Teaching and Learning History - 071216

Professional Development


Some of the Best Professional Development
Opportunities for History Educators

by Scott L. Roberts, Ph.D.
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant, MI

As an educator I have taken part in several excellent professional development opportunities. However, in June of 2016, I attended what I consider to be the best professional development experience of my 15-year career in education.  I was selected to take part in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Institute for Teacher Education (H.I.T.E). In this workshop I spent a week enriching my content knowledge about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, discussing the research (or lack there of) concerning Holocaust education, and learning instructional strategies for teaching about the Holocaust to my pre-service teachers.  Just as important, I was able to make new friends and colleagues with similar interests who will help me continue in my growth as a teacher educator through collaboration for years to come.

Though all of the H.I.T.E experiences will be influential in my practice, there were a few that will make a lasting impression on my understanding and teaching of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. One in particular, was our guided tour of the permanent exhibition of the museum. On this tour, we were taken to a wall of photographs of Polish teachers, professors and priest, which were taken immediately before their executions. The Nazis viewed these educated individuals as threats to the order they wanted to establish in Poland. As an educator, this heart-wrenching exhibit made Nazi atrocities hit closer to home. In addition, this exhibit provided a deeper understanding of the impact that the Nazi’s had on Poland that is not included in the limited traditional narrative of Hitler invading the country in 1939, thus starting World War II.

Another powerful experience was a tour and discussion of the museum’s new exhibit “Some were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.” This exhibit described the ways that friends and neighbors of the holocaust victims either collaborated with the Nazis or risked their own lives to protect those who were persecuted. One of the most memorable sessions was our talk with Carl Wilkens. Wilkens was living in Rwanda in 1994 and was the only American to stay in the country during the genocide. Putting his own life in danger, Wilkens, was instrumental in saving the lives of many Rwandans. It was an honor to be able to talk with such a hero about his experiences, and his decision to “do the right thing” during a time of crisis.
Academically, one important session was Dr. Simone Schweber’s talk about “what does holocaust education do?” This session prompted a great discussion about which grade level should the holocaust be taught to children. A second was Dr. Michael Berson’s presentation about the research on Holocaust education and what we as teacher educators could study to fill the gaps in the literature.

The great news is that similar types of professional development opportunities are available for K-12 history/social studies teachers to locations in the United States and aboard. Usually, these programs are free and often pay for travel, room and board, and stipends for participants.  Below you will find a list of several organizations that offer professional development for classroom teachers and web links for more information about these programs.


About NCHE

The National Council for History Education promotes historical literacy by creating opportunities for teachers and students to benefit from more history, better taught.