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What are potential roles of a STEM teacher leader?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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

STEM teacher leadership roles can vary but here are some common dimensions:

  • Career stage: Where does the role fit on a teacher’s career development continuum?
  • Formality: To what degree is the role a formal or informal one?
  • Sphere of influence: In what organizational sphere(s) is the role located and intended to influence (e.g., schools, districts, states, academia, policy advocate organizations, professional development organizations)?
  • Purpose: What are the purposes and responsibilities of the role?

Career stage. Opportunities for engaging in STEM teacher leadership arise at every stage of a teacher’s career: preservice, novice, veteran, and master teacher. Responsibilities can vary based on teacher’s interests, experience, and capacities, all of which may be influenced by the teacher’s career stage. Career stage can also affect how colleagues regard and respond to the teacher leader, as well as the relationships and networks they find useful in their work.

Formality. Teacher leadership can be structured in informal or formal ways. Teachers can lead informally—from their classroom, at their own initiative, without any school or district designation—by collaborating and mobilizing other teachers to improve STEM education. Alternatively, STEM teacher leaders may have formal job descriptions as part of a school, district, or educational organization, or accept tasks asked of them by administrators.

Sphere(s) of influence and purpose. STEM teacher leaders operate in different types of organizations (e.g., school, district, state) and at different levels. Some straddle organizations, playing a role in academia, nonprofits, think tanks, professional development organizations, associations, and so on, while also remaining involved in classroom instruction.

Over the past few years, organizations like the Center for Teaching Quality ( have promoted hybrid teacher leadership, where highly skilled teachers spend some time with their students and some time coaching peers in content and pedagogy, in their home district or in nearby schools/districts. Hybrid teacher leadership roles help teacher leaders stay current in their teaching practice and engaged in schools’ core work. Teacher leaders and teachers have expressed an interest in formal positions that allow them to have an impact as a classroom teacher while also expanding their leadership capacity and sphere of influence.

In another approach to teacher leadership, teachers leave the classroom to serve full-time as school-level instructional coaches or district-level resources. Traditional formal roles such as department chair or committee chair also continue to be avenues for teacher leadership.

Since formal and informal leadership roles co-exist, it makes sense to envision teacher leadership roles that vary in their focus and extent of reach. For instance, teacher roles include:

  • Coaching peers
  • Leading groups and teams at the school level
  • Working at the district level
  • Contributing to school- or district-level decisionmaking
  • Working at the district or state level to professionalize teaching
  • Working beyond the school to garner resources for students’ and educators’ learning

Numerous frameworks for the roles and competencies of teacher leaders have been developed. The most prominent frameworks are not STEM-specific but they still offer insights for thinking about STEM teacher leadership. (For additional links to competency frameworks, see What knowledge, skills, and dispositions are required to be a STEM teacher leader?)

As STEM teachers advance in their careers, more STEM teacher leadership opportunities arise, particularly for those who develop expertise in working deeply within or across the STEM disciplines, both within and outside of their own classrooms.

Illustrations of STEM teacher roles. Below are brief illustrations of real STEM teacher leader roles that vary by career stage, degree of formality, sphere of influence, and purpose.

Example Role
Career Stage
Sphere of Influence
Preservice teacher organizes a student chapter of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and recruits members to attend their state conference.
Professional learning
Novice physics teacher, dissatisfied with low collaboration between the science and math departments, partners with an algebra teacher in the school to develop integrated STEM curriculum, observe each other teach, improve their practice, and share what they have learned with both departments.
Professional learning
Math teacher in large urban school blogs about social justice issues in STEM education and develops a national following. Veteran Informal National networks Advocacy
Science teacher serves as district STEM instructional coach, providing resources and working with classroom teachers through modeling and coaching. Veteran Formal District Instructional improvement
National Board Certified Teacher builds a statewide network of STEM teachers that formulates recommendations to policymakers. Master teacher Formal State Advocacy
District Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) has responsibilities that include facilitating strategic planning for the district’s STEM vision, advocating for the vision, and contributing to policy decisions. Master teacher Formal District Strategic planning