2021 California Science Education Conference

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award: Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

What does being a CASE member and advocate mean to you?
Being a member of this Association is one of my earliest memories as an educator. Each of us in my credential program at Hayward State, now CSU East Bay, was given a membership by our instructor Dr. David Stronk, and I remember attending my first conference run by Gary Nakagiri in San Mateo. I was hooked after that. As a member I loved being able to access the resources and conferences, but it was not until I was invited by a board member I know through my county office of education position that I even considered the board. I strongly believe that educators who are passionate about science in their classrooms are the leaders that we need in the association. You do not need to be in a formally identified “leadership role” to bring a meaningful voice to the CASE board of directors.

Being a member, I knew I was part of my own professional organization even as a young science teacher, and that meant a lot. As a board member, I realized I was contributing a voice to a significant leadership group who was, and still is, really making a difference for science education in California. I had been aware of articles and great resources in California Classroom Science and the conferences, but it was not until I was in the board meetings that I realized what limited expertise I had was now part of a larger network. I realized that being a passionate science educator is the best qualification to be on the board; I did not need to know it all or be an expert in everything about science education.

I'm extremely proud that in my 10 years on the board, we were able to significantly impact the implementation of NGSS, contribute to policy in support science for all learners, connect with national science colleagues, and generate perhaps what is the most impactful statement on climate science and K-12 education that exists today.

Tell us some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned after serving on the Board of Directors for CASE and being in a county office leadership role in rural California, and how it has impacted your development personally and professionally.

The lesson that has served me best, especially in the last half dozen or so years, is to take nothing personally, and I am still working on that one. If someone finds something I do or say problematic, I have come to the realization that most of that rests in their perspective, stance, or understanding that simply differs from mine. If we weren't all different it would be a really boring planet on which to live and work. I strive to accept the differences, reassess my own thinking, but not let them get in the way of where my truth and passion and commitment to education dwell.

Another valuable lesson I've learned is that if you can work well with others (and some of those other “lessons we learn in Kindergarten”) it makes the professional world and our work a joy. I find I have colleagues across so many disciplines and grade levels and regions of California that I can't even list them all. What we have in common far outweighs whatever differences may exist, and the value of striving to understand someone else's perspective, and reassess my own, while staying true to myself, is probably the greatest lesson I've learned about all of this.

When it comes to rural education, I learned a lot about what I value living in my rural community, even though I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the Far Northern and other rural parts of California, there is a disparity of opportunity to access science education. It is really not the fault of any one institution or system or person, but simply the human capacity to do this thing called science really well in the setting where you're doing everything else, everyday. While I'm still striving to find ways to address the absence of that capacity and needed support, I also have the joy of seeing the people working so hard to do the same. Even if it's small increments of change, I do believe those changes are and will continue to happen. I have definitely learned we cannot stop asking what we can do and sit back and say “good enough” until every child, living in any size community, gets access to a robust, high quality, K12 science education.

What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishment of your career so far and why?
Okay well receiving this recognition is a high point for me… but really, I think the moments when I feel I have accomplished something is based upon work with students. When a student who is now an adult recently came up to me and described the reasons why I mattered as a teacher, and that they are now sharing some of those things with their child, it moved me; and that is a sense of accomplishment. In addition to science, we teach so much more, and I think that's where the sense of accomplishment comes from for me. Any day when I get to work side-by-side with teachers in their classrooms through lesson study or instructional coaching, and I get to see and hear the children's responses to our efforts as a team, those are days I feel like I've accomplished something.

What would you recommend for others to do to find encouragement and keep growing in their career?
Remember to keep a portion of your time to do the work of your heart. It makes us better at everything we do and care about. It is all too easy to fill 40-plus hours a week with all the tasks and the labors of love that we do, but it can be an effort for us who are so dedicated and hardworking and committed and driven, to make sure we're also feeding our hearts and our spirits. My work with the colleagues I have grown to know and love and respect, feeds my heart. I know I do my day-to-day job better because I have given myself that permission to do those things, that even though they add more hours to my week, they are what matter to me and energize me to do the hard work.

What does this award mean to you?
I am so deeply and truly honored by this recognition from CASE and its history in recognizing amazing educators I consider to be icons over the years. I am even more personally moved by the individuals whose nominations put my name forward this year. Each of the people who nominated me for the Margaret Nicholson Award are individuals I hold in the highest regard. They are people I consider my mentors, my colleagues, my think-partners, and most of all, my friends. I know they are all incredibly busy people, and I know what it takes to sit down and write a letter that's above and beyond their many regular duties. Not only the time to do the actual writing and the thoughtfulness of it, but also the recognition that they thought I merited this, means literally more than I can put into words.

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