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Why would teacher preparation programs want to expose teacher candidates to STEM teacher leader concepts and opportunities?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


Teacher preparation program may wonder why they should promote STEM teacher leadership in their programs. What are the potential benefits to the program and its preservice teachers?

Consider these potential benefits to having candidates learn about STEM teacher leadership:

Higher quality STEM candidates entering a program yields higher quality STEM teachers

Offering preservice candidates opportunities to develop as STEM leaders can attract higher quality candidates into STEM teacher preparation programs and, consequently, improve the quality of program graduates.

One teacher preparation program placed candidates into desirable lab research positions during summer months, an opportunity that attracted high-quality STEM majors into education programs. A second program recruited students pursuing STEM majors—offering them opportunities to teach in a range of classrooms, mentored by mentor teachers, from early in their undergraduate careers. Students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in their STEM field and a teaching certificate.

By putting resources into recruiting high-quality candidates, these programs intended to improve the quality of their graduates. The program that offered candidates research opportunities believed that their candidates were better able to integrate research and research methods into their teaching practices. Further, the networks that candidates built during the program enabled teachers to stay connected to active researchers and to give their students a better understanding of the range of STEM career options. Programs reported that improving the quality of graduates served not only candidates’ students but also the preparation program—for example, making recruitment easier and strengthening relationships with districts and schools.

STEM teacher candidates are interested in leadership roles

One STEM teacher leader explained that when new interns start in her classroom, she asks them about their career goals. She noted that taking on leadership roles is consistently a major theme in their answers.

A faculty member at a university-based preparation program reported that he explicitly addresses STEM candidates’ interest in pursuing leadership roles in his student teaching seminars—challenging his students to chart leadership goals, e.g., giving a presentation to the department within three years, mentoring new teachers at five years. Asking his students to make their leadership trajectory explicit in a group setting also offers opportunities for candidates to learn from one another about the myriad leadership roles they can take on once they begin teaching. One of his former students reported that this seemingly simple activity helped propel her into leadership roles in her school and district.

Candidates graduate with a stronger sense of professional identity as STEM teachers

Several programs explained that they explicitly focus on building candidates” professional identity as STEM teachers. Two programs emphasized the importance of exposing STEM candidates to research institutions and giving them research opportunities during their preparation—with the idea that it is critical to connect candidates to researchers and research experiences to reinforce candidates’ understanding of themselves as working in a STEM profession. Another program, focused primarily on early career teachers, gave new teachers opportunities to develop deep intellectual connection to their content—to “geek out” as professionals.

Across many of these programs, regardless of specific approach, candidates and new teachers work in cohorts to build a sense of belonging to a STEM-focused professional group. Programs using the cohort approach also believed that the cohorts pushed candidates to see themselves as part of the broader STEM professional community.

Alumni who take on leadership roles serve as resources for the preparation program

Building leadership knowledge and opportunities into preservice experiences can strengthen the relationship between them and their alumni. As alumni grow into leadership roles, they serve as resources for the programs—for instance, as guest speakers in program courses, supervisors for the programs’ student teachers, advocates for new graduates when they apply for positions, and in-the-field advisors for faculty research.

STEM teacher leaders are more likely to stay in the profession

Staff from programs that create leadership opportunities for candidates and early career STEM teachers suggested that their candidates” persistence in the classroom—one program reported that 80 percent of their graduates persisted as classroom teachers after 5 years—was attributable to the leadership experiences they offered candidates. Not only does this program see high rates of retention of STEM teachers, but they are helping to “convert” traditional STEM undergraduate majors into the teaching profession.

Programs asserted that the leadership trajectories that their candidates see for themselves—and the connections they make to program alumni, STEM researchers, and mentor teachers during the programs—support candidates through their preparation and early years of teaching.