What can a new teacher contribute?

My principal recently invited me to serve on the school improvement committee; both my mentor and the high school science department chair have urged me to accept. I’m just in my second year of teaching, so I’m not sure I would have anything to offer.
—Joseph, Columbia, South Carolina

Participating in a school-wide committee could be great opportunity for you to grow as a professional and develop as a teacher-leader. You can learn more about how science education fits into larger issues such as initiatives in other departments, school district policies, or state mandates. You’ll also have opportunities to work with administrators and teachers in different departments. In some schools, committee members and other teacher-leaders have priority for professional development opportunities including seminars and conferences.

What you can offer is a fresh view of situations and issues, as well as the perspective of newer teachers. You may have useful skills in technology, writing, or presenting. You can also be a voice for science teaching and learning.

You most likely would have to commit to after-school meetings, so you should consider other demands on your time (lesson planning, extracurricular activities, graduate classes, and other personal responsibilities) as you make your decision.

Assuming you accept, as the “newbie” on the committee, you would be wise to begin by observing the personal dynamics and listening to the conversations. How do the members interact with each other and with the committee chairperson? Do certain members (or the principal) dominate the conversations while others stay in the background? Are the conversations positive, focusing on identifying problems and solutions, or do the meetings become gripe sessions? How do the members react to different ideas or suggestions? Who are the thoughtful, reflective members? Who seems most resistant to change?

You can also use your status as new kid on the block to ask questions during the meetings: Why do we…? What would happen if…? Have we ever tried…? What is the purpose of …? If you get responses such as “We’ve always done things this way” or “We tried that years ago, and it didn’t work,” ask for clarification if necessary. I’ve been in meetings where these questions have lead to interesting discussions. Sometimes the discussions lead to changes in school practices; other times, the discussions centered on valid reasons for keeping a practice. Asking the right questions can be just as much of a contribution as having the answers.

It’s also important for science to be represented during discussions on curriculum development, scheduling, assessments, grading, professional development, budgeting, and strategic planning. You can provide background information on the importance of inquiry, safety concerns, laboratory space and storage requirements, technology issues, or problems faced by “floating” science teachers and their students.

Some veteran teachers may question your presence based on your experience level. I suspect, though, that others may be delighted that a newer member of the faculty is willing to become involved. Your principal, mentor, and department chair apparently see your potential for leadership.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dsbrennan/4222955364/

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