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What are some examples of how high-quality STEM teacher leader networks are organized under different contexts?
Building STEM Teacher Leadership
Reflections by the STEM teacher leader community on opportunities and gaps in STEM teacher leader development efforts
- Are you an Elementary Educator (K-5)?
- Are you a Secondary Educator (6-12)?
- Are you a School or District Administrator?
- Do you work for an Educator Support Organization?
- Do you work for a Teacher Preparation Program?
- Are you affiliated with a State Education Agency?
- Are you a National Funder or Policymaker?
- Small networks
- Networks serving rural or isolated professionals
- Virtual networks
- Networks of networks
|One small network held weekly meetings where they used clear agendas and time cues to facilitate. One member acted as time keeper. They collaboratively set the agenda during the week prior to the meeting, and began the meeting with a quick “whip around” on where everyone was in the curriculum. Using a structured protocol, they held monthly reflection meetings where they discussed their process and any challenges they had in collaboration.|
A small STEM teacher leader network can often be composed of homogeneous members holding similar positions, for example, a teacher-led group of high school physics teachers teaching the same course. Teachers in STEM-specific disciplines—particularly those teaching higher level subjects—can be quite isolated. They might be the only physics teacher in their schools, for example, and need access to opportunities for the content-specific collaboration that small networks can provide.
Smaller networks can also be more manageable. A small STEM teacher leader network does not necessarily require funding for a full-time facilitator to manage communication. Small networks can provide teacher leaders with the opportunity to develop their leadership skills by facilitating the network while remaining classroom teachers. Facilitators can have a wide range of duties, including managing communication, maintaining focus on teacher practice, and creating safe spaces for members to share their practice and concerns.
Small network facilitators can find protocols like hosting a Google hangout on a regular day each month or having a rubric for reviewing network activities useful. These practices can be helpful in building relationships, reviewing student work, and guiding other processes involved in running meetings.
|One national network serving STEM teachers prioritizes in-person observations for all teachers, including those in rural areas. This network sees face-to-face interaction as important in building relationships with isolated teachers.|
STEM teachers face unique challenges that can perpetuate and reinforce their feelings of isolation, which may result from being the only teacher in a content area, lack of community connection, as well as rural settings. Specialization in specific STEM disciplines (especially in higher level math, science, and computer science subjects) can lead to isolation due to the scarcity of these teachers, exacerbated by. disciplines under STEM are quite fragmented. Technology, for example, has multiple diverse disciplines including technical support and computer science, which require different teacher skills and instructional content knowledge.
- It is important for facilitators to have a deep understanding of the contexts in which their members work. Networks serving rural or isolated professionals can face unique challenges regarding communication, particularly in areas that do not have consistent internet access.
- Face-to-face communication can also be particularly meaningful for isolated teachers in helping them find a community and content-specific resources.
|One virtual network supporting math teachers provided resources and curricula, as well as formed online workshop sessions and problem-solving groups. Some members only participated in these online opportunities, while others chose to attend the annual conference in person. At the annual conference, teachers could attend professional development sessions around content-specific topics and collaborate with other math teachers.|
While some networks may be predominantly or exclusively virtual, many small networks and networks of networks also leverage technology to communicate and facilitate their work. Networks use technology in varying ways. Some networks meet face-to-face but use virtual platforms such as Google Drive or Dropbox to support communication and resource-sharing between meetings.
Network members can initially communicate online, find usefulness in meeting in-person, and then move toward a hybrid model. A hybrid model can offer participant choice—some members might choose to participate in events in-person while others join the discussion from a distance.
Other networks might begin in-person and then move to online, perhaps due to scheduling difficulties or geographical distance. The initial meetings in person can be useful for building relationships among members that are then more easily sustained online.
A network of networks brings together multiple networks. A network of networks has highly diverse membership and can include a variety of stakeholders and STEM organizations such as museums, foundations, school districts, universities, STEM professionals, and state mathematics and science teachers’ associations, etc. STEM educators need to access rapidly changing content and workforce needs, and networks of networks offer opportunities to connect with environments (jobs, industry partners, community resources) specific to STEM areas.
|One large network of networks held statewide meetings twice a year for 18 site facilitators. The site facilitators managed smaller networks that had their own facilitators. The statewide meetings provided the site facilitators with resources and opportunities to learn from each other to better support the smaller network facilitators.|
It is crucial for networks of networks to have strong, full-time, funded facilitators. Given the schedule of a typical full-time teacher, facilitating a network of networks would be impractical because of the range of tasks and workload that the role requires. Facilitators of networks of networks are responsible for managing communication on a large scale and managing relationships among individuals and smaller networks with varying experiences and skills.
Navigating the relationships among diverse individuals can be a challenge, and network facilitators may need opportunities to learn how to manage and foster those relationships.
High-quality facilitation and thoughtfully coordinated communication are necessary to sustain STEM teacher leader networks, especially a network of networks. Members need to feel that they can plan around the network and anticipate upcoming communication. Networks can provide guidance to their smaller chapters on how to acquire funding for full-time facilitators. Networks can find funding through national and state grants, private sector grants and fee- for- services to school districts.
Networks can encourage communication and relationship-building both within networks and across networks to establish a norm of resource-sharing and to offer opportunities for networks to learn from each other with special events to visits among groups.