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11 Teacher Tips for Getting into Professional Development Programs

Professional development can give science teachers fresh perspectives, new curricula, exciting travel, team building opportunities, and most importantly—renewed inspiration. Every teacher deserves to participate! Unfortunately, many programs are competitive and writing a successful application can be difficult.  

So we asked a few of our own EPI Teacher Fellows for advice on how YOU can get into the best teacher trainings, fellowships, and professional development out there. Toward the end, our own Fellowship Experience Coordinator weighs in on what makes her take a second look at applicants to EPI’s Teacher Fellowship program

1. Start locally Professional development opportunities are available by the thousands, yet some of the best-known programs garner thousands of competitive applications each year. Betsy Craske, the 5th/6th STEM teacher at Sussex School in Missoula, Montana, who recently participated in the Wings Over Water Summer Institute, suggests starting locally with professional development opportunities. “There are a lot of famous programs out there that require extensive applications…and I'm sure they are amazing, but there are so many great programs that are more accessible. Start locally and build from there.” 2. Build your experience Craig Hemsath is a science teacher at Union High School in La Porte, Iowa, and his professional development experience includes EPI’s Teacher Fellowship, the famous National Geographic/Linblad Expeditions Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, and the Honeywell's Educator at Space Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Long before these more renowned opportunities, however, he was excited to be involved in Iowa’s Math & Science Education Partnership Externship Program. “Success builds success,” Hemsath says. “So once I have some additions to my resume, it helps with the next application.”

3. Research the organization

Applying for jobs and fellowships have at least one thing in common—you should always research the organization you’re applying with. Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver, an NOAA Planetary Steward and high school teacher in Juneau, Alaska adds, “I [try] to speak to the ways in which I have already implemented programs or projects that are aligned with the values of the company or organization.” Craske adds, “I read through their websites and literature extensively so I have a good understanding of their programming and mission. I use this information in my application to ensure that my goals and the goals of the specific program align.” 

4. Describe the student impact Professional development isn’t just about your growth—it’s about the growth of your students. MacLeod-Bluver says, “Really discussing who my students are and how they would benefit from me participating in this program or professional development…is valuable. I think it is very important to think about what makes your school and your students unique, and how that uniqueness aligns with the mission and values of the program.”

5. Go above and beyond in the classroom Many organizations offer their professional development programs to help science teachers bring real-life science to their students. If you can show you’re already dedicated to that, they’re more likely to think you’ll be a good investment. Hemsath says, “I continually push to take my students beyond the classroom. Even if it is to a local stream to do water testing…I want to immerse my students in the study of biology. I think showing a committed demonstration to going above and beyond the classroom has been instrumental to my success in being awarded these opportunities.” 

6. Don’t be so humble It’s easy to focus on shortcomings or failures in the classroom (and in life!). Don’t. Hemsath tells fellow science teachers to “Stop being so humble—we’re all doing great things in our classrooms. Celebrate those achievements. Demonstrate how you've positively impacted the lives of your students, and application reviewers will appreciate your accomplishments, no matter how small.”

7. Connect to the bigger picture Daniel Kinzer is the Director of the Luke Center for Public Service at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, and an EPI Teacher Fellow. He says, "I always try to connect my application with a big vision and hope that I have for education, and share how my role, abilities and/or network can help me realize this vision with the support of the PD program or fellowship."

8. Plan to share your learning with other teachers Your professional development can help you grow, help your students grow—and even help other teachers grow. MacLeod-Bluver says that in applications, “I speak toward ways that I share my learning with my school community, broader educator community in my district, and broader education community nationwide. Usually, this means running workshops at my school, updating blogs, or presenting at state/national conferences.” 

9. Be active outside the school Science teachers can demonstrate their passion for science by writing about their activity outside the classroom, too. Hemsath says of his own experience, “Outside of my teaching, I work as a field botanist and nature photographer. This has kept me 'fresh' in the field and helps me continue to learn about biology.”

10. Pick and choose Getting away for professional development can seem daunting, both for time and cost. We know science teachers have full workloads and educators, in general, are underpaid. So pick your professional development opportunities carefully. MacLeod-Bluver says, “I try not to pay out of pocket for these experiences (not just to save money, but really, it's about how I think teaching is constantly degraded and should be more respected. Very few other jobs make you pay for your own professional learning). I also look for dates that align with my school breaks so I am not missing time from my students.” 11. Reapply, reapply, reapply Craske encourages you to keep going for those fellowships or teacher trainings you really want. “A huge thing I've learned is don't be afraid to reapply! If you aren't accepted the first time, it doesn't mean that you aren't a good candidate—it just means that the program didn't have the room or capacity to accept you that year. I think if you show the organization that you're really dedicated and reapply, they'll take a closer look at you.” Kinzer echoes this, "Don't get discouraged—keep applying to the opportunities that you believe will help you grow."

…and some advice from the other side of the application We asked our Fellowship Experience Coordinator, Klavdija Jenko, to share a bit about what makes her take a second look at a fellowship application. “I look for teachers who have a dedication to making a real positive impact on their students, and strong desire to learn and improve their teaching skills. And to get their kids outside to experience real-life environmental issues first hand.”

Ready to tackle those professional development applications? Go for it! You can learn more about EPI’s Teacher Fellowships here. Or check out our blog on the Top 13 Professional Development Opportunities for Science Teachers.

Do you have other resources to share with science teachers? Add them below in the comments!


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