Teacher Professional Development Research at Monticello: Help by Taking the Survey

Posted By: Lora Cooper Perspectives ,

2018 Monticello Teacher Institute participants demonstrate an interactive Declaration of Independence timeline on the West Lawn.


Across Virginia and the nation, historic sites and museums offer professional development programs for K-12 teachers. These programs offer rich opportunities to share site and collections content and to engage teacher in the work of history. The question for many, however, has been how do these programs influence teachers’ classroom practices? For years little data has existed on the effectiveness of professional development programs. Since 2015, staff at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello has been leading a research team across multiple historic sites to investigate this issue. The findings have been illuminating, and as we move forward we’re looking for input from you, our fellow museum practitioners, on the teacher programs at your institutions.

Through quantitative evaluation, our research has shown us that teacher need opportunities to reflect on how a site’s content connects to their teaching during a professional development program in order for that content to stick with them in a meaningful way. Unlike a typical adult visitor or a student learner, teachers have unique professional needs through which they view a museum experience. If museum practitioners facilitate intentional spaces within a program for connecting content to pedagogy, teachers can walk away with a deepened understanding of what it means to “do history” in both an academic sense and in the realm of public interpretation. The staff at the Monticello Teacher Institute has seen the enormous influence of this over the past three years by making seemingly minor adjustments to the program. These reflective opportunities enable teachers to return to their classrooms and support their students as they form inquiry questions, examine documents, and consider the complexity of the past and its influences today.

These findings help us understand not only how teachers are influenced by an effective professional development experience, but also how we as museum practitioners can create effective programs. While an increased understanding of historical thinking is exciting in and of itself, it becomes a meaningful measure of success when one considers how important history skills are in the current social studies standards. The politics of standards aside, they create a concrete opportunity for sites and museums to support teachers and they work to meet these requirements. With that in mind, Monticello is eager to share the full implications and lessons from this research in a way that will be useful and accessible for sites and museums. To help us move forward in this process, please complete this short survey about teacher professional development at your institution. If you’d like to learn more about the project, visit teacherinsites.org.