Beginning the Partnership (Eckelmeyer, 1995)
As with most endeavors, having a positive impact on science education will depend largely on your ability to interact with, win the respect of, and influence people and organizations. The worst mistake you can make is to approach teachers, students, or institutions with an arrogant attitude that implies, "You folks have really made a mess of things. I understand the real issues and will show you how to do it right." Even if you're correct (which you probably aren’t), you’ll have doomed your efforts to almost certain failure. Keep in mind that some teachers and administrators will be suspicious of your motives initially, defensive about their positions, and intimidated by your knowledge of science content, so any hint of arrogance on your part will be greatly amplified in their minds.
Instead, commit yourself to working with the institutions and people in your community. Win respect by showing respect. Treat teachers as professionals who know a lot more about education and young people than you do (since they almost surely do). Make it clear that you want to partner with them in ways that will honor their leadership role. Take your lead from the school. Find out about its science curriculum and determine together where and how you might best contribute. Even if you think that there are substantial flaws in the ways it is doing things, start by working with and supporting its existing program. Commit yourself to working with teachers and/or students where they are. Don't insist that they measure up to (or even concur with) your notions of the ideal.
Through this approach, assuming you do a good job, you’ll gain their respect and confidence, thereby winning the right to be heard when you make suggestions for change. Also you'll learn a bit about the realities of the educational process, which will probably modify some of your thoughts and opinions, thereby making you more knowledgeable when you offer future suggestions.
OK, so you are willing — but how do you get started? If you’re a novice, start with "Taking the First Steps." Next, "Working Effectively with Students" will help you understand a bit about children and provide you with some key do's and don’ts of working with them. "Fostering Equity in the Classroom" will help you work effectively with girls, boys, minorities, and students with diverse cultural backgrounds. As you become more experienced, you may wish to design your own activities, and "Planning and Preparing Successful Activities" will help you do that. Once you’ve learned about the structure of a good activity, do not just rush in. Be sure to read "Working Effectively with Teachers."
If you’re not sure that you’re ready to work directly with students, look at "Ways to Support K-12 Education" to identify other joint projects of mutual interest to you and your partner. More suggestions for projects, including a discussion of "Conducting a Tour of Your Worksite," and how to get started can be found under "Ideas and Resources." Finally, if you’re not new to K-12 science education and you’d like to set up a formal partnership, see "Formalizing and Sustaining a Partnership" and "Ideas and Resources" for a discussion of the advantages of partnerships, guidelines for establishing effective partnerships, and tips on getting partnerships funded.