Three tips from STEM leaders

STEM teaching started as a way to unleash the potential of the next generation of innovators, but it’s grown into a whole-school practice that builds a student’s day around personalized, curiosity-driven learning.

Creating a school culture and administration that supports this philosophy requires school leaders to think and act in new ways. To help spread this approach to more schools, we organized an intense workshop series for principals and school leaders. The first session of this STEM Leaders Academy brought together educators and administrators from Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Here are three quick tips from the two-day academy:

1) When changing a school’s culture, words matter.

Fostering innovation often means changing a school’s culture, shared several of the educators. And while culture change is difficult, sometimes even small steps can help. One principal explained that she’s dropped traditional terms for students and teachers in favor of new terms to focus attention on self-directed instruction. In her school, students are “learners,” teachers are “learning coaches,” and even her own title changed from principal to “instructional leader.”

2) To uncover new ideas that work for your students, create short pilot programs – not grand plans.

In talking about how to adapt, another principal described how she embraced semester-long pilot programs that allowed teachers and administrators to try out new ideas in place of an annual grand strategic plan. Just as lab experiments help students learn how scientific systems work, these short pilots allow teachers and staff to figure out what strategies work best in their school.

3) Use your leadership to generate more leadership.

In a STEM school, students direct their learning. Many principals shared that their schools were most effective when they set the focus on student achievement and then helped teachers create and evaluate new classroom strategies around that focus. One principal
shared how teachers at her school figured out a way to help the students see how 21st century skills mattered in the workplace. In place of a speaker or a new lesson plan, teachers and staff created a structured shadowing day where the students organized their own career visits. Students could select any career they wanted and were responsible for completing a teacher-designed rubric detailing what they learned. And, while the students were out discovering how skills like teamwork mattered in a real-world profession, instructors at the school had time available to plan for the upcoming year.

For more information about the STEM Leaders Academy, contact Stephanie Johnson, OSLN STEM Relationship Manager at: [email protected]

About the STEM Leaders Academy

The STEM Leaders Academy is an interactive series of workshops designed to:

  • Develop leaders’ concept of leadership in a STEM school
  • Enhance leaders’ capacity to promote STEM instructional practices across the curriculum
  • Strengthen leaders’ capacity to improve staff effectiveness, learning and teaching in a STEM school
  • Prepare leaders with the procedures and policies of opening a STEM school

Presenters at the Academy included:

The STEM Leaders Academy was hosted by the OSLN Akron hub with support from Battelle, the Ohio STEM Learning Network and the University of Akron.

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