2021 California Science Education Conference

Jessica Sawko Teacher Leadership Award: Eric Lewis

Eric Lewis

What motivated you to pursue a career in science education?
I've always loved science, but as a kid, I never thought I'd be a Science teacher, and I ended up coming into the profession reluctantly. I was on the pre-med or PhD track, but lost interest in those paths while in college. But, I still loved science. On a whim, I moved out to CA from NY and helped start up a private education company. Most folks went on to business school after that job, but I was enamored with the education side and got my Masters and credential for teaching Science. The rest is history!

In what ways have your views of science education changed after you developed professional learning opportunities for teachers?
I've attended a lot of professional learning opportunities over the past 25 years. In my experiences attending - and now leading - professional learning, I've come to realize how important it is that 1) we keep identifying new things to learn so that we can continue to be relevant for our students, and 2) the professional learning should be sustained, in a community, and focused. One of the things that I've loved to see is the change in our standards. The NGSS are so much more relevant and engaging than the standards that I was using in 1998. The shift from memorizing facts to using the practices of scientists and engineers to develop understandings of concepts feels so much more authentic and valuable. And, the movement around Project Based Learning initiatives and Inquiry Science is getting refreshed as a result; clearly there are a lot of pedagogical areas for us to continue developing.

What lessons have you learned while developing professional learning materials and how has it affected you personally and professionally?
The first thing I've learned is how important it is to attend to Adult Learning Theory when leading adults. Just like with our students, choice is important. However, unlike our students, many of the teachers we work with have choices about what to do with their time. Teachers can choose to attend my PD, or they can go get professional learning somewhere else. I really value the fact that teachers choose to be in my PDs, and we work to ensure that we meet the needs of the folks in the room. That said, while I always appreciate getting something I can use right away, I've definitely come to realize that the real learning that I've done has come from long, sustained professional development communities that moved from reading, doing, and reflecting, in never-ending cycles. I've definitely relied on many of my teacher skills around engagement to help sustain this kind of learning for my teachers. I've also realized that - like the scientists that we often talk about in class - teachers work better together and accomplish way more than we would on our own.

What do you believe is the greatest accomplishment of your career so far?
There are many things that I've been super proud of over my career. I think the one that I'm super excited about right now is that we have been able to create the Middle School Science curriculum that we're using in SFUSD (with printed hardcover books!) and that is also being used by thousands of teachers around the world. It was definitely an effort that spanned multiple years, multiple institutions, and hundreds of teachers. But, as I'm using the curriculum in my own classroom this year, it's been fun and exciting to see the curriculum in action.

What significance does this award hold for you?
Teaching is a really challenging and really rewarding profession. Lately, it's clear that teachers have been under-appreciated. I really do believe that teaching is an amazing profession and that we should be treated as professionals. I'm so proud of this award, since it signals to me that I've been doing some things right, and ensuring that teachers in my district feel like they are being well supported and appreciated for the work that they do.

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