HM - Mar. 2016 - Mitchell

The NCHE Colloquium Model


The Colloquium Model:
Perspectives from NCHE Team Members

Melissa Buelow Mitchell
The Catholic University of America?


The National Council for History Education (NCHE) was founded in 1990 to bring together historians, teachers, education specialists, university faculty, community leaders, staff from museums, archives, and libraries, and members of historical societies to ensure that history was not only being taught in our schools, but that it was taught well.  The organization emerged out of the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, which in the 1980s issued an urgent call for the improvement of history education. Many of the participants in the Commission’s work believed that a national membership organization devoted to this goal could expand the work of the Commission and implement its recommendations. Their belief prompted the establishment of NCHE.

NCHE’s initial contribution to the improvement of history education was its development of the colloquium model for professional development. The Colloquium Model was pioneered, researched, and implemented by NCHE beginning in 1993 under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). The colloquium brought together a collaborative team of professionals, each committed to effective instruction from a different perspective: an academic historian, concerned with the scholarly underpinnings of a topic; a history education specialist, concerned with methods of instruction; and a master history classroom teacher, to ensure that the colloquium would bring practical benefits to the classroom.

In 2001 the U.S. Department of Education initiated the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program, designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge and understanding of U.S. history. Federal grants were awarded to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in partnership with entities that have content expertise, to develop, document, evaluate, and disseminate innovative and cohesive models of professional development.  NCHE was a leading partner with LEAs applying for TAH grants between 2001 and 2011 and had over 80 partners in 30 states.  In fiscal year (FY) 2012 Congress terminated funding for the TAH grants program and as a result, there has been no federal funding provided for professional development for history teachers since 2011.

The “Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015” (S. 1177) reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), restoring targeted federal funding for K-12 history education (  As with TAH grants, funding will be awarded to competing LEAs who may look to NCHE with renewed interest as a partner in the professional development of history teachers.  NCHE established itself as a leader in professional development with the Colloquium Model during its long-term partnership with TAH grants and will foster future partnerships with the support of ESEA funding.  

The demand for professional development of history teachers increased between 2001 and 2011, contributing to more opportunities for NCHE to bring together teams of professionals working within the framework of the Colloquium Model.  As a result, NCHE has established a large network of historians, master teachers, and education specialists.  This network of professionals is a valuable asset to NCHE because each colloquia team member approaches effective instruction from a different perspective.  These varying perspectives not only contribute to successful professional development colloquia, but also provide a wealth of knowledge concerning professional development through the lens of the NCHE Colloquium Model.  A survey study was developed to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the Colloquium Model from the perspective of professionals within NCHE’s network of colloquia team members.   

Description of study

Professional development design varies; the best approaches consider  collaboration and shared inquiry as the norm (Steiner, 2004).  The NCHE Colloquium Model of professional development’s distinctive trait is a collaborative team comprised of a historian, master teacher, and education specialist.  NCHE has been conducting professional development over 20 years and has established a large network of professionals.  There is much to be learned about professional development practices from NCHE colloquia team members, and in 2012 a survey was administered to investigate: What can NCHE learn about the Colloquium Model from team members who led professional development colloquia?  

The purpose of the survey was to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the NCHE Colloquium Model from the perspective of professionals who led the colloquia.  Surveys are often utilized as an accurate, reliable, and valid research method to obtain information (Alreck & Settle, 2004).  Participants in this study were NCHE colloquia team members who provided professional development to history teachers.  Participants were randomly selected (Maxwell, 2005) using a current roster of NCHE members, and data collection was conducted via email of surveys to participants.  

A complete “Summary of Findings” will be presented and discussed at the NCHE National Conference in Niagara Falls, New York during a breakfast session on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

Summary of Findings

In addition to responding to questions about their membership in NCHE and participation in colloquia, participants in the survey were asked to respond to questions that addressed methods of recruitment and their understanding of the characteristics of effective team members.

Fiftytwo participants responded to a survey distributed via email, yielding a 47% response rate.  The average response rate for studies that utilize data collected from organizations is 35.7% (Baruch & Brooks, 2008).  NCHE respondents exceed the average response rate, indicating a high percentage of survey respondents.  A likely reason for a high response rate from NCHE presenters being surveyed is that they have a stake in the organization.  

Perhaps another reason for high response rates is that colloquia members who take the time to respond to the survey are those who similarly take the time to reflect on their practice as a historian, education specialist, or classroom teacher.  Reflection contributes to a greater impact on effective decision-making and improving practices in learning and practice (Moon, 2013).  Many of the survey questions encourage self-reflection, and findings suggest that those who find value in reflection are more likely to find value in responding to a survey.  

Participants were NCHE professional development team members including history education specialists, master classroom teachers, historians, onsite coordinators, and project directors.  Participants were asked background questions concerning their history and participation with NCHE.  Participants were asked how many years of experience they have with NCHE, and the responses were as follows:?

  • 10+ years 21%;
  • 5-9 years 35%;
  • 2-4 years 23%;
  • 1 year or less 21%.
NCHE has been in existence since the early 1990s and there have been many changes in the organization.  Longevity of membership to NCHE suggests favorable membership satisfaction and a likelihood of continued partnerships amongst its members.

Participants were also asked the number of colloquia they have conducted. Respondents reported: ?
  • 25+ colloquia 22%;
  • 11-25 colloquia 20%
  • 3-10 colloquia 25%;
  • 1-2 colloquia 33%;
A significant number of respondents have participated in a large number of colloquia, and like membership satisfaction, long-term participation in colloquia team membership suggests a high satisfaction rate with their NCHE colloquia experience.  A very interesting finding showed that 49% of respondents have presented within the same grant while 37% have presented with the same team, furthermore suggesting a high level of satisfaction with fellow team members.

Findings also suggest a balance between experienced presenters and novice presenters in the NCHE network of team members.  A combination of veterans working with inexperienced team members may increase the likelihood of a successful colloquia because veterans have an understanding of expectations and experiences required of NCHE team members.  Varying degrees of experience also suggests a potential for growth and development within NCHE professional development programs; veteran and novice presenters potentially build off of one another by connecting new pedagogical and content knowledge with existing effective professional development practices.      

Seventy-three percent of respondents participated in Professional Development with other organizations including:
  • NEH grants;
  • Gilder Lehrman;
  • AIHE;
  • Smithsonian;
  • Library of Congress (LOC);
  • NHC;
  • DBQ ;
  • Other TAH grants;
  • Local Organizations (NYS Historical Association; Educational Policy Improvement Center, Oregon; South Carolina Geographic Alliance.
A significant number of NCHE colloquia team members have experience conducting professional development with other historical organizations, which provides those members with a diverse perspective of a variety of models.  This varied experience might indicate that NCHE survey respondents have a deep understanding of effective and non-effective models based on personal experience and participation.  

Recruitment strategies are a significant factor in determining which NCHE members are qualified as colloquia team members.  Participants were asked how they were recruited to be a member of the NCHE Colloquia team. They responded:
  • 25%  NCHE Board Member;
  • 20%  Executive Director;
  • 15%  NCHE Conference;
  • 15%  Professional Development or TAH Project Director;
  • 15%  Grant Writers;
  • 10%  Other.
Board members and the Executive Directors played a significant role in determining colloquia members because they had knowledge of areas of need within the colloquia teams.  The annual Conference served as a showcase of new talent for colloquia teams.  TAH project directors and grant writers were the most closely associated with their LEA’s professional development needs and therefore a valuable asset to the NCHE recruitment network.

Participants were then asked to provide feedback to open-ended questions. These questions invited participants to consider the work and role of fellow team members.  For example, historians were asked to provide characteristics about history education specialists and master classroom teachers rather than providing information as to how they perceive their own role as a historian.  The specific survey questions appear below. A summarized overview of the responses follows each question.
With regard to the History Education Specialist(s) you have worked with, what qualities did you perceive as effective and what qualities did you perceive could be improved upon?  Please do not include specific names in your response:?
  • Model and engage teachers in a variety of lessons/activities (pedagogy) that compliment historians’ content knowledge (rather than talk teachers through the lesson);
  • Instruct teachers about the “rationale” for the variety of instructional models (pedagogy)
  • Show teachers HOW to adapt lessons for content in classrooms;
  • Adaptability;
  • Knowledge of technology/digital resources;
  • Knowledge of current research and best practices in History Education.
With regard to the Master Classroom Teacher(s) you have worked with, what qualities did you perceive as effective and what qualities did you perceive could be improved upon?  Please do not include specific names in your response:?
  • Model effective instruction;
  • Experienced teachers;
  • Ability to adjust, adapt, or apply lessons to teachers’ classrooms or various grade levels;
  • Personality and ability to connect with teachers;
  • Practical and creative variety of activities, lessons, ideas;
  • Present classroom resources or online resources;
  • Engage teachers in lessons (rather than talking teachers through the lesson);
  • Knowledge of standards.
With regard to the Historian(s) you have worked with, what qualities did you perceive as effective and what qualities did you perceive could be improved upon?  Please do not include specific names in your response:?
  • Engaging/entertaining stories with wealth of content knowledge;
  • Personality connects with teachers (sociable, fun, accessible, collegial);
  • Models historical thinking or unique perspectives/translations;
  • Tailors content to teachers/grants’ needs (rather than repeating existing lectures);
  • Employs the use of questions as a strategy;
  • Demonstrates equality on the team;
  • Use of primary sources and visuals.
With regard to the Onsite Coordinator(s) you have worked with, what qualities did you perceive as effective and what qualities did you perceive could be improved upon?  Please do not include specific names in your response:?
  • Handles the needs of team (logistics, driving, restaurants, copying);
  • Organized;
  • Supportive/positive personality;
  • Critical/key role for successful colloquium; sets the tone;
  • Effective facilitator & keeps to schedule/timing;
  • Presenter or should present as an equal team member;
  • Effective communicator
  • Professional/collegial
  • Flexible
The findings that emerged from these questions suggest a type of “check-list” of skills or qualities that team members in each category should demonstrate to be effective colloquia presenters.  It is important to note that team members were not asked to provide qualities they deem as effective within their own role to avoid potential bias in survey responses.   

Additional findings emerged from questions related to ineffective team members or qualities to be improved upon.  The responses of some survey participants suggest that clarifying the role of the education specialist as a team member might have benefited colloquia overall. Respondents also reported occasional difficulty with historians, and some individuals suggested that the role of onsite coordinator be eliminated. These findings encourage further discussions during the National Conference and suggest potential adjustments NCHE may consider for future professional development programs.  


NCHE’s Colloquium Model and the large network of historians, master teachers, and education specialists who implement it is a possible resource to learn more about the professional development of history teachers. Findings in this article focus on team members’ backgrounds, recruitment strategies, and potential qualities each team member should demonstrate to increase the likelihood for successful colloquia. Additional findings about the Colloquium Model will be presented at the NCHE National Conference in April 2016 and include: factors to replicate; factors to improve upon; challenges; and a comparison to other models. A complete summary of findings provides a wealth of data that can be used to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the Colloquium Model.    


Alreck, Pamela L. and Robert B. Settle. 2004. The Survey Research Handbook (3rd ed.).  New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

Baruch, Yehuda, and Brooks C. Holtom. 2008. “Survey Response Rate Levels and Trends in Organizational Research.”  Human Relations 61(8): 1139-1160.  

Maxwell, Joseph A. 2005. Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Moon, Jennifer. A. 2013.  Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and practice.  New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.  

Steiner, Lucy. 2004.  Designing Effective Professional Development Experiences: What Do We ?Know? Naperville, IL: John Edward Porter Professional Development Center.