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Leadership & Collaboration

to build and strengthen a physics education program

One of the most critical features of thriving physics teacher education programs is the presence of an effective leadership team. An effective team includes people in positions that can enact change and whose expertise, identity, and activities strengthen the program. The team must also have the capacity for effective collaboration between physics and education departments.

Strategies for Effective Leadership and Collaboration

The first step we recommend in each of these areas is to complete the PTEPA Rubric. That will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what types of strategies are relevant for your institution.

Team Members

Most thriving programs have a pair of team leaders rather than a single leader. The team itself should ideally have at least 3-4 members. It can be very helpful to have a Teacher in Residence and/or a local Teacher Advisory Group to work with.

Team Attributes

Ensure that the team’s expertise, identity, and activities strengthen the program.

Gain a secure position with power in the department. In institutions where teacher preparation activities are not yet highly valued by a physics department, at least one team leader should have tenure or another similarly secure position. An untenured professor puts themself at risk by devoting time to activities that may not count toward promotion and may not always be best suited for speaking on the program’s behalf. We strongly recommend that whoever is in charge of teacher preparation and/or of STEM-teacher preparation be on your team.

Put together a leadership team that includes physics education research expertise. While teacher preparation does not necessarily fall under the umbrella of physics education research (PER), knowledge of PER results should inform teacher preparation efforts and is helpful for any program.

Develop knowledge of the local school context within the leadership team. The leadership team should be knowledgeable about the local school context. A Teacher in Residence or education faculty member may be best equipped to provide this expertise.

Program Collaboration between Physics and Education

Form a committee of physics and education faculty to design a coherent program. A committee can help ensure effective collaboration between the academic unit housing the physics teacher education program (such as physics) and other academic units that control teacher certification (such as education) in many ways - see below.

Design a coherent program across departments. A teacher preparation program should seamlessly integrate physics content, state teacher certification requirements, and pedagogical content knowledge. All courses in the program should be both necessary and appropriate. Faculty from physics and education will need to work together to determine an appropriate physics teacher education program.

Cross-list appropriate courses in physics departments and education schools. Courses that provide pedagogical content knowledge should be cross-listed and designed to meet state certification requirements. This can shorten the time to program completion and certification.

Create a bridge between your physics department and education school. A liaison between physics and education faculty can lighten the workload on both and create links between potentially diverging ideas and needs. Hiring a joint faculty position in physics and education or a Teacher in Residence places someone who is skilled in both physics and teaching in a role where they can serve as a natural bridge between the two worlds.

Collaborate on faculty searches, grant writing, and thesis reviews. Including both physics and education faculty on committees ensures that both groups will have a voice in important decisions and programs that affect physics teacher preparation. Some funders, such as UTeach Replication programs and all PhysTEC awards, require collaboration between disciplinary departments and education schools.

Collaborate on articles, presentations, and workshops related to your program. Involve local teachers in the design and operation of your program. This will give you a strong cohort of teachers to work with, and make them feel invested in your program. One model is to host regular meetings of a Teacher Advisory Group of local physics teachers on campus.

Use professional development workshops and other outreach efforts to make connections with local physics teachers. Professional development workshops and outreach efforts are great opportunities for recruiting teachers to supervise student teachers in your program. This is also a way to ensure that student teacher supervisors buy into research-based teaching methods.

Form a professional learning community. Creating meaningful programs to bring teachers to your institution is a great way to forge connections with local schools. It is another potential function of a Teacher Advisory Group.

Further Reading for Improving Leadership and Collaboration

  1. PhysTEC Sustainability Study (Scherr, Plisch, and Goertzen, 2014 and 2017)
  2. Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers (Sandifer and Brewe, 2015)
  3. Transforming the Preparation of Physics Teachers: A Call to Action - T-TEP Final Report (Meltzer, Plisch, and Vokos, 2012)
  4. Resources hosted by the Accelerating Systemic Change Network

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