In the final session of the convocation—and periodically at earlier points in the meeting—participants were invited to offer their general reflections on the issues raised by the presenters. Those comments are summarized in this last chapter of the report to review some of the messages expressed by many participants at the convocation.
Many of the commenters called attention to the importance of administrators in fostering and enabling STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teacher leadership. For example, Cindy Hasselbring, Maryland State Department of Education, pointed out that administrators and district leaders play a key role in identifying teacher leaders, inculcating the skills of these teachers, and giving them a voice.
At the same time, teachers need to help administrators understand that they know what students need and that they need the flexibility to connect with students, said Toby Horn, Carnegie Institution for Science. As Camsie McAdams, U.S. Department of Education, noted, the leadership in a school or district may not have STEM expertise, yet they are making decisions that directly affect STEM education. STEM teacher leaders can counterbalance this lack of expertise. “We need to empower ourselves,” she said.
Sophia Gershman, Watchung Hills Regional High School, broadened the discussion by observing that empowering teachers is different than
fostering teacher leaders. She also emphasized the importance of including parents in the conversation. “We talked about educating local boards of education and administrators, but we also have to involve parents,” she stated.
Similarly, other participants pointed to a wide variety of assets that teachers can use in changing policies that affect teacher leadership. Many organizations exist that are focused on policy, said Steve Robinson, Democracy Prep Charter High School, such as the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or the new organization Teach Plus, which trains teachers to think about a career path involving policy making.1 “They know how to do this,” said Robinson. “We should think about what those assets are.” Another valuable resource, said McAdams, is the Teach to Lead organization, which seeks to catalyze fundamental changes in the culture of schools and teaching so that teachers play a more central role in transforming teaching and learning and in the development of policies that affect their work.2
Participants also focused on the contributions that professional development can make toward creating a robust corps of STEM teacher leaders. As Mike Town, Tesla/STEM High School, said, many teachers who come from science backgrounds had opportunities to remain in or return to science but stayed in education because they had a great professional development experience. In that regard, high-quality professional development is a way to keep good teachers in education and prepare them for leadership positions.
“Good professional development changes a teacher as a person,” said Gershman. “What we do to change our skill set immediately affects the classroom…. We change ourselves, we change our classroom, we change our students.”
Sansom pointed to the importance of teacher preparation as a time for fostering teacher leaders. By creating reflective practitioners, teacher preparation programs can build the skills for leadership and communication with peers and administrators at a school. “There are specific skills that we can learn and that we don’t all possess,” she said. As another opportunity, Einstein fellow Sheryl Sotelo mentioned the importance of bringing elementary teachers and early childhood educators up to speed on STEM education.
Many levels and kinds of resources need to line up for professional development to work well, said Dorothy Fleisher, W.M. Keck Foundation. For example, she suggested that professional societies and foundations could think about how to involve administrators in professional development, since they are often the ones making decisions regarding the use of new knowledge in their schools.
Finally, many participants pointed to the benefits that STEM teacher leaders can bring to teachers, students, and the education system in general. As Town said, “The more we are influencing decision makers, the better the profession can be.”
Town drew a distinction between mentor teachers who work with other teachers and master teachers who work on policy. One possible option would be to identify 435 policy master teachers—one for every congressional district—and fund them from the federal level, with a matching requirement from the state level. These master teachers could work in a congressional office, in a state office, on a legislative committee, on a standing committee for a governor, for industry, for one of the state organizations that are part of the growing STEMx network,3 or in some other capacity. The result would be statewide and national networks of policy experts in STEM education issues that could have an influence on all levels of the education system. “It’s not a perfect solution, but I’m putting it out there as a way of thinking about potential mechanisms that can get political buy-in,” Town said.
Robinson referred to the power of collective action among STEM teachers. Thousands of STEM teachers have been recognized at the state and national levels for their accomplishments, yet they have not been organized into a cohesive group, which is “an opportunity that’s been missed,” he said.
For collective action to be effective, said Heidi Schweingruber, National Research Council, teacher leaders need to have objectives and measurable ways of achieving those objectives. “What collective action could a national network most effectively be involved in? It might be responding to policy issues, it might be trying to set an agenda for policy. Describing those might galvanize more people to get involved because they might see that here is a way that I can make a difference.”
Richard Duschl, National Science Foundation, emphasized the importance of better coordination among the federal agencies that nurture and support teacher leaders. Agencies pursue these activities in different ways
and often in isolation. “It’s a quality control issue I’m alluding to, and the best people to help us with that quality control are the fellows themselves,” he said. For example, current fellows can provide suggestions for future fellows, not only within but also across programs.
Nancy Arroyo, Riverside High School, suggested taking on a specific problem that is general enough for everyone to buy into and specific enough to be solvable. “If we can do that, even if it takes five years, the time and money would be well spent,” she said. Robinson similarly noted that getting teachers involved in policy is too large to be a discrete and doable task. He asked, “What is the small discrete task that could come out of the convocation as a way of advancing its core objective?”
Juliana Jones, Longfellow Middle School, reminded the group that this is a unique time in education with the advent of the Common Core State Standards and other changes in education research and practice. Effective leadership could help create changes that touch every classroom in America. The result, agreed teacher Janet English, would be to ensure that the needs of students remain at the center of what is done in the classroom and in policy making. Teachers “have to be the voice of what helps optimize learning for each and every child,” she said.