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How can administrators and district leaders support elementary STEM educators?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


The following types of administrator supports are integral to a teacher leader’s success:

Shared commitment for STEM amongst teacher leaders and administration

School and district leadership that actively supports STEM instruction is evident in school and district strategic plans, articulating STEM leadership development strategies, alignment with school mission, and funding for STEM professional development and resources.

One district-wide initiative, for example, had teachers and their administrators work hand-in-hand to create a district professional development strategy that incorporated STEM but could be tailored to school-specific needs by the teacher leader working with that school. The overall district philosophy was centered on personalized learning, and the initiative was supported by the superintendent, school board, central administration, teachers, and key stakeholders.

Another district had a system where full-time coaches co-planned and co-taught with instructors across the district, and these coaches also sat on their schools’ leadership teams. This inclusion allowed the coaches to bring teachers’ perspectives to the administration and convey administration priorities to classroom teachers.

Teacher voice incorporated into STEM matters

Elementary STEM teacher leaders’ voices are vital—on school improvement teams, at teacher team meetings, at school and district decisionmaking levels. Practitioners can give an authentic view of daily school life, provide actionable feedback, and identify obstacles experienced by teachers and students that need to be addressed for STEM education to improve.

For example, one program developed a structure that allowed teachers to be involved in curriculum planning, district-level strategic planning, STEM advocacy, and community partnerships. During each professional development session, teachers engaged in content and pedagogy as learners, debriefed the experience as educators, and spent time planning how to incorporate what they learned into an upcoming lesson. In this way, teachers shared their ideas before teaching a lesson. Teachers, administrators, and community partners participated and contributed ideas about how their respective role could enhance STEM learning. Teacher leaders also participated in strategic planning from the beginning of the program, so they had an opportunity to share their beliefs, vision, and action steps in sustaining the STEM efforts in their areas.

Structures developed for professional learning

Programs that emphasize substantive professional learning ideally structure teacher leadership development that is teacher-led, research-based, and focused on making meaningful connections between practitioners, rather than one-day, standalone workshops.

For example, one program created learning communities where teacher leaders shared their lesson plans with their individual grade-level teams, then disseminated best practices throughout the school. Eventually, these ideas were shared at the district level. The teacher leaders’ ideas were honed through feedback from peers. After colleagues adopted the ideas, the revised lesson plans could be shared regionally and nationally through conference presentations.

In another initiative, teacher leaders provided professional development sessions for schools throughout the city on ways to integrate design thinking and maker tools into the classroom. Teachers received professional development over the summer or during the year through a series of seminars where they were able to build their technology skills. They learned how to use 3D printers, code, and explore with fabrication materials, and they were supplied with activities that enabled them to use these tools in their classrooms. Because these tools were relatively new, especially at the elementary level, having trained teachers who could help others at the school use and incorporate them into their instruction made it more likely that a high proportion of the staff teachers would find these tools usable and be willing to experiment with them in the classroom.