today?” is the plea in classrooms where math and English language arts standards had often taken the limelight of instruction.

And each teacher is truly emerging as a leader–some speaking with energetic, enthusiastic voices; others quietly listening and then inserting an astute observation. Some vocally bringing us to task with the everyday teacher reality faced in a district rife with new and ongoing initiatives full of responsibilities and high workloads; others carefully strategizing how to get past roadblocks as we consider the daunting task of moving this work forward to all classrooms–to all students.

Growth in leadership thinking sometimes comes gradually, other times in leaps and bounds. The decision was made to start within—sharknados became the inside code word for the team—and make mistakes in a protected environment where mistakes are celebrated and problems are worked through. The administrators on the team encourage and provide support for this nurturing culture that frees up energy for taking risks and learning from them.

Gradually, team members are thinking beyond their classrooms and seeing themselves as leaders for their schools, for their grade levels across the district, for the district as a whole, and beyond. And, with that vision is coming changed conversations, changed focus, and willingness to take the next steps outward toward becoming change agents for a bigger picture. Many have expanded their leadership role by writing articles about their experiences for CSTA’s California Classroom Science.   Upcoming steps include attending a WestEd/K-12 Alliance CA NGSS Early Implementer Leadership Academy in June, and then joining other early implementer teacher leaders in delivering professional development at the July Early Implementer Institute for new NGSS lead teachers from the Tracy, Aspire, and Galt school districts. This will be followed by attendance at the California Science Education Conference in Sacramento this October.

It is the mix of leadership that makes this team dynamic and effective. One teacher still says “I don’t know much of anything about science” and yet many of her students are declaring their desire to become future scientists and engineers. Another team member, Lisa Hegdahl, president of the California Science Teachers Association, and a member of the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (CFCC), keeps the team aware of the work occurring at the state level. Yet another team member, always mindful of the district-wide vision and multi-year work ahead, probes with questions and possibilities, pushing the edges of thinking, and then has learned to leave the ideas to incubate in others’ thoughts while going forward with practical next steps. And so it goes, each team member filling a niche – creating and experiencing growth in an ecosystem of forward thinking leadership.

So now, largely due to the enthusiastic sharing of what this type of learning causes to happen in student classroom interactions, a new set of over 30 teachers is joining the GJUESD NGSS Early Implementer team. These teachers represent every grade level, TK-8th, and every school in the district, and include teachers of special education and teacher leaders in English Language Development.

So to the question: Me? A leader? In science? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” But far more than that—we are leaders in change. And that change will impact every child in every classroom in the district and beyond.

Barbara Woods is the District Curriculum Coach at Galt Joint Union Elementary School District and is NGSS Implementation Project Director, Common Core Integration, EEI Teacher Ambassador. She is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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