Four Programs for STEM Teacher Leaders
A year or so before my student teaching, I was lucky enough to attend a major national education conference. Browsing through the exhibitor booths, I stumbled upon a table with no sweet treats or desirable swag, but, rather, a stack of simple white brochures. The tri-fold described a fellowship experience that would take the nation’s top K-12 STEM teachers to Washington, DC to serve as educational advisors in the federal government. I recall almost not taking the brochure home with me. To even be eligible, I needed five years of teaching experience and interest in policy—the former felt light-years away, and the latter seemed completely foreign. I must have eventually recycled that brochure, but it planted a seed of desire for my own growth as a teacher leader that remained with me for life.
Although formal opportunities for teacher leadership are often limited within schools, there are a number of long-standing programs for STEM teachers that can help teachers realize their potential to influence those beyond their own classroom. The National Research Council’s Exploring Opportunities for STEM Teacher Leadership provides ample examples of how STEM teachers can both grow and give back to the educational system through such programs.
Many experienced STEM teacher leaders thoughtfully consider the various programs that exist, and build them into their careers as mile markers. A review of the curricula vitae of nationally-recognized teachers by Hite and Milbourne (2018) suggests that most STEM teacher leaders develop through five stages of leadership. Teachers begin by building their instructional repertoire to enhance their (1) scholastic effectiveness, then tend to build outward from their classrooms to their school building as they develop (2) institutional knowledge and memory, contextualize their practice and that of others through (3) adaptability and flexibility, and later engage in (4) emergent and potentially (5) strategic leadership.
Below, I describe a few of these STEM-specific teacher leadership opportunities that can help teachers build a foundation for exemplary practice and begin to stretch themselves as leaders.
Building Scholastic Effectiveness: Programs for pre-service and novice teachers
- General eligibility requirements
- undergraduate STEM major planning to enroll in or enrolled in teacher education,
- second-career STEM professional earning a STEM teaching certificate, or
- in-service STEM teachers in high-needs districts
- * Candidates apply through their affiliation with a degree-granting institution that receives Noyce funds.
- Upcoming deadline: Contact your local STEM teacher education program(s). Institutions seeking funds for candidates must do so by August 31, 2021 .
The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarships, Stipends, and Fellowships aim to help support the STEM teaching pipeline through recruitment and retention of highly-qualified STEM teachers for high-needs school districts. Interested individuals must typically be enrolled at the institution or work in a school district proximal to a degree-granting institution that has already been awarded Noyce funds from the National Science Foundation. Depending upon the type of funds awarded to institutions, pre-service candidates can receive scholarships or stipends, and in-service teachers can apply to be a part of a fellowship. Fellowship experiences vary by institution and are designed with local needs in mind but usually include participation in professional development and a community of practice, with an emphasis on receiving and/or giving mentoring to novice teachers. Inquire with your local STEM teacher education programs to determine if they are Noyce fund recipients. If not, be sure to share the grant proposal solicitation with them so they can apply.
- General eligibility requirements: entering first or second year as a high school STEM teacher
- Upcoming deadline: January 18, 2021
The Knowles Teaching Fellows Program awards fellowships to approximately 35 novice teachers each year that provide approximately $150,000 across five years for professional development, community-building, and leadership opportunities. At the conclusion of the Teaching Fellowship, alumni can participate in the Senior Fellows Program, which supports their transition to being mentors to other new novice Teaching Fellows. This program is highly flexible, and supports teachers as they design their own pathway for development.
Reaching Toward Strategic Leadership: Programs for experienced teachers
- General eligibility requirements: at least 5 years of K-12 STEM teaching experience
- Upcoming deadline: October 26, 2020 (for grades K-6)
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the nation’s highest honor for K-12 STEM teachers. The award cycle typically alternates between grades K-6 and grades 7-12 teachers each year, selecting up to two awardees per U.S. state (including districts, territories, and U.S. government schools abroad). While not explicitly a program, the application for the award can become a part of a personal professional growth plan. The creation of the portfolio includes video recording of an effective STEM lesson, evidence of students’ learning, as well as extensive reflective essays from the applicant on their teaching practice, students’ learning, and their leadership engagement. The award consists of a $10,000 cash prize and the opportunity for the awardee and one guest to visit Washington, DC to visit the White House and to engage with national policy leaders over the period of three days.
- General eligibility requirements: at least 5 years of K-12 STEM teaching experience
- Upcoming deadline: November 19, 2020
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF) places approximately a dozen K-12 STEM educators in federal agencies and congressional offices for 11 months each year. The fellowship aims to support exemplary teachers to contribute to federal STEM policy while expanding their systemic understanding of the education system. Fellows’ experiences vary widely depending upon their placement, and may include activities such as contributing to the development of national STEM strategy, developing curriculum for educational programs, and writing language for federal legislation.
I was lucky that in the first few years of teaching I kept the ideas presented to me in that white brochure in the back of my mind. However, I was even luckier that I received encouragement along the way. Part of my pre-service program at Illinois State University required me to develop a five year professional development plan. For me, those activities began the summer before my first year of teaching, when I was fortunate to attend a three-week institute for physics teachers. My own high school physics teacher was one of the institute’s leaders, and we spent the final afternoon together driving back to our hometown. Along the way, he told me, “You know, Rebecca, you should start thinking about your trajectory now. Don’t wait, like I did. When you finish your third year of teaching, start on the National Board Certification process. When you hit the end of your fifth year, start your PAEMST portfolio.”
I took my plans and that advice, and jig-sawed local and national leadership opportunities into a coherent plan, including conferences, summer workshops, a master’s degree in science education, and reading and writing about science and science teaching. I earned National Board Teacher Certification as soon as I could, and found that the experience paved the way for my eventual applications to PAEMST and AEF. (Curious about the PAEMST and AEF experience? You can see my weekly blog that includes both experiences from September 2014 to July 2015).
What I learned along the way was that being a STEM teacher is indeed a privilege for the many opportunities that are afforded to us as specialists in high-needs fields. However, even more importantly, is that opportunities often need to be accompanied by an open invitation and encouragement from others for us to be willing to risk taking advantage of them. Across your own career, consider if any of these programs might be right for you—seek guidance and support from those who have taken part in them already. If now is not the right time for you, you can provide the guidance and support that others might need by encouraging others to take a step toward leadership through these programs.