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How are high-quality STEM teacher leader networks created?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


Creating a STEM teacher leader network purposefully and thoughtfully is crucial to the network’s longer term sustainability and success. Networks begin with catalysts—individual or groups initiating the relationships and partnerships to form the foundation for a new network. Network creators can consider promising practices in developing membership and engaging participants in network activities.

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Catalysts are those who encourage and/or engage in efforts to organize the network as a functioning unit.

Educators at all levels within the K-12 system as well as stakeholders in organizations working with educators can serve as catalysts to spark the creation of a STEM teacher leader network. Establishing a network is not the responsibility of only those with formal authority or responsibility in leading an organization. Teachers and teacher leaders, as well as administrators, professors, and leaders of nonprofit organizations can establish a new network. For example:

  • Teachers, who often seek out support and ways to connect with one another, can form networks organically. Among many diverse reasons, teachers may be motivated to connect with others to share specific instructional strategies, find curricular resources, reduce isolation, or understand changes in standards and assessments, etc. With organic networks, members tend to develop affinity and interests together over time. These networks can remain relevant and sustainable by evolving to reflect teachers’ changing needs—over time—for information, advice, and access to resources.
  • Administrators can encourage or request that staff members form communities with a specific purpose in mind. Often these communities focus on specific reform efforts, e.g., sharing project- and problem-based learning techniques, integrating engineering design into science, writing curricular units that integrate 21st-century skills, etc. Such communities can be located within a school building or district, focusing on local issues; they may include experts outside of the school or district, depending on the purpose of the network.
  • Education organizations, nonprofits, or university-based professors engaged in research or school reform can forge a network with STEM educators to collaborate on reform implementation. Reform networks typically bring together schools participating in similar reform strategies. They provide opportunities for schools to showcase their progress and for educators to learn from others engaged in common reform efforts, e.g., instructional coaches working with teacher teams to develop and use project-based lessons that integrate content across the STEM areas.
  • Events such as conferences, symposia, or convenings can catalyze STEM teacher leader networks by bringing together participants with complementary perspectives or goals and stimulating initial sharing that then sparks the formation of a new network.
  • Partner organizations or individuals that have STEM-related content expertise and access to technology can be integral to catalysts developing new networks by providing the “draw,” such as offering opportunities for student participation in global research. Potential partners include:
    • Federal laboratories conducting research on various topics such as marine life and renewable energy
    • Local pharmacies
    • Agricultural agencies
    • State agencies such as the Division of Wildlife

Promising practices to address key challenges

Network creators can consider the following expectations and practices as they develop STEM teacher leader networks:

  • Have realistic expectations from the outset regarding how long it will take to get the network off of the ground; first efforts may not be successful due to many factors and obstacles can be learning opportunities
  • Recruit core members who will remain engaged
  • Recruit stakeholders and members with a range of experiences and expertise, as diversity provides different lenses for a more robust network
  • Establish a clear purpose, which is critical to sustainability; purpose of the network and members’ commitment to that purpose strengthens the value of the network itself for its members
  • Ensure a safe environment for all network members to collaborate, create connections with one another, and contribute at the level best suited to their individual needs
  • Prioritize honest and open communication; teachers are most often the experts in STEM teacher leader networks, supporting one another and building community