Tarkington: Fostering a Positive School Culture for Science by Removing Barriers

What We Implemented:
At Tarkington School of Excellence, we wanted to work on the Essential Element of Values, especially the big pieces around making sure all students engage with science and involving families. To address those, we needed to first address some of the other Essential Elements to remove barriers like lack of time, collaboration, and curriculum.

We’ve established science as a priority and part of that means giving our teachers time to work. Our administration is prioritizing money and time for science. We now offer paid 90 minutes after school for teachers to work each month. We make space for science at cluster meetings to communicate what’s going on and give work/planning time. So we have K-8 in the same room working on this. We are now able to do peer observation to see what’s happening in other grades and classroom. We have also implemented STEM Buddies which pairs students in different grades for peer mentoring. Our Family Nights get parents more involved.

What we’re seeing is a positive feedback loop: teachers feel empowered to try things with science in their classrooms, then the students get excited about science, and that makes the teachers want to try and do more. It also helps with sustainability as these students advance through the grade levels. We instill excitement early so they get to the next grade and they ask their teachers about science, “When will we do science?” We’ve also seen increased mentoring and volunteering by students. For example, 8th graders going to help in the younger students’ classrooms.

One lesson learned:
Providing time and space for teachers to process and plan is important. It’s also helpful to get teacher input and have them say what’s working, not working, and what they need help with. If they tell us what they want and need, it makes them more likely to actually try and do it later because it validates them and increases their comfort. It’s also important to remember who all your stakeholders are. Kids and teachers are part of it but you also need administration, families, and community in order address all of the big pieces in Values.

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