Ph.D. in Education, 2016
School of Education
November 1, 2010
“I am trying to make a difference.”
Noticeable among the stacks of research journals and student work in Tara Barnhart’s office is a bulletin board covered with papers of varying shapes, sizes and colors. They are all letters and e-mail from students thanking her for the positive influence she had on their lives. Some are from her high school students, like Jessica, who is now starting her second year at Brown. Others, like Steven, are credential program graduates who are now practicing classroom teachers. Tara explains,
“These are what I read when I’m tired, and frustrated. They remind me why I am doing what I do, that I’m trying to make a difference.”
Tara is a second-year doctoral student in UCI’s Ph.D. in Education program studying pre-service science teacher education and teacher reflection in the Learning, Cognition, and Development specialization. Her road to doctoral study has been less direct than most. After graduating from Whittier College with a BA in Biology and earning her teaching credential, she began her teaching career at Pioneer High School in Whittier in 1996. Her teaching assignments there ranged from introductory level science, college preparatory, honors, and Advanced Placement Biology. In addition, she served as Curriculum Coordinator, WASC focus group leader and self-study coordinator, and interim department Chair. For her efforts, she received the Instructional Leadership Award from her peers in 2007.
Earning her National Board Certification in Science for Early Adolescence and Young Adulthood in 2006 marked a turning point in Tara’s career. National Board Certification is an assessment that measures an individual teacher’s mastery of pedagogy and subject matter content. It includes a four-part portfolio in which a teacher must plan, enact, analyze, and reflect on three different instructional sequences and document his or her contributions to student learning through interaction with parents, the community, and professional colleagues. Six additional narrative exercises measure depth and breadth of content matter knowledge. It was this process of systematically analyzing her teaching that sparked a change in the way she looked at teaching and learning.
I think many teachers think about their lessons and say, “Oh, this went well, or that didn’t go well,” but fail to really analyze why things worked or didn’t. National Board got me thinking about evidence, and once that happened, I was much more effective at diagnosing what I needed to do differently and in some cases, what kind of professional development I needed in order to do a better job.
Tara’s new hunger for evidence and information led her to investigate different grading and assessment policies and the impact those policies have on student learning and motivation. She was later invited to share the results of her analysis at a district-wide in-service. She designed and conducted a small study of the tutorial intervention program at her school site, and presented the findings to her colleagues. She also assisted in the design and implementation of the Professional Learning Community model at her school site to build in opportunities for her colleagues to engage in the analysis of teaching and learning that she engaged in during her National Board process.
When an opportunity arose at Cal State Fullerton to teach about the National Board model of reflective instruction in their Masters of Education program, Tara seized it. In addition to teaching in the Master’s degree program and the single subject science credential program she is the Co-director of the Professional Teacher Development Center, a center funded by the Stuart Foundation to provide support for local teachers pursuing National Board Certification. Now entering its third year, the Center has employed fifteen local National Board Certified Teachers to support over 100 teachers through their candidacy. Tara describes the support meetings as inspiring:
It is a great environment to be in, surrounded by dedicated teachers who are genuinely interested in student learning having substantive conversations about practice.
Motivated by learning more about what research says about the influence teacher reflection has on teacher practice and student learning, Tara started her doctoral studies under the advisement of Dr. Elizabeth van Es. During her first year, she was awarded the John Skalski Graduate Scholarship from Phi Delta Kappa and received an Honorable Mention for her submission to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She recently presented her first-year research poster: Learning to Learn From Teaching: Promoting Student-Centered Instruction in a Pre-service Teacher Education Program at the California Council of Teacher Education. This study examined the ways participation in one of the UC Irvine credential courses influences the ways teachers think about and enact instruction. Tara plans to co-author a research paper detailing the full results of the study with Dr. van Es this fall. Other projects currently underway include co-authoring a book on National Board Certification, and conducting a study on the impact National Board Certification has on urban educators pursuing certification in a collaborative group. She is planning a study of how providing structured practice at analyzing videos of teaching change the ways pre-service science teachers think, plan, and enact and reflect on instruction.
Post graduation, Tara plans to continue to engage in research around teacher reflection and the preparation of secondary science teachers. She will seek a tenure-track position where she can balance her research agenda with teaching Masters and credential candidates.
I love teaching, but I also love learning and researching. I’m in a place where I will be able to do both well.
But beyond all the professional goals and accomplishments, what she strives for the most is to be a positive model for her two children (ages 4 and 10) and her students.
Like Garrison Keillor says, “Be well, do good work and keep in touch.” That’s really it.