Friday / July 19

10 Leadership Steps to a STEM-Based Learning Environment

STEM is not simply about the four subjects from which the acronym has arisen. It is about how an integration of these four subjects offers the basis for learning in the 21st century. A STEM system offers a design based upon how students learn and provides the opportunity to engage and motivate all students. Entry points can be found in and across classrooms, grade levels, and schools.

“STEM is an organizing principle upon which to build the interconnectedness of subjects”

1. Trust is the foundation required within any environment choosing to enter non mandates change. Leaders must be trustworthy and reinforce the development of trust throughout the system in order for a successful shift to begin and be sustained. Why? Because change requires that risks be taken and mistakes or missteps will happen. Fear constrains creativity.

2. Gather teachers, parents, local business, healthcare, and higher-ed potential partners to begin an investigative discussion. Consider the direction the district and schools. Explore the grade level(s) and/or departments which might lead the change. Be open to changing use of time within the days. Include those who are curious, supportive, questioning, and suspicious. Exclusion breeds opposition.

3. Identify and investigate those pockets within the system where problem-based, project based, investigative cross-disciplinary learning may be taking place already. Seeds planted already can be the prototypes.

4. Find resources to guide your process. East Syracuse Minoa Central School district in New York State, Granite School District in Utah, Goochland County Schools in Virginia are three examples of schools districts with plans for system wide shifts. The Stem Guide developed by the Arizona STEM Network can be used to create and evaluate steps along the way. STEM Regional Networks and STEM Hubs can be found in your states through a Google search.

5. Build understanding across the system, school, or levels and departments that STEM is “about the learning process of inquiry, imagination, questioning, problem solving, creativity, invention, and collaboration…STEM is an organizing principle upon which to build the interconnectedness of subjects” (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015). Social media outlets like Facebook, your district webpage, and Twitter are good vehicles for information sharing and for feedback. But face-to-face communication is essential. People will be disoriented when familiar boundaries dissolve. Be an accessible and supportive advocate.

6. Discover and visit schools that have begun or accomplished a STEM shift. There are many districts across the country where STEM based learning affords all students learning opportunities in which they find themselves engaged and successful and where talents of the teachers and the potential of local partnerships have been unleashed. Build a network with other STEM innovators.

7. Design a strategic plan from which the vision for 21st century learning can become reality. Let it drive resource generation and allocation.

8. Support development of teachers. This is a shift in how teaching and learning are accomplished and what the school structure looks like. It requires everyone be involved, letting go of past practice, learning together and courageously stepping into new and unfamiliar behavior. Don’t forget that parents also need to participate in some kind of development that allows them to be engaged and supportive of their children’s work on projects and in teams. Be the lead learner.

9. Develop partnerships with those in business, healthcare, and higher-ed. These:

  1. advance knowledge of teaching and learning
  2. allow for authentic learning experiences to develop organically within the community
  3. afford students the opportunity to work with and present to STEM professionals in the fields related to their study
  4. provide teachers real-world application sites and partners
  5. ignite support for schools and discover new resources

10. Be courageous. Leaders are not immune from fear. We, too, have security needs and an occasional cynical thought. It is the leader’s courage in the presence of his or her own vulnerability that generates leader credibility and inspires others to join an effort. When the adults can have compassion for one another while growing into a new way to working, then children benefit. Knowing what to do is important, courage makes it happen…and it is contagious.

Written by

Jill Berkowicz, Ed.D. has spent her 30-year career in education focusing on issues of equity and best practices in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and technology, as they affect the development of all learners in the K-12 system. In her leadership roles as a principal and director of curriculum, instruction, and technology, equal access to quality teaching was the foundation of her work. Presently, Jill is an adjunct professor at SUNY New Paltz in the Educational Leadership program. She provides ongoing professional development for teachers and principals. Her work is dedicated to developing schools’ capacity to improve the teaching and learning environment through technology, high-stakes portfolios, and rigorous learning experiences. She serves on the board of New York ASCD and as the Educational Consultant for their digital newsletter. Jill brings energy, passion for innovation and collaboration to all her work. Jill is co-author, with Ann Myers, of Leadership 360, a blog published by Education Week. Jill lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her partner Bob Santoro.

Ann Myers, Ed.D, is Professor Emerita at Sage Colleges where she was Founding Director of the Sage Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership and of the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Center of the Promotion of Mental Health and School Safety. Prior to her career in higher education, she was District Superintendent at Questar III BOCES, a regional educational organization in Upstate New York. She is a national facilitator affiliated with the Center for Courage and Renewal. She leads Circle of Trust® retreats, leadership development programs and strategic planning for school districts and nonprofit organizations. Ann was a consultant for the Metro Nashville Public Schools on the trust building project. She is the founding chair of New York State Association for Women in Administration and remains on the board for that organization. To all of this work, Ann brings a unique mix of intelligence, wisdom, and intuition. She brought us to understand the nature of an edge walker, called to innovation and exploration and to reflection and growth for herself and others. Ann is co-author with Jill Berkowicz, of Leadership 360, a blog published by Education Week. Ann lives between the Adirondacks in New York State and the gulf coast of Florida with her husband Ed Hallenbeck and her golden retriever.

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