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What are the benefits of having elementary STEM teacher leaders?

Building STEM Teacher Leadership

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


STEM teacher leaders can work within their classrooms, schools, districts, communities, and state legislatures to support STEM education for all elementary students. Elementary STEM teacher leaders enrich education by:

Building a culture and vision of STEM instruction within their schools, at the district level, in the community, and with the state legislature

Elementary teacher leaders can work at each level of the system to build a culture and vision of STEM education. Because STEM subjects—other than mathematics—are rarely emphasized at the elementary level, building a STEM culture is critical to expanding elementary STEM instruction. The work at each level varies in scope:

  • Working in collaboration with school building leaders and fellow teachers, STEM teacher leaders can assess needs, plan, and build support for STEM instruction as a school-wide priority
  • In conjunction with district staff, STEM teacher leaders can work on curriculum development and mapping, district strategic plans, and system-level issues to build a district-wide culture and vision of STEM instruction
  • With district staff and school building leaders, STEM teacher leaders can help teachers and administrators interpret the literature on best practices and the research on teaching and learning of STEM disciplines to address school and district needs
  • Within the school and larger community, STEM teacher leaders can establish connections and facilitate events for stakeholders to share STEM ideas, permitting students, their families, and members of the community to learn more about STEM disciplines
  • At the state legislative level, STEM teacher leaders can advocate for policies and practices that promote STEM education

One district-based STEM professional learning academy prepared STEM teacher leaders to promote STEM instruction while developing their leadership skills. Participants learned how to spread STEM culture and ideas about STEM education, as well as effective strategies for changing their colleagues’ perceptions and implementing change. As part of the program, participants also developed a strategic plan with their school teams that allowed them to hone their own STEM vision, goals related to that vision, and action steps to achieve those goals. This strategic planning can help sustain a high-quality STEM instruction because participants can follow through with a clear vision, priorities, and steps to take even after the program ends.

STEM teacher leaders in a different program worked in cross-disciplinary teams and received professional development to engage in dialogue with other teachers. Additionally, by conducting a school-wide assessment, they collected evidence on eight different dimensions related to science teaching and developed staff consensus on a school-wide action plan for delivering science instruction.

Providing professional learning opportunities

Through professional development offerings, STEM teacher leaders can build teachers’ STEM content knowledge, augment teachers’ repertoire of pedagogical strategies appropriate to STEM subjects, enhance teachers’ technological skills, and build a culture of STEM education at the school.

Teacher leaders in one district served as technology/personalized learning coaches who helped guide their colleagues in effective STEM instruction. The teacher leaders co-planned, co-taught, and modelled lessons to develop their peers’ content knowledge, technology-integration skills, and student-centered lesson planning. Job-embedded professional development was provided by a full-time coach who worked at the school, had expertise using STEM tools, and could provide daily support for teachers. Some experienced teacher leaders also provided training at summer institutes to orient new schools to the program.

Enabling the use of STEM instructional materials

Pulling from outside resources, STEM teacher leaders can adapt materials into lesson plans and resources to use in STEM-focused classes or when working with students in STEM activities. STEM teacher leaders can work at the district level to design STEM curriculum, integrating content standards to ensure that STEM curricular materials build grade-appropriate mathematics and science content knowledge.

For instance, one initiative had STEM teacher leaders design district-level curriculum. Specialists across the subjects worked together to integrate across disciplines and align content across grade levels. Teacher leaders supported the curriculum implementation at the school level through professional development for peers and working with teachers on co-planning, co-teaching, and modeling lessons. In this way, teacher leaders helped other teachers integrate technology in their instruction, built teachers’ content knowledge, and facilitated hands-on instruction by helping with logistics.

Facilitating external partnerships

STEM teacher leaders can work in partnership with higher education institutions, STEM-rich institutions,3 and community-based organizations to bring STEM tools and content to school staff. Partner institutions and organizations can also provide field trips and other out-of-school STEM experiences for students.

For example, STEM teacher leaders in K-8 schools, with support from a science-rich institution, worked with a variety of private foundations and higher education institutions to develop an after-school science curriculum and provide teachers with in-service professional development.

Another program partnered with NASA on infusing STEM across the curriculum, encouraged participating elementary schools to participate in the state math Olympiad, and brought college students into elementary classrooms to work with students.


3Examples of STEM-rich institutions include museums, libraries, aquaria, zoos, science-centers, and national labs.