Encouraging the heart
21 March 2011
I was in San Francisco last week for the Annual Conference of NSTA, our counterparts in the US. I went in order to maintain and promote ASE’s profile overseas. With the excellent attendance to our Annual Conference from other countries, the substantial overseas membership, and the current government’s concern over “other jurisdictions” in framing education policy it seemed like a good move to go, but while I was there, I had in mind the question “what is the purpose of this trip, and the conference?”
I expected to find out more about the process by which the US is moving towards developing conceptual framework for revising their core standards in science – there was an informative session about that and our ASE Honors Lecturer, Jonathan Osborne, gave an excellent presentation for us informed by his involvement with the process. I also had a chance to discuss national curricula with representatives from Singapore and with my counterpart in Australia. Their experiences were highly informative and it was worth the trip to be able to come back with information and impressions to inform our submission to the National Curriculum Review in England.
The unexpected part of the trip was this. We arrived last Wednesday, just in time for the International Reception and then dinner with our US hosts. I travelled with Richard Needham, ASE’s Chair and his wife, Linda. (Two Chartered Science Teachers and the CEO on the same plane – was this wise?) The day after the international reception we were engaged with the international programme “Global Conversations in Science Education”. Throughout these events, in the various encounters that we all had, we were surprised and gratified to talk to our colleagues from across the world who indicated how much they have looked to the UK in general, and to ASE in particular for leadership in science education. We had all felt the hand of our governments’ reactions to TIMMS and PISA studies but in terms of practice on the ground, this is where leadership resides and we have an excellent reputation among our peers. Now, reputations need to be maintained and I am particularly interested in those two aspects – maintaining our reputation for leadership in science education and support on the ground.
Here’s another aspect of the US trip. The schools’ perspective is extremely challenging in the US. The economic squeeze means that teachers’ contracts (annually renewed and for 9 months of the year only) are not being renewed and school funding is being cut. You wouldn’t have guessed that from the Conference generally, however. The exhibition was enormous, attendance seemed to be huge and teachers were enthusiastic. The queues at the bookstore indicated a thirst for knowledge which was extremely impressive. We saw many parallels with our own Annual Conference.
So, what about the purpose of the trip and the purpose of the big Annual Conference? The overseas relationships were improved and enhanced, certainly. In thinking about the value of an Annual Conference I considered the leadership manual that is my current bedtime reading. According to Kouzes and Posner, one of the “five practices of exemplary leadership” is to “encourage the heart”. There is some discussion about the value of the professional development that occurs during a conference. How can a pot pourri of lectures about new science, good practice workshops, policy discussions and high profile speakers alongside an exhibition and a bookshop provide high quality CPD? My answer, with the experience of being a consumer for a few days, is that the heart was definitely encouraged. That was what the US science teachers were getting from the NSTA conference, that’s what we’ll continue to do with ours.
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