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PNNL Builds Teacher Leaders to Bring Science Learning to Life: A story in Sustainability


The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation funded a two-year grant called TRUST (Teachers as Researchers:  Understanding Student Thinking) to prove that high quality teacher professional development yields a deeper understanding of how to teach science more effectively, which has a positive impact on student achievement in science. And they trusted PNNL education staff to help lead the way in the Walla Walla and Evergreen School Districts.

Middle School Science Teachers Explore Alignment of Instructional Materials to State Standards.For the past two years, Peggy Willcuts, Organizational Development Directorate, worked alongside middle school teachers and administrators in two school districts in Washington state. This statewide research project asked each school district to identify a treatment and control school.  

In an exemplary model of partnership, PNNL engaged with Washington State University-Vancouver and Washington State LASER (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform) to build teacher leadership skills. They also deepened classroom teachers' understanding of content, which impacts how they teach students, thus increasing their achievement in science (as measured by the Washington State Measures of Student Progress).

Peggy and the teachers worked in school-based communities of practice, called professional learning communities (PLCs) , engaging in 'collaborative inquiry' (solving teaching problems together) in order to improve instruction. This work was driven by the needs identified by the teachers and teacher leaders in the treatment schools.  

Passing on professional knowledge is truly the gift that keeps on giving. The teacher leaders honed their leadership skills to drive local, ongoing professional development with their peers; enhanced their beliefs about student learning in science; and improved assessment practices to better understand what students know and are able to accomplish in science. The result, improved student achievement in science.

Now, based on the success of the TRUST research project, the eastside school district (Walla Walla) has embarked on a sustainability move—making the financial commitment necessary continue to develop a district wide PLC. Both the treatment and control schools are now being funded by Walla Walla Public Schools to continue the work based on the TRUST model and Peggy is continuing to assist.


As a national research organization, PNNL has a vested interest in realizing change in the STEM education ecosystem to produce a more diverse and robust pipeline of STEM graduates. TRUST is a great example of how we are helping enhance educator effectiveness and student learning in STEM fields. PNNL proudly partners with educators and local businesses in cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers through signature program efforts such as LASER, Delta High School and work-based learning. .