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What are considerations when building a strong relationship between teacher preparation programs and districts that are focused on STEM teacher leadership?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

Reflections by the STEM teacher leader community on opportunities and gaps in STEM teacher leader development efforts


When establishing or strengthening a partnership between a teacher preparation program and districts/schools, consider whether and how to:

Build communities of practice across organizations

In establishing a partnership, an important consideration is developing an understanding of how preservice teachers, in-service teachers, and STEM teacher leaders across schools or districts can build communities of practice. Preservice programs and partner districts may be able to jointly support STEM-related professional groups, such as by facilitating discussions, providing professional development, and managing logistics. These communities of practice may:

  • Provide preservice teachers greater access to in-service mentor teachers
  • Provide extended opportunities for schools/districts to engage with preservice teachers
  • Leverage knowledge across organizations and individuals
  • Support pathways of teacher professionalism
  • Create structures to support a larger community of learners

For example, one charter school created its own in-house graduate school of education, initially to support novice teachers, but later to help develop a pipeline of well-prepared teachers for its schools. Another school partnered with a program to provide an environment for preservice teachers to experience project-based learning within a strong teaching community, later hiring many of them as STEM teachers, who then went on to become mentors for future preservice teachers.

Design a talent pipeline into STEM teaching and leadership positions

Partnerships between districts/schools and teacher preparation programs can focus on meeting the growing demand to filling vacant STEM teaching positions.

Teacher preparation programs often establish MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with districts and schools on sharing data and human resources information. For instance, districts can benefit from knowing how many teachers in each discipline are expected to graduate from programs in any given year, and they may be able to bring promising STEM educators into their hiring pools at an early stage.

Earlier in the pipeline, partnerships can support a more predictable arrangement for student teacher placements or teacher hires, which in turn can support a more stable and continuous relationship between the teacher preparation program and district partners. These more consistent environments can allow teacher leaders to invest long-term in a school or district knowing that future leadership opportunities (e.g., mentorships) will be ongoing. In districts with high teacher turnover, district human resource offices and teacher preparation programs can help to build relationships to sustain the pipeline of STEM educators.

Coordinate coaching and professional development provided by each organization

Having a coordinated approach for coaching and professional development can support collective goals around improving STEM education and also reduce redundancy in services provided to novice STEM teachers.

Coaching. Preservice teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs are often assigned a coach or mentor. Schools or districts typically include formal and informal structures for coaching their teachers. At minimum, establishing shared knowledge of the coaching supports in place within each institution can strengthen the work of both. Taking it a step further, coordinated coaching/mentor structures can offer advantages including more consistent support as candidates move from preservice teaching into their first teaching positions; complimentary supports as teachers become increasingly experienced and assume different roles as they progress; aligned feedback to teachers; access to different resources or expertise for both preservice and in-service teachers; and more efficient use of resources and time. A district/school and a teacher preparation program may even consider using a shared coach to meet the requirements of both organizations.

Professional development. Coordinating professional development efforts of districts and schools with those of teacher preparation programs can allow each institution to take advantage of the expertise or resources of both institutions, while also avoiding redundant use of resources. In addition, the STEM focus of these teacher preparation programs and their consequent STEM connections and resources ca n facilitate professional development that more explicitly targets the needs of STEM teachers in the schools and districts.

Determine what data and feedback can be shared

Partnerships can benefit when the partners have clarity (and any necessary formal agreements, consistent with relevant privacy laws) about access to the data systems of each institution. Data sharing can strengthen the feedback loop for improvement in both institutions when used thoughtfully, purposefully, and securely. Data can illuminate whether projected STEM teacher graduates will meet the school or district’s projected STEM teacher needs. If there are critical gaps by content area or age level, districts and preparation programs can problem-solve in advance to prevent unfilled positions. In addition, data on the impact of STEM teacher candidates can be useful for program improvement and data on STEM educator satisfaction in their teaching placement can inform onboarding practices. The U.S. Department of Education has produced a data-sharing toolkit for communities.

Districts/schools and teacher preparations programs generally have established means of independently fielding feedback from teachers and leaders. Streamlining and sharing this feedback can promote collaboration, mutual improvement, and efficiency.

Determine what resources can be shared

Both districts/schools and teacher preparation programs have access to diverse resources including but not limited to science labs, libraries, technology, corporate partnerships, in-classroom materials, curriculum, and teacher-created materials. In establishing a partnership, a possible consideration is how to leverage the resources of both entities to benefit all participants.

Explore joint marketing strategies

A consideration of a partnership between districts/schools and a teacher preparation program can be focused on building external name recognition for the program and a cohesive identity of STEM teacher leaders within a specific program. One possible avenue for increasing the “brand” of the program is by giving the program either a unique name or leveraging the existing brand of the two entities. As an example, one preservice program and charter school network built a partnership for developing STEM teacher leaders through a residency program. In creating the program, the two entities share a website with information on the program and leverage the strong brand of both in the program name.