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teacher professional development
Professional Development of Science Teachers

Scientists are inevitably awed by watching a good K-12 teacher teach. Some of a teacher's skill is art--both intuitive and learned, but teaching is also a science. The science of developing a good teacher is the domain of professional development.

Some Definitions: Professional development refers to classes and less formal activities, such as being mentored, that teachers do to increase their skills. Non-educators often refer to professional development as "teacher training"--a term many educators feel has an unprofessional connotation and therefore dislike. "Inservice" and "staff development" are widely used synonyms for professional development activities for teachers. If the teachers are not yet credentialled it is called "preservice". "Workshops" and "institutes" are also common descriptive synonyms used for professional development, institutes generally being a week or more in length.

Professional development of science teachers, is described in the National Science Education Standards:

Professional development for teachers should be analogous to professional development for other professionals. Becoming an effective science teacher is a continuous process that stretches from preservice experiences in undergraduate years to the end of a professional career. Science has a rapidly changing knowledge base and expanding relevance to societal issues, and teachers will need ongoing opportunities to build their understanding and ability. Teachers also must have opportunities to develop understanding of how students with diverse interest, abilities, and experiences make sense of scientific ideas and what a teacher does to support and guide all students. And teachers require the opportunity to study and engage in research on science teaching and learning, and to share with colleagues what they have learned. (p. 55)


  1. The most recommended resource for understanding the professional development of teachers is summarized in the excerpt The Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM): A Model for Change in Individuals. This information will help you develop some understanding of the stages of interest and commitment through which teachers must progress when learning new teaching strategies or using new curricula. This knowledge has helped those participating in or leading science education classes for teachers understand why it is so difficult to "please" everyone, and why the immediate results of having participated in classes are not the changes you may have expected.
  2. Professional development for teachers is more than training or classes. The growth of a teacher's skill and understanding is developed through personal reflection, interactions with colleagues, and mentoring as well. The Standards for Professional Development for Teachers of Science describe professional development as becoming more integrated with what happens in the classroom and school. The Standards recommend inquiry learning experiences for teachers and a life-long growth process of integrating knowledge of science content, curriculum, learning, teaching, and students.
  3. Recommendations from many sources for high-quality teacher education and certification have been compiled in Principles of Effective Professional Development for Mathematics and Science Education: A Synthesis of Standards NISE Brief (National Institute for Science Education) Vol. 1, No. 1 - May 1996. (Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to view NISE briefs, and produces a very high quality reprint.)
  4. What professional development do teachers say they want? The President of the National Science Teachers Association, Joanne Vasquez, outlined the results of surveys in this March 1997 article in the Electronic Journal of Science Education. Checking In On The Electronic Systemic Landscape details what professional opportunities teachers desire most, then goes on to recommend how electronic communication technologies can help meet their needs.
  5. A previously popular model for scientists making contributions to the professional development of teachers has been a lecture-driven content course. However, most teachers find it difficult to transform new content knowledge into new classroom practices. Choose Effective Approaches to Staff Development describes methods of integrating content learning with applications to the classroom and to individual teacher's needs. This excerpt is Chapter 12 in a book found on nearly all science education reformer's bookshelves: Elementary School Science for the 90's, by Susan Loucks-Horsley and others, 1990, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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