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What might administrators consider when implementing STEM teacher leadership?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


A well thought-out and targeted implementation strategy is crucial for carrying out a STEM teacher leadership plan. Administrators can consider the following as they implement a STEM teacher leader effort:

Developing leadership skills

Across many STEM teacher leader programs, administrators emphasized the quality of training that the teacher leaders received. While daily “nuts and bolts” training was a part of the training regimen, equal emphasis was given to development strategies that helped STEM teacher leaders link their instructional practices to the mission and STEM vision of the school or district.

Teacher leaders will likely need formal training in developing and supporting professional learning communities, coaching, and helping teachers reflect on their practice using a continuous improvement cycle. The development of STEM leadership capacities can also be promoted through intentional opportunities for them to learn on the job, such as through regular role-alike meetings of STEM teacher leaders, participation in school and district leadership teams, and authority to work with external organizations or networks.

STEM teacher leaders can also pursue leadership development within the STEM space, such as through STEM education associations, research and development activities with external organizations, and curriculum developers.

Broadening curriculum and instruction knowledge

Candidates for a STEM teacher leader position will often have content expertise in a particular discipline (e.g., math, science, technology), but are unlikely to be fluent in the learning standards for all disciplines and at all levels. It may be necessary to create time and professional development opportunities to help potential STEM teacher leaders develop a working knowledge of the other academic standards (e.g., language arts, fine arts) as well. By having a more global curricular perspective, STEM teacher leaders will be able to help classroom teachers see the connections that exist among the different disciplines, and assist them in developing authentic lessons that lead to a deeper understanding of the content.

STEM teacher leaders can also be involved in strategic thinking and implementation related to the broader instructional program of a school and district, not just STEM education. This role may require that administrators intentionally set expectations and structures for STEM teacher leader participation. For instance, the STEM teacher leader position could be a regular participant in improvement planning meeting or meetings with school/district leaders from other content areas for cross-curricular mapping.

Refining school and district culture

Administrators can tend to the culture of their organizations when implementing a STEM teacher leadership program. Teachers may not initially respond well to another teacher “coaching” them on best instructional practices. Principals can help to change this culture by modeling how STEM teacher leaders can improve instruction and support student learning. STEM teacher leader programs may fail when classroom teachers feel that they are constantly being evaluated by the teacher leader rather than supported in improving. For instance, a STEM teacher leader may work with teachers on lesson development rather than critiquing their lessons or telling them what to do. They can take a strengths-based approach to support, as opposed to one focused on deficits.

Administrators may want to consider the following practices as they implement and continuously improve their STEM teacher leader model:

  • Regularly promote a school culture that can optimize the STEM teacher leader role
  • Build a culture that breaks down walls between subject areas and between the school and outside organizations (including other districts, STEM networks, higher education institutions, and partners)
  • Assess implementation and fine tune the STEM teacher leader role so that it works within the realities of the individual school’s culture
  • Develop the individual STEM teacher leader to ensure a good fit within the school’s culture

Engaging community and advocacy

The benefits of having a STEM teacher leader may seem obvious to those in the school system, but community members may need more clarification on how this new position will impact students. Administrators can benefit from proactively communicating with stakeholders about STEM teacher leader work and outcomes. Regularly include school community members—including parents and business leaders, as well as district leaders and board members—in new school-level developments regarding local STEM education and the teacher leader role. For instance, administrators may want to engage stakeholders through newsletters, invitations to STEM-related events (e.g., STEM night, competitions, and student presentations), planning meetings, and partnership activities.

In some districts, administrators may want to have intentional strategies to demonstrate to key district decisionmakers the value added from STEM teacher leader positions. Data and examples of progress in students’ STEM learning and teachers’ STEM content knowledge and pedagogy will likely be helpful.

Developing partnerships and outreach

Successful STEM teacher leaders can support instructional improvement among teachers, but they can also improve STEM learning opportunities by forming partnerships with outside organizations, such as industry, higher education, informal education, and out-of-school-time programs. While it may be difficult to build these partnerships in the earliest days of implementation, administrators and their STEM teacher leaders may be able to gain traction with partners as implementation progresses. Outreach and partnership building can be an ongoing area of focus for schools, since STEM-related partnerships offer great promise for enhanced learning opportunities for students and teachers. STEM education advisory boards could further strengthen partner support of the STEM teacher leadership effort, collaboration with the educational program, and contributions of funding or in-kind resources.

In thinking about partnerships, consider the lessons and examples emerging on cross-sector “STEM learning ecosystems.” A STEM teacher leader can serve as the district or school liaison to partners in the STEM ecosystem. Additional information, including design principles and resources, can be found at the STEM Ecosystems website. Profiles of 15 STEM ecosystems are included in the Noyce Foundation-supported working paper How Cross-Sector Collaborations are Advancing STEM Learning (February 2014), which offers the following definition:

“A STEM learning ecosystem encompasses schools, community settings such as after-school and summer programs, science centers and museums, and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environ­ments that together constitute a rich array of learning opportunities for young people. A learning ecosystem harnesses the unique contributions of all these different settings in symbiosis to deliver STEM learning for all children.”

Cultivating sustainability

Administrators may want to regularly revisit their plan for sustainability. As mentioned in What might administrators consider when initiating a new effort in STEM teacher leadership?, administrators will need to estimate start-up and ongoing expenses associated with having STEM teacher leaders, as well as seek outside funding if internal funding is not available. A plan for financial sustainability can anticipate future challenges and opportunities, though this plan can be revised as conditions change.

When the stakeholders believe in the value of the STEM teacher leader, schools are better able to develop budgets and funding mechanisms to support STEM teacher leadership and other STEM programming. Communication with all stakeholders (including parents) is very important for maintaining support and when assessing the financial conditions for implementation of a STEM teacher leader program.

  • Strategic plans for STEM education (perhaps with definitions, goals, measurable benchmarks, activities, inputs, roles)
  • Strategic plans for STEM teacher leadership (perhaps with definitions, goals, measurable benchmarks, activities, inputs, roles)
  • Descriptions of the STEM teacher leader roles and responsibilities
  • Hiring criteria and processes for STEM teacher leaders
  • Professional development plans (for STEM teacher leaders, teachers, administrators)
  • STEM teacher leader meeting agendas
  • Data collected from teachers and other community members regarding implementation and needs related to the STEM teacher leader role
  • Student-level performance data, as well as student survey data on STEM interest and attitudes
  • Partnership agreements and assessments
  • Community outreach and engagement communications