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STEM pattern

STEM pattern

Bringing PD to the Front of the Mind, Not the Bottom of the Pile

on Monday, 08 October 2018

Mark Westlake, Trustey Fellows Cohort 4 - Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, MN

Mark Westlake Trustey STEM Fellows Blog

Lego Block STEMI’m no stranger to professional development.

Throughout 28 years of teaching physics, I have participated in many professional development workshops that provided ideas I could use with students or things I could buy for my classroom, but none of these actually changed the way that I teach. When you get near the three-decade mark as an educator, you pretty much think you have it figured out. When our small band of science and math teachers applied to the Notre Dame Trustey STEM Fellowship, I anticipated picking up some new ideas, but I never thought it would completely change my focus and approach to educating our students.

I was wrong.

Last year I moved to a new position at Saint Thomas Academy as the Innovation Center Director. This was a job that I carefully crafted for myself, but really didn’t know how to do. After three years of planning, raising money, researching, and assembling equipment, we opened our new Innovation Center. Like most of the projects I embark on, I had no clue what I was doing! On the outside I was calm and confident. On the inside I wondered if this was going to be my ultimate crash and burn. “Fake it ‘til you make it” wasn’t going to help me this time. Thankfully, the Trustey Fellowship came at just the right time.

180209 STA MakerSpace L 001After two weeks of work on the beautiful Notre Dame campus as a Trustey Fellow, I felt empowered and supported. I was heading back to school with a completely different view of how STEM education was meant to be taught. The classroom management techniques I had picked up over the years were still there, but I felt like a first-year teacher when it came to instruction. My new perspective meshed perfectly with my new position! When my seventh graders came to class, I thought about how my “Core Instructional Practices” would be used, and when my sixth graders came in, my focus on “Productive Talk” seemed awkward but necessary. We were going to make this work!

Westlake Girls Engineering DayOne of the most necessary components of our professional development comes in the form of accountability. When I returned to school, the Trustey Fellowship materials did not end up in some file that I promised to look at later but never did. I knew that my instructional coach was going to check in. I knew that I would be videotaping myself and evaluating my performance. I knew that I had to keep those core instructional practices on the top of my paper pile because my students deserved it.

Well, we are one month into our new year, and I have a newfound confidence! I have suffered through watching myself teach on video (for the first time in almost 30 years!) and have enjoyed the positive feedback from my Trustey Fellowship coach and cohort. I still have periods where I fall back to what is comfortable, but the techniques I learned this past summer are always at the front of my mind. Oh, I’m still making it up as I go, but now I have scaffolding to build on. It is making a difference both for me and my students. Do I still have a ton of work to do? Absolutely, but I am thankful for the opportunity to work with, and the support I receive from, the amazing educators at our school as we spearhead a change in STEM education at Saint Thomas Academy. The next few years are going to be exciting!

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