How the Q-sort Evaluation Shifted our Thinking about Teacher Professional Development: Four Big Take-Aways

Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut employed the Q-sort evaluation tool in 2017 and 2018 with two summer professional development programs for teachers:  the Connecticut Teachers of the Year Program (TOY) and our Mystic Seaport for Educators Summer Fellowship Program.  In this blog post, Krystal Rose, Manager of Digital & Primary Source Education at Mystic Seaport, will describe how we have specifically redesigned the TOY program because of findings from the Q-sort.

  • Reduction in Number of Activities and Content Presented

In the first years of our Teachers of the Year Program, participants spent time engaged in many different workshops and activities across the Museum grounds, in order to give them a “taste” of all our offerings.  What we learned from Year 1 of the Q-sort was that this “buffet” style of PD was overwhelming to teachers and that they actually craved more in-depth learning opportunities.  Because of these findings, we made our biggest change to programming:  we carefully re-crafted the schedule, making sure that we focused on fewer topics, and we gave teachers time for “deep dives” into these topics and access to experts who could answer their questions.

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  • Debrief Sessions with Fellow Educators is Highly Valued in Teacher PD

Throughout the TOY program, we periodically offer sessions to debrief on the activities and workshops scheduled.  What we discovered through the evaluation is that we were not doing enough of this.  Teachers expressed that this is one of the more important aspects of PD—getting a chance to talk with peers, debrief, hear ideas, and brainstorm together.  Because of this, we are also seeking professional development for our museum teacher staff, specifically to help them become facilitators of good conversation and learn to create space for discussion.

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  • Model Historical Thinking

While “historical thinking” might be something we do naturally in our museum programs and with our primary source materials, teachers expressed an interest in museum staff actually modeling the historical thinking process, during the professional development.  With this feedback from Year 1, we were able to expand our session about analysis in our 3-D artifact primary source workshops.  We also added a whole new workshop about analyzing and reading documents as a historian would, incorporating important concepts in the “historical thinking” process, including close reading, using background knowledge, corroborating sources, and contextualizing.  The participants also appreciated having the opportunity to see in person and touch the objects and documents they were analyzing, so that has remained a staple of our primary source programming.  As mentioned in the point above about debrief sessions, this also leads us to look for more professional development opportunities for our staff – to receive formal training in teaching educators historical thinking pedagogy.

  • Be Creative and Realistic about Making Materials and Resources with Teachers

In extended professional development programs with teachers, we generally require the creation of some sort of product, related to the program.  For instance, in our Mystic Seaport for Educators Summer Fellowship, we required the creation of a feature for our website, and in fact, much of our website consists of artifact articles, living documents, and maps, all created during the Fellowship PD program.  For the first four years of the CT TOY PD program, we required that the teachers design a lesson plan based on some part of the three-day experience that inspired them – something that they would want to take back to and use in their classrooms.  What we discovered is that with each year that went by, we received fewer complete lesson plans from the participants.  Might we have been asking too much?  In addition to putting participants through mini-sessions of much of our program offerings in three days, we also wanted them to create a lesson plan?  The answer we discovered – this was indeed too much.  After reviewing our Q-sort results and discussing changes in the programming with Dr. Baron, we came up with an idea (at her suggestion) of something a little less time consuming:  video lesson plans.  Therefore, in Year 2, we had teachers express the basics of a lesson plan, in short 2-3 minute video segments.  To see how it turned out, check out our “Digital Classroom” videos on the MSE website:  https://educators.mysticseaport.org/community/projects/digital_hallway_project/.  Almost every teacher completed a final product, and with only a few exceptions, very little editing was needed.  (We are adding more videos soon!)

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We are currently awaiting results of the Q-sort from Year 2, but suspect that our changes were well received by participants, based on initial feedback and products.  We will continue to incorporate teacher feedback from the Q-sort into our future programming, as well as share our findings.

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