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What steps could guide an administrator who is interested in implementing a STEM teacher leadership program?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


Below is set of steps for school and district administrators who are interested in implementing a STEM teacher leadership program. The following steps are arranged sequentially, though in practice, these activities may not follow a strict linear order and may overlap. Regardless, expect implementation to be an iterative process of continuous improvement based on emerging information. Consider these steps:

  1. Assess STEM-related needs
  2. Establish vision for STEM education and teacher leadership
  3. Examine successful STEM education programming
  4. Design the model of STEM teacher leadership
  5. Plan for sustainability
  6. Define and staff the STEM teacher leader position
  7. Support the STEM teacher leader

A guide for an administrator interested in implementing STEM teacher leadership program

Step 1. Assess STEM-related needs

Carry out a needs assessment to evaluate the degree to which the current state of STEM in the school or district corresponds to the stated vision (see What might administrators consider when assessing need and feasibility for STEM teacher leadership for their schools?). Conduct inventories and surveys to assess current resources and expertise including instructional, fiscal, and facility needs. Identify assets and barriers that have the potential to enable or hamper progress. Assess whether and how a STEM teacher leader would add value, while giving consideration to existing roles and school and/or district culture.

Step 2. Establish a vision for STEM education and teacher leadership

Clarify and build consensus around the district or school’s vision for STEM education and the role the STEM teacher leader plays (see What might administrators consider when assessing need and feasibility for STEM teacher leadership for their schools?). Include the vision for STEM teachers and supports that can develop teacher into STEM leaders. Vision-setting can be accomplished through a collaborative process that solicits input from faculty, students, parents, and other key stakeholders such as community partners and school administration. As one education leader said, “Transparency and providing the why behind STEM teacher leadership is essential to its success.”

Step 3. Examine successful STEM education programming

Learn about and explore successful STEM education models and programs, so that STEM teacher leadership can be designed purposefully. This process can include interviews and/or focus group discussions with schools/districts that have demonstrated success (see What might administrators consider when initiating a new effort in STEM teacher leadership?). Talk with administrators and teachers who have experience with implementing these models. Several states have developed fairly extensive guides that identify attributes of STEM schools. It may be useful to examine these tools and consider ways that STEM teacher leadership could help a school reach important goals.

Examples of resources that propose attributes of successful STEM education

Note that these resources are offered as examples to advance administrators’ thinking; however they are not endorsed by the authors as having proven effectiveness and reflect just a handful of such resources.

Texas has developed a set of resources under the banner T-STEM Blueprint, including a STEM program design rubric, guide to key policies related to STEM education, and examples of benchmarks.

South Carolina has developed an implementation continuum for STEM and also for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).

North Carolina has identified a set of STEM attributes for grades K-12 and rubrics for evaluating how a school is progressing along a continuum from Early, to Developing, to Prepared, to Model:

  • High School: NC STEM Attribute Implementation Rubric (pdf, 563kb);
  • Middle School: NC STEM Attribute Implementation Rubric (pdf, 514kb);
  • Elementary School: NC STEM Attribute Implementation Rubric (pdf, 514kb).

North Carolina schools that have achieved the STEM School of Distinction designation, as defined by these rubrics, may offer examples of school-level STEM vision and implementation.

Step 4. Design the model of STEM teacher leadership

A STEM teacher leadership program can be designed to fit with the school culture and STEM vision and to address the identified needs. The unique qualities and conditions that exist locally—such as resources for staffing, instruction, and professional development—are also important considerations (see What district and school conditions can strengthen implementation of STEM teacher leadership?). It may be necessary to involve additional stakeholders from the community, including nonprofit leaders, workforce boards, industry representatives, parents, postsecondary educators, STEM-rich institutions, and others.

A case for implementation can be developed along with the design so that those in the larger school/district community, as well as potential funders, can clearly see the significance of, and rationale for, the initiative. While teacher leadership is not a new idea, it has not been implemented to the extent that it is widely understood, especially by those outside of education. Make clear that the value of the STEM teacher leadership program in achieving the school’s STEM vision and goals will contribute to improved STEM experiences for students.

In the design process, pay attention to organizational structure and scheduling. If collaboration or job differentiation are new to a school, existing structures may not easily facilitate new ways of operating. Time, or the lack of it, is often identified as the greatest barrier to collaboration among teachers and also to their efforts to connect with community stakeholders and industry partners.

Step 5. Plan for sustainability

“We must find partners that will support our vision…not only monetarily but also as thought partners in building out a strategy to support the schools…. We use our teachers as ambassadors to tell the story and students to show the impact” District administrator

Plan for sustainability prior to launching the STEM teacher leader effort, even if that plan will need revision in the future. Sustainability is too often considered after a new initiative has been launched and has demonstrated its value, often when new initiatives arise from grant funding. Although the expectation is often that successful grant initiatives will find funding to continue, it creates financial uncertainty for the initiative, and thus uncertainty for the STEM teacher leaders and programs they implement. Planning for sustainability carries a message to the school or district regarding the value of the initiative. If STEM teacher leaders are initially funded through grants, a plan for transitioning support of the positions to a more secure recurring source will contribute to their sustainability and communicate that this initiative is a priority. A plan for sustainability can also include a focus on assessing which elements work best and should be sustained (see What might administrators consider when evaluating and sustaining a STEM teacher leader program?).

Step 6. Define and staff the STEM teacher leader position

Developing a job description that clearly articulates the essential competences, responsibilities, reporting lines, and method of evaluation can be vital to the initial success of the STEM teacher leader program. Include stakeholders in the development and eventual dissemination of this information to minimize the potential for conflict and confusion. Setting initial goals and expectations for the position, and having all stakeholders understand them, may help ensure the success of the initiative and provide support for the person filling the position (see What might administrators consider when initiating a new effort in STEM teacher leadership? and What district and school conditions can strengthen implementation of STEM teacher leadership?).

Teacher leader positions are often filled through internal searches and can provide ways to advance high-performing teachers without placing them in administrative roles (i.e., career ladders). However, it is important to evaluate the human capital available and assess the potential to hire from within the school or district. Developing a rich applicant pool may require opening the position to external as well as internal candidates.

Step 7. Support the STEM teacher leader

Support for new STEM teacher leaders will be important at several levels, beginning with appropriate professional development. Because these positions are new, those who fill them may have gaps that can be strengthened through professional development that is aligned with their needs. The knowledge and skills that new STEM teacher leaders frequently identify as being areas of requiring support include:

  • Leadership: Leading peers, as well as “leading up” (administrators/supervisors)
  • Teaching Adult Learners: Providing professional development for other educators, coaching colleagues, co-teaching, and mentoring early career teachers
  • Innovative Approaches to STEM Instruction: Project- and problem-based instruction, digital learning, and flipped classrooms
  • Community Engagement / Industry Partnership: Engaging and developing partnerships with STEM professionals, local industries, higher education, and others
  • Advocacy: Effectively communicating issues and needs to inform STEM education policy, including in local schools and districts
  • Resource Development: Grant writing, affiliating with networks/organizations that provide resources for STEM education, etc.