What Teachers Retain From Historic Site-Based Professional Development

September 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, v71 n4 p 392-408

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study follows 29 teachers who participated in a history-focused institute, at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The project aims to develop a broad-based assessment for use at historic site-based professional development (HSBPD) programs. The article reports on the second round of Year 1 data from a 3-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant project and its purpose is to explore how HSBPD affects their classroom work.


Twenty-nine U.S. teachers from 20 states and one U.K. teacher participated in the study.
Participants applied to participate in the Monticello Teacher Institute (MTI), situated at Monticello, Charlottesville, VA.
The Monticello education staff managed the application process. All 29 accepted participants agreed to participate in the research. Participants participated in lectures, discussions, and tours as a cohort, and worked independently in the archive to create curriculum/materials. Many participants identified themselves as “PD junkies” or “History Nerds” who sought out HSBPD annually.
Q-method is a systematic and rigorous quantitative study of subjectivity (McKeown, 1990). Subjectivity defined as a person’s communication of his or her point of view on any matter of personal or social importance.
Q-methodology’s advantages over Likert-type scale surveys rest on using “forced choice” which brings personal values and experiences into the ranking process.
In Q-method, participants rank the statements against each other on a worksheet that arranges them into a normal distribution curve.
Next, they are interviewed about why they ranked statements as they did.
These interviews allow for holistic interpretation of the data that can reveal patterns missed via other means.
The Q-Sort was administered at three intervals:
(a) Pretest, on site, on the first day of the institute prior to instruction;
(b) Posttest, on site, on the last day of the institute after instruction/tours ended; and
(c) post-post test, completed via Skype, in participants’ homes or classrooms, 6 months post-HSBPD.
Interviews were conducted at the conclusion of each sort.

Findings and discussion
The current study begins to show the range and complexity of outcomes that teachers derive from HSBPD upon return to their classrooms.
One of the ways participants repeatedly referred to their time in HSBPD was in relation to other site-based programs that they attended.
Participants noted that these programs were an annual part of their PD plans.
Greater attention must be paid to the network of historic sites that annually offer HSBPD.
To understand the ways in which history practitioners are teaching teachers, we must begin to consider this network of programs as a system and to the cumulative effect that participation has on history teacher teaching and learning.
The situatedness in the physical context of the historic site raised consideration of a range of historical contexts (cf. Boerman-Cornell, Kim, & Manderino, 2017; Wineburg, 1998), particularly, the social context in which enslaved and free people lived side-by-side.
This aspect of the on-site work remained vivid once back in the classroom and permeated subsequent content presentations.
However, it did not automatically generate critical appraisals or contextually grounded historical empathy (Bryant & Clark, 2006; Endacott & Brooks, 2013).

The Question of Perspective
At the intersection of disciplinary content, pedagogy, professional dispositions, and personal experience rests participants’ engagement with and retention of different perspectives as a feature of HSBPDs. Consequently, participants’ conceptualization of those perspectives is layered, but point to a desire to think differently about a range of issues of national, curricular, disciplinary, and personal import.
It is necessary to consider how differently teachers think about either the past or the present after attending HSBPD and what action follows those thoughts.
Within the concourse, several items identified different perspectives that participants could prioritize. While the entire cohort of teachers rejected positive framing of the superiority of American culture, “dominant culture,” or “national narrative”, the rankings diverge when considering the more active/interventionist idea of “integrating diverse perspectives” into their curricula versus the more personal, slightly more passive notion of “considering multiple perspectives” for themselves and their students.
While there was broad appreciation for the consideration of multiperspectivity across all four factors, the greater the need for direct action, the softer the support.
The authors do not know how these considerations manifested changes in classroom action or curricular orientation.
For example, while participants explicitly noted perspective shifts related to slavery or enslaved persons were those shifts sufficient to decenter the Whiteness of their curriculum or did they reify progress narratives in it.
Given the cultural authority of historic sites, we must understand the ways they help teacher’s examine their own biases and redraw boundaries within the content they teach (cf. Burgard & Boucher, 2016, 2018; DiAngelo, 2011; Gutiérrez et al., 2017; Kennedy, 2016).
Promoting racial literacy goes far beyond the traditional mission of museums as purveyors of content and raises questions about the degree to which historic sites are interested in or prepared to engage in the social justice mission of teacher education (cf. Goodwin & Kosnik, 2013; Swennen, Jones, & Volman, 2011).
The teacher education community must interrogate ways they can support historic sites and museum educators in this work.

HSBPD offer teachers opportunities to engage as individuals, professionals, and in communities of learners with complex historical and professional resources.
At historic sites like Monticello, which challenge visitors to consider difficult histories, where teachers volunteer to engage in discussions about it, there is considerable opportunity to reshape schools, curriculum, teacher education, and museum practice.
This study offers an entry point for further examinations of what aspects of HSBPDs remain once teachers return to their classrooms and begin to change their classroom practice.

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Updated: Oct. 27, 2020