Sonoma County Office of Education

What's Next?

Author: Anna Babarinde
Published: 09.07.16

Anna Van Dordrecht One of my favorite television shows of all time was “The West Wing”. For those who aren’t familiar, it followed fictional President Josiah Bartlet and his senior staff as they navigated the ins and outs of politics in the White House. One of Bartlet’s famous lines was “What’s next?” As he bluntly explained to his staff at one point, it literally means, “I’m ready to move on to other things.” But as the show went on, this phrase came to stand for much more. It meant not resting on the laurels of what you’ve accomplished but always looking to the future and similarly not getting bogged down in the momentary troubles of one incident or piece of legislation but maintaining forward motion.


There are a lot of “what’s next?” ponderings around me right now. I recently talked to a new science teacher who, now that she’s survived her first year and can actually think more than a day ahead, wonders what she will invest in most deeply to become the teacher she wants to be. As my students who graduated in June head off to college, they’re living into this question daily. No matter who they were or what they’ve done, they have a chance to try something new and choose how they will live and act going forward. As I transition to my new, full-time job at the county office, I’m grappling with this question as well. It’s exciting to be able to figure out what you want to explore and invest in without some of the constraints that have previously been there. But it’s also disconcerting to be without the routine and certainty that have also been there.


Through communication with teachers and administrators, and particularly as I attended an NGSS training for the state rollout last week, I’ve been reminded that we’re all feeling a tug between what we’ve known and the possibilities ahead. The last couple of years have been significant as we’ve tried out NGSS-aligned strategies and lessons, made initial decisions about implementation and course models, and weighed in on a state science framework that is moving rapidly towards completion. The temptation is to think that what we’ve done so far is enough, that we can rest on our laurels and just maintain the status quo from here on out. Or even more tempting in some cases is to revert back to how we did things before, because the changes we made were uncomfortable or messy. But what’s becoming clear is that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what three dimensional lessons can look like and the potential this kind of learning holds for students. And so, as we move beyond dabbling towards full-blown implementation, the challenge is to keep considering and working towards whatever’s next. We live in a simultaneously exciting and tumultuous time, and we are preparing students for jobs and a world that we can’t quite imagine. They need us to be mindful of this and keep pressing onward.


What does it mean to look to the future and maintain forward motion in science education? That’s a hard question, because it’s different for every person and context. For me, it means continuing to explore how STEAM, Maker education, storytelling, and equity all relate to and enrich science learning. For someone else, it might mean trying a new lesson series or unit that incorporates all of the elements of NGSS. For another, it might entail spending time listening to students and teachers, figuring out what implementation decisions best support them, and advocating for these groups. Whatever it looks like in your context, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what’s next for you and those you teach and work with.


The good news is that none of us have to take these next steps alone. Part of the power of “The West Wing” was that it routinely gave viewers a glimpse of what’s possible when a group of dedicated people consider “what’s next?” together and use their individual gifts to make a collective impact. We’re all on the same team, trying to figure out what’s best for students and to make it happen. So I also encourage you, no matter what your next steps might be, to find partners. These might be people in your immediate sphere: colleagues in your school, district, or county. Or they might be people farther away who share your interests and passions about science education but also bring a different perspective. You might collaborate in person, or you might share ideas via email, websites, or social media groups. Whatever partnerships suit you, seek them out, for we will all be better for students when we work collaboratively rather than in isolation. And we will be happier, more relaxed people knowing that we don’t have to shoulder the burden of NGSS implementation alone.

What’s next? The start of the school year is an incredible time to ponder this question. The past year, with its triumphs, catastrophes, and everything in between is behind us, and we have some distance from it. We’re also not so far into this year that just making it through one week feels like a herculean effort (wait for mid-October!). And so, we have a window to consider what new things we want to embrace and try… to think about what’s next and then spend the year living into it. Let’s use the time well.

Blog: Exploring NGSS