CFWEP has always attracted the brightest and the best teachers from around our state to be part of our programming efforts, for both teacher professional development and our direct in-class programming. Over the years, we have had the pleasure of working with many award-winning teachers. Many of whom have won national and statewide recognition. This year is no different, other than the competition is on between two of our long-time Montana Partnership with Regions for Excellence in STEM (MPRES) trainers!
Christine O’Shea, 4th grade teacher from Bozeman, MT and Chris Pavlovich, 5th grade teachers from Livingston, MT are both finalists for the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The President acknowledges two teachers in each state on alternate years for elementary and secondary grade levels. Many consider the award the most prestigious award for K-12 STEM teaching in our country.
We caught up with the dynamic duo to share some of their reflections on teaching, how CFWEP’s various programs have helped them along on their journey to excellence, and a good chat about what their dream schools might look like.
What does it mean to you to be a PAEMST Finalist?
I decided to complete the application process because it seems that its sort of a club of teachers who do both the PAEMST program and the National Board Certifications. I was invited to a few introductory meetings about PAEMST and would see these incredible teachers there and I wanted to be a part of that club if you will. I suppose that for me the PAEMST application was a natural progression following National Board Certifications. I felt ready to complete this process, that I was accomplished enough in my career to take on this challenge.
MPRES and other science PD opportunities solidified my path for making science my passion subject. I found that getting to teach adults was very motivating for me, mentoring student teachers especially. I enjoy getting to learn from the teachers I am mentoring.
I had been nominated for a few years in a row, but did not complete the paperwork. Like Christine, I have a hard time accepting honors and recognition, so taking on this challenge was a growth opportunity. I decided to go ahead because I wanted to be present in the STEM arena. STEM education is something that I believe in wholeheartedly and I think it is crucial for women to be purposefully present in STEM, not simply just there to be counted. I thought that the PAEMST award would provide an avenue to be a leader in STEM, so that I can help to create that diverse pipeline into these fields.
What does the award open up for you?
It opens opportunities for additional professional development through the network and collaboration between teachers in this group. It also empowers you to take on a larger leadership role within the education community. For example, we may be asked to help with various initiatives throughout the state and the nation. We may be further employed to provide training to other teachers like we have with MPRES. You can also be requested to give advice and critique about various curriculum initiatives. I want to be included on whatever the next big thing is!
I think that anything that is structured to honor our profession is something that I want to be part of. It is great to connect with colleagues who are as passionate about our profession as I am and to be able to honor and celebrate each other. I too want to be part of the greater conversation around STEM.
How do you see the experiences with CFWEP and MPRES aiding you in your career paths?
The experiences in MPRES made me more confident. I remember talking about teaching content at my grade level with our first cohort and describing that I didn’t feel confident because I didn’t really understand the content at that point. The other teachers and our teacher leader (Chris Pavlovich) were so encouraging and told me “oh you will be fine.” The camaraderie allowed us to think about our expertise in other subject areas and bring them to science. We were able to take what we already knew and bring it to the next level. Understanding this new way of teaching science with NGSS was important and took it to a much deeper level. It was so much more fun too! Understanding our conceptual change as we moved through the training was helpful. I realized I had to just go through it, even thought it was uncomfortable at times. It was muddy and I might not understand everything at once, but going through the process helped me to see how things fit together. Having the support from Chris and the MPRES team, as both a student and then eventually a trainer, helped me become the teacher I am today. Helping to run the grant was a learning opportunity itself, very empowering.
I have been in professional development for science since I started teaching thirteen years ago. Every year I have been teaching, I have been involved with CFWEP programs. Everything builds upon the past experiences. Its like a big river, how it is built by all of its little tributaries, eventually becoming a large, powerful river. Its not just one thing, rather it is all of those experiences or tributaries coming together to create the whole. When I was a student of the CFWEP programming in my first year of teaching, I knew that everything in my science book had something to do with life cycles and potential and kinetic energy. The book was boring, but it seemed to me that the content was exactly what all the fly fishing guides were talking about all the time. I reached out to the federation of fly fishers education coordinator and asked to meet to see how I could incorporate fly fishing into my science classroom. I started looking into watershed science topics and found CFWEP. For me now, it is just a worldview. Everything is a watershed and all of it is connected. I was honored to be selected as a trainer for the MPRES project and was kind of shocked when the project team told us we were going to be creating the content and training a new batch of teachers. It was at that moment that I realized that I had influence and something valuable to contribute to other teachers. The connections that we built helped to support and inspire all of us to be more confident in our teaching. In essence, the experiences I have gained through these projects have completely changed me both personally and professionally.
What does your perfect school look like?
Both Chris and Christine responded that the perfect school is an inclusive one in which the students are also treated as stakeholders, to whom we as educators and community leaders have a responsibility to serve. They both described schools that were experiential in nature and utilized science as the backbone content area, with the other subjects feeding into the central theme of science. Chris Pavlovich further clarified, “well of course it is a watershed science school.”
The CFWEP team congratulates both of these amazing educators. In our book, both of you are worthy of this award and we are grateful that we do not have to choose. We thank you for your continued leadership and service to science education in Montana. Congratulations!
This is not the first time that a long-time CFWEP teacher has been nominated for the PAEMST award. In 2016, Judy Boyle won the national PAEMST award for elementary science, representing Montana. She is also an MPRES trainer and has provided countless hours of expertise and training on behalf of CFWEP’s MPRES project. She teaches at Divide School along the banks of the Big Hole River, utilizing her backyard watershed as the cornerstone of her curriculum.