Thoughts on TOPSS

Bates Mandel, Original TOPSS Chair, 1992 TOPSS Steering Committee

My first memory of TOPSS is probably the first memory of TOPSS — the inception of the organization that occurred over a year before the first meeting of the fledgling organization. In June of 1991 I was selected along with Karyn Hale to be the two representatives for High School Psychology amongst over 50 psychologists at the APA National Conference on Undergraduate Psychology at St. Marys College of Maryland. On the second evening, the newly elected APA president, Dr. Charlie Speilberger, came down from Washington DC to address the conference. Somewhat to my surprise and probably to the rest of this group, Dr. Speilberger's address focused primarily on the importance of high school psychology to the overall field of psychology. He realized that the high school students of today were the psychologists and consumers of psychological services of tomorrow. Dr. Speilberger stated that high school psychology and the formation of a national high school organization would be one of the highest priorities of his upcoming term as president. After the speech, a crab dinner was served and literally scores of attendees, Past Presidents of APA, noted psychologists, members of APA governance, authors of theories and textbooks, lined up to speak and eat with Dr. Speilberger. But he chose to sit down and eat with Karyn and me. During that dinner he plotted out the formation of a high school psychology teachers organization that he would get started during his term in office the next year. Charlie even had a name for this organization — Psy Hi. Since Karyn and I had recently been appointed as the high school representatives to the APA Board of Educational Affairs, and we would be the point people for this effort. Both Karyn and I were very excited and we began to discuss with Dr. Speildberger this dream of an organization of high school psychology teachers and began to relate to him the issues as we saw them. He was true to his word and after a year of planning, the first meeting of the executive steering committee high school teachers of psychology organization that would evolve shortly into TOPSS was held during the 1992 APA Convention in Washington, D.C.

In August of 1992 APA celebrated its 100th birthday at their national convention in Washington, DC. Prior to the start of the convention, the first meeting of the executive steering committee was held. Attending that meeting were a number of distinguished high school psychology teachers and university professors that focused their energies on high school psychology. Karyn Hale and I, as members of APA Board of Educational Affairs, had spent the previous year planning for this meeting and co-chaired the steering committee. Included in that first meeting of TOPSS were Laura Maitland from New York, Charlie Blair-Broeker from Iowa, Randy Ernst from Nebraska, Marissa Sarabando from Texas, Ludy Benjamin from Texas A & M and Sam Cameron from Beaver College. During the first meeting the steering committee discussed how to develop this new organization and how it would relate to APA. Other conversations occurred regarding how to upgrade the teaching of high school psychology to include the science based aspects of the discipline, whether APA should publish a high school textbook, and how to recruit new members. There was a tremendous amount of energy and anticipation about having our own high school psychology organization that could combat the isolation that many us experienced.

After the first day's meeting, I went back to my room with one of the members of the committee, a young man from Nebraska, to get ready for dinner. After a while he said something like this — Bates I got it all figured out — we discussed earlier today that our new organization needs a Past Chair, a Chair and a Chair-Elect. You'll be the Past Chair, Karyn Hale will be the Chair and Laura Maitland will be the Chair-Elect. I looked at him and thought, who is this guy? According to him, after a year of planning and work my tenure as chair of this nascent organization was to last one weekend. Little did I realize at the time that I was in the presence of greatness. This young man from Nebraska was Randy Ernst, who in the future would be one of the best chairs TOPSS has ever had, the Question Leader for the AP Psychology Reading, a member of the High School Psychology Standards committee and other committees as well as the recipient of numerous teaching awards in psychology and a Presidential award for teaching.

In December of 1992 the TOPPS steering committee held its second meeting in Washington, D.C. At the time we were an Ad Hoc committee of the APA Educational Directorate and would not become a standing committee until the APA Board of Directors voted and approved us. Even though the APA President, Dr. Charles Speilberger and the Education Director, Joanne Callan, were pushing for our approval it was not a done deal. After over a year of working with APA I learned that it was really a conglomerate of psychological organizations that spanned the many different areas of field. APA was largely an organization of practitioners and clinicians with some emphasis on science and research. Its focus on education was primarily at the post-graduate level, with less emphasis on graduate education and even less on undergraduate affairs. In my opinion, high school psychology barely registered with most of the APA membership and was not necessarily the highest priority of the APA Board of Directors. It is not that members were against high school psychology, it was just they were not informed of its importance.

Our committee therefore had its work cut out for us. During that weekend, the steering committee planned our strategy to convince the APA Board of Directors that TOPSS should be approved, funded and a part of the APA permanent governance. Our strategy included that there were over a million students each year taking high school psychology, that there were thousands of teachers involved with the teaching of psychology at the high school level, that it was critical to the future of APA that high school psychology present an accurate portrayal of psychology rather than the current state of uneven and misguided course offerings, and so on.

Finally on Sunday morning Karyn Hale and I were ushered into the APA Board of Directors meeting to present our case to become a bona fide committee and a part of APA. I was anxiously reviewing some of discussion points we wanted to present in my mind when suddenly Karyn launched into an impassionate appeal to the Board. It was if a tornado had struck. Karyn spoke nonstop for 5 minutes barley pausing for breath. During her performance my eyes and mouth were wide open as all I could do was nod my head in agreement. The same was true for Charlie Speilberger and all the members of the Educational Directorate that had accompanied us. Forcefully repeating every point of our strategy and more, Karyn made a dynamic and emotional argument that beat back any hint of resistance that the APA Board may have entertained. When it was all over there were no questions from the Board and it seemed as if they were totally stunned. Later that day we learned that the APA Board approved our application to become a standing committee unanimously. It was official — TOPSS was for real. [Note, TOPSS was not officially made an APA Committee until the APA Council of Representatives approved the motion from the Board of Directors in early 1993.]

In conclusion, I look back at my time with TOPSS and APA as some of the best years of my professional life. That experience opened up a whole new world for me. I'm really proud of what our original TOPSS group accomplished and thrilled that TOPSS has survived and thrived. In some sense I regret that I no longer teach psychology since I loved it and that I'm no longer involved with the new TOPSS initiatives and the AP Psychology reading. However I'm pleased that in my life as the Assistant Director for Assessment for the School District on Philadelphia that I still get a chance to deal with psychology in a job that emphasizes statistics, data and testing and that I still have a chance to teach in our office's professional development efforts.

Randy Ernst, Member of 1992 TOPSS Steering Committee

When I think back to the beginning of TOPSS, what stands out is how so many APA members were ready and willing to help us get on our feet. We felt if we could effectively communicate our mission as high school teachers, that APA members would support our initiatives. The thank you list is long, but those who were instrumental early include Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., Charlie Spielberger, Joanne Callen, Charles Brewer, Jill Reich, Paul Nelson and Sam Cameron. These were all "can-do" people who empowered us. We also owe debts of gratitude to many APA staffers, such as Peter Petrossian, who worked tirelessly on our behalf.

Charles L. Brewer, Furman University

Having been involved with nurturing TOPSS since its beginning, I am astonished by the remarkable progress the organization has made in such a short time. Because of the competence, diligence and perseverance of its dedicated leaders, TOPSS has increasing visibility and influence at local, state, regional and national levels. Its impact on the teaching of psychology throughout the country is profound. The number of students taking psychology in high schools continues to increase, making the work of TOPSS even more challenging and rewarding. If TOPSS makes as much progress in the next 15 years as it did in its first 15, then I cannot imagine what it will be like in 2022. I rejoice at the thought of celebrating its 30th anniversary. Here's to TOPSS — may it live long and prosper!

Karyn Hale, Member of 1992 TOPSS Steering Committee

I have very fond memories of TOPSS' conception and the individuals who were part of it. Helping create an organization where high school psychology teachers are recognized and where teaching psychology as a science is fostered brought such great joy to me. I read about the wonderful things that have evolved from TOPSS and I am very proud to have been part of helping create this organization. Teaching psychology in the high school can feel a bit isolating. I remember going to meetings and wanting to just stop time so that we could talk about curriculum and what others were doing in their classrooms. I always came away filled with great ideas and feeling really blessed that I was part of this group.

Marissa Sarabando, Member of 1992 TOPSS Steering Committee

When I was asked to be a part of a committee for high school teachers for APA ("TOPSS" did not exist yet) I had only been teaching for about 3 years. I remember feeling excited about going to Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life, but I was also very curious about what was about to happen. Up until then, my only experience with other high school psychology teachers had been as an attendee to the Texas A&M Summer Institute. What a comfort to know that some familiar faces from that experience would be in D.C. as well for this new development. As we began to meet and formulate ideas about what this committee could be, I was amazed by how much support this committee received from university professors, specifically Dr. Ludy Benjamin (Texas A & M), and from APA. While the early days involved a lot of "selling" of the idea, eventually finding supporters was much easier and it seemed that this committee was really going to go somewhere. I was lucky enough to be a part of this genesis. When APA made this committee a permanent committee with funding in its annual budget, I knew that something wonderful was about to be in place for high school psychology teachers who, like me, really needed support in such a community. Thank you, TOPSS, and congratulations on 15 years of service to teachers and the discipline of psychology.

Irwin Altman, University of Utah

I was there at the very beginning, in 1992, when I was a member of the Board of Educational Affairs. Faced with boredom about the perpetual topics of grad and undergrad education I volunteered to serve with the rump group of high school teachers to discuss a more formal organization within APA. What an experience as our small group filled up the walls with possible programs and activities, discussed a formal organization and came up with the elements of a charter. With the help of Charles Spielberger we worked our way up to the Board of Directors, convinced them about the importance of TOPSS, introduced them to hot shot teachers and saw them break their budget to support a few extra meetings.

Those meetings followed and we eventually achieved formal status in APA. From then on it was history as the group developed curriculum standards, regional networks and a series of workshops and sessions at APA.

That early group of hotshots included Randy Ernst, Charles Blair-Broeker, Bates Mandel, Karyn Hale and others.

I returned as faculty advisor a few years later and watched in awe as the TOPSS Committee came up with new plans, services for teachers and roared along with idea after idea.

In the past several years I have worked with Utah-TOPSS, especially with Kristin Whitlock, Pam Coburn and Dan Rozanas, as they developed local programs, including an annual workshop that brings together teachers from all over our state and region.

Our high school teachers locally and nationally are real stars and I have come to appreciate their knowledge of our field, their creativity and the endless time they spend in presenting an honest and balanced approach to our field. It has been my privilege to hang onto their coattails and observe the incredible contributions they make. Thanks, TOPSS!!

Laura Brandt, 2007 TOPSS Chair

I was originally introduced to the TOPSS organization at one of the annual Chicago-land Teachers of Psychology Teaching Conference (CHITOPSS). As a relatively new teacher I was looking for organizations that would provide me with both classroom content material and methods for making this content dynamic in the classroom. The TOPSS unit lesson plans fit this bill to a tee. In addition to providing content outlines and activities for a given unit, they also provided a timeline, which allowed me to better understand how much time should be spent on each topic within a given unit. The lessons plans also were (and are) created in a manner which allowed me to use some of the material provided and to incorporate my own material to make the lesson my own. Receiving the APA Monitor made me feel connected to current research in the field of psychology, while the Psychology Teachers Network (PTN) allowed me to read editorials from respected psychologists in the field and find about upcoming events in TOPSS such as essay and research contests and professional conferences.

Over the years, I have been blessed with a strong network of psychology teachers within my school and the Chicago land area. While we have encouraged each other to begin new events such as the psychology quiz bowl and visit other schools to begin original research projects, TOPSS have frequently been the supporting organization. BEA Block Grants encourage and support innovative work in the field of psychology. Many projects (ours included) could not have happened without support from the BEA. I have used many of the opportunities TOPSS had to offer including having students participate in the annual essay and research contests, recognizing outstanding individual student each year, and using speakers from the TOPSS Speakers Bureau to talk to our psychology club.

My original position on the TOPSS Committee was a Member-at-Large, but when I came onto the committee this position had been changed to be the Membership Coordinator. At my first consolidated meeting, I realized that even as an active member of TOPSS I still was unaware of many of the incredible programs that TOPSS had to offer to both students and teachers. We worked on putting in place regional coordinators and are currently in the process of recruiting state coordinators to help TOPSS become more effective at the local level, to insure that the TOPSS board is meeting the needs of both new and veteran members. This experience allowed me to better understand the wonderful work that is being done by high school psychology teachers across the nation. I also relished the opportunity to work with other Committee members who had an incredible belief that anything was possible. The idea of a week-long institute was brought up at the first meeting I attended and board members reminisced about the NSF institutes of the past in which high school and college faculty members would come together for a 4-week period to discuss a specific topic area in the field of psychology. At the time we did not know where funding would come from, but Allison Weseley had the great idea of creating annual conferences based around the National Standards. This past summer we held the first weeklong institute on Biopsychology at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, proof that a great idea and perseverance go far.

This year as chair I am looking forward to working with incredibly talented group of individuals both on the Committee and at APA to insure that TOPSS continues to serve teachers of psychology in secondary school in the best way possible. We are looking forward to continuing the many great programs that are already in place, celebrating 15 years, and implementing new programs that suit the professional and development needs of psychology instructors.