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What are the benefits for teacher candidates in being exposed 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


Benefits to preservice teachers engaging in STEM teacher leader concepts and activities during their preparation can include:

Increased capacity to plan and pursue a career pathway

Preservice STEM teachers who are exposed to leadership examples and concepts may be more likely to plan a realistic and aspirational career trajectory. They will be more informed about the possibilities for their own roles within and outside the classroom, working with both students and adults to improve STEM education. They will be able to clarify professional goals and think past their first year of professional service. Certainly, they may be singularly focused on being successful as a new classroom teacher in the beginning, but that focus will already be contextualized as part of a bigger professional arc. Having goals and a plan for their education career may encourage them to persist on the path when challenges arise.

Orientation to continual professional learning and refinement

Being a successful STEM educator and leader is a never-ending process of improvement. New teachers must continually seek out opportunities for professional learning as they develop their practice. Exposing teacher candidates to leadership opportunities can help direct this professional learning by providing opportunities for mentorship and research within STEM organizations. Several organizations provide math and science teachers with opportunities to dialogue with other master teachers, lead professional learning sessions, and present at regional and national conferences. This focus on professional and intellectual growth can help sustain teachers in their teaching career.

Increased compensation and earning potential

Teacher leadership roles sometimes come with additional compensation that can serve as incentives for master teachers to further develop their careers and stay in education. For example, one program provided ample stipends to master teachers and exposure to a variety of leadership opportunities. Some states offer financial incentives for National Board Certification, and some have stipended fellowship programs, such as the Kenan Fellowship in North Carolina.

Exposure to professional development opportunities within and outside the K-12 system

STEM teacher leaders are typically involved in activities related to professional development—as a provider, participant, and recipient. As teacher candidates learn about STEM teacher leadership, they see the broad range of opportunities in which they can develop as professionals. They become aware of the job-embedded and collaborative development that STEM teacher leaders help to facilitate in schools (e.g., coaching, modelling, facilitating communities of practice, in-service training). They also will learn about the development experiences STEM teacher leaders had themselves as they progressed through their career pathways (e.g., discipline-specific learning, development of coaching skills, master’s programs, mentoring roles). Lastly, they may learn about the types of job-embedded learning that STEM teacher leaders regularly engage in themselves as part of their professional practice (e.g., conferences, participation on planning committees, policy work, or training on new education technologies or methods).

STEM teacher candidates can also be exposed to professional development opportunities outside of K-12 in which that they may want to engage during their career. For instance, one program immersed aspiring K-12 STEM teachers into cutting-edge research with the goal of developing a deep understanding of scientific research as well as inquiry-based teaching strategies. This exposure provided candidates with a lens into development opportunities that exist outside of K-12 schools.

Development of a diverse professional network of educators and leaders

Teachers can build diverse networks of educators and educational leaders to whom they can turn for ideas and resources. Teacher candidates can benefit from the opportunity to begin to build this STEM network early in their career. Teacher preparation programs can help seed these networks through alumni groups and mentors associated with the program, and they can provide information about formal STEM organizations and networks (e.g., STEM teacher associations, STEM advocacy groups, STEM education thought leaders and social media). This exposure will allow candidates to begin developing relationships with others who share their interest in developing as STEM teachers and leaders. It will also bring them into contact with STEM teacher leaders who can serve as models or provide advice and inspiration. Professional networks, whether formal or informal, can also expose candidates and new teachers to opportunities where they can take on new responsibilities as a STEM leader. Building and maintaining a professional network is critical for aspiring teacher leaders.