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What support structures can help STEM teacher leaders do their job effectively?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


What support structures can help STEM teacher leaders do their job effectively? – Building STEM Teacher Leadership

Schools and districts provide time and resources for STEM teacher leaders to do their work. They also provide the cultural and political environments for STEM teacher leadership to flourish or struggle. Each STEM teacher leader operates within specific school and districts contexts that affect what they are asked and able to do. On a position-by-position basis, schools and districts can consider the contextual realities of STEM teacher leader work as they plan, support, and assess that work. Support structures include:

District support structures

District-level support is critical in elevating STEM as a priority for teaching and learning. Districts creating support structures for STEM teacher leadership will likely provide sufficient time, resources, and authority for STEM teacher leaders to take on new roles and responsibilities that enable more effective STEM instruction. For example, these commitments can help STEM teacher leaders monitor, evaluate, and adjust professional development to achieve results in teachers' STEM instruction and student learning. Such district-level support can build STEM expertise across schools and create opportunities for innovation and improvements in STEM instruction and activities.

School-level support structures

Schools can create the time, authority, and resources for STEM teacher leaders to play meaningful roles in improving STEM education. Without school-level support structures, STEM teacher leaders may encounter obstacles when tasked with responsibilities such as:

  • Identifying and providing professional development
  • Observing instruction and providing feedback
  • Supporting integration across disciplines
  • Building coherence in STEM-related academic and school goals
  • Developing partnerships that enhance STEM-related goals

Schools can prioritize resources and structures that will help them move toward their school-specific goals.

School-level structures that can support STEM teacher leadership

  • Regularly scheduled times for STEM teacher leaders to work with teacher teams
  • Time for STEM teacher leaders to work with individual teachers
  • Clear guidance and feedback on STEM teacher leader work
  • Opportunities for STEM teacher leaders to grow as STEM experts and leaders
  • Regularly scheduled time for STEM teacher leaders to meet as a community of practice
  • Inclusion of STEM teacher leaders on administrative teams and strategic decisions about educational programming, scheduling, professional development (in STEM and other areas)
  • Clear school vision and plan for STEM education, along with a school culture that supports the vision
  • Time, authority, and resources needed to hone the STEM education vision and plan
  • Clear and supportive communication to the school community about the STEM teacher leader role and value
  • Time and authority to develop and nurture external partnerships (e.g., industry, higher education, out-of-school-time programs, nonprofits, STEM networks)
  • Opportunities and authority for STEM teachers to take on leadership roles

A distributed school leadership model empowers administrators and teacher leaders to work together in improving STEM instruction. Given the authority, STEM teacher leaders can augment and support principals’ instructional supervision by adding subject area expertise and STEM instructional leadership. They can work side-by-side with administrators to improve the school support structures for teachers, while reinforcing the school’s STEM vision.

Consider addressing the following common contextual barriers to distributed leadership and STEM teacher leadership development:

  • Lack of a clear STEM teacher leader job description
  • Lack of resources or time for teachers to lead and work together
  • Fear of empowering teachers to lead and take over responsibilities
  • Lack of clear agreement on the indicators of strong classroom practice
  • Lack of a vision and understanding of STEM education and integration
  • Culture that prioritizes discipline-specific accountability or makes teachers hesitant to innovate and collaborate.

Snapshot: A suburban district's model for supporting STEM teacher leadership

In one school district, trained and certified STEM master teachers have release time (between 75-100% of their time) to observe and provide feedback to STEM teachers, field-test instructional strategies in classrooms, provide individual support to teachers, and lead weekly professional learning. STEM mentor teachers are released 3 to 4 hours each week to support these same activities. There is approximately one master teacher and two mentor teachers for every 12 to 16 teachers.

The STEM teacher leaders bring instructional strategies that address specific student data and needs to weekly teacher meetings. The strategies are field-tested with students in that school and indicate effectiveness prior to being introduced in weekly professional learning meetings. This process ensures that professional development time is relevant and directly useful to teachers, providing them with a strategy relevant to their students' needs that can be integrated into their classroom the following week. STEM teacher leaders follow up with individualized support in each teacher's classroom to ensure that the strategy is effective and to help the teacher make adjustments as necessary.

In this district's model, STEM teacher leaders receive salary augmentations for taking on leadership roles. Individual teachers can also earn additional compensation based on multiple measures of effectiveness, as well as for filling hard-to-staff STEM positions. This model also provides times for STEM master teachers to conduct outreach to business and community groups, develop or guide after-school STEM activities aligned with in-school activities, review curricular or assessment changes, and participate in weekly leadership team meetings with administrators.

By embedding a commitment to teacher leadership in schedules, budgets, and resources, the district has created a system of STEM teacher leadership that facilitates coherence in professional learning for teachers in different grade levels and subject areas, drives more rigorous and challenging content for students, builds connections to real-world STEM resources and activities, and provides relevant, timely, and detailed support for instructional improvement across the faculty.