Exploring the Critical Role of a District Science Coordinator

Whitworth, Brooke, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Chiu, Jennifer, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bell, Randy, College of Education, Oregon State Univeristy

This dissertation, a three-paper set, explored the critical role of a district science coordinator in supporting teacher learning. The first paper examined the literature on effective professional development, teacher change, and the factors influencing teacher change. The review identified the role of school and district leaders as a critical factor missing from the professional development models. School district leaders are not just a contextual factor influencing teacher change, but through professional development and ongoing leadership support they are an integral part of the process and should be included in professional development models. The second and third papers assessed the outcomes of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) New Science Coordinator Academy (NSCA) professional development. The second paper investigated the changes in science coordinators’ understandings and practices following their participation in the NSCA. Pre-, post-, and delayed-post survey responses, follow-up interviews, and observations of the professional development and of science coordinators at work in their district were collected from 28 participants in the first and second year cohorts. Results suggested science coordinators’ understandings changed and were aligned with the goals of the NSCA. However, their practices did not fully reflect their understandings about pedagogy. Participants also indicated they had little power within their districts which hindered their ability to affect change; therefore, professional development efforts may need to also include other district stakeholders. The third paper, a qualitative case study of 3 purposefully selected VISTA science coordinators from 3 different districts, explored each coordinator’s design and implementation of professional development and their practices supporting science teachers’ instruction. Observations of science coordinators at work, surveys, artifacts, and interviews with science coordinators, principals, and teachers were collected and analyzed using a constant comparative approach. Results suggested coordinators supported teachers through a variety of methods and an array of professional development strategies. District characteristics and science coordinator teaching background were critical factors influencing their practice. Despite differences, all 3 coordinators’ practices aligned with most of the goals of the NSCA.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
science coordinator, professional development, teacher change, inquiry, NOS, PBL, situated learning
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