- Year 2023
- NSF Noyce Award # 1758317
- First Name Amanda
- Last Name Gunning
- Discipline STEM Education (general)
Meghan Marrero, Elena Nitecki
Amanda M. Gunning
Policy and reform have placed a major emphasis on STEM college and career readiness for economic success (Bybee, 2013). Teachers can foster students’ STEM interests by offering opportunities to participate in real-world and community-centered projects, recognizing students as scientists, and engaging students in critical agency through STEM content (Godwin & Potvin, 2017, Rahm & Moore, 2016). Additionally, fostering STEM interest earlier in a student’s schooling can positively influence their decision to choose STEM pathways later on in their careers (Lamb, et al., 2016; Sadler et al., 2012). However, access to STEM experiences in school are disparate among communities, especially those that serve Black and Brown and/or low-income families (Tate et al., 2012). Professional development opportunities for developing STEM teacher leadership may be especially helpful in supporting meaningful STEM integration at any grade level and for all students. To address this, we designed a Fellowship program that strengthened fourteen K-12 STEM teachers’ leadership in local, high-need schools.
How Do STEM Master Teacher Fellows Enact integrated STEM instruction and Leadership Projects Years After PD?
As part of a Track 3 Noyce Master Teacher fellowship, 13 experienced K-12 teachers participated in STEM teaching professional development through two STEM pedagogy graduate courses and one teacher leadership course. The professional development program was based on best practices in STEM education and teacher professional development, learned from both current literature and the research team’s own research (author, et al, 2016; author, et al 2017; author, et al, 2016). Darling-Hammond and Richardson (2009) find the most effective PD experiences for teachers are prolonged, promote insight into student learning, involve collaboration with other teachers, develop content understanding through hands-on work, and provide opportunities for classroom application. Further, good professional development models are: deeply embedded in subject matter (in this case, STEM and teacher leadership); designed to involve active learning; able to connect teachers to their own practice (accomplished through enacting leadership projects and reflection); and part of a coherent system of support (provided through courses, seminar and personal relationships with PD instructors and faculty) (Ball, 1996; Garet et al., 1999; Weiss & Pasley, 2009). The program provided a guided and supported development of teachers’ leadership projects and activities. In studying these teachers’ continued leadership work beyond the scope of the professional development, we turned to self-efficacy as a guiding framework.
We used self-efficacy as lens to examine participants’ STEM leadership development. Bandura’s (1997) theory of self-efficacy has its origins in the field of psychology but has been used as a framework for studying teacher performance (Dembo & Gibson, 1985; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2007) and has been used to study elementary teachers specifically (author, 2010; author, 2011; Knaggs, & Sondergeld, 2015; Deehan, McKinnon, & Danaia, 2019; Riggs & Enochs, 1990). Initially, this framing helped shape the structure of the professional development, by providing opportunities for mastery experiences, verbal persuasion, and vicarious experiences for the Fellows. Now, we use this framing to understand how the thirteen Fellows developed confidence as STEM leaders in their districts.
We used an interpretative case study approach to interpret qualitative data including observations, field notes, and leadership project artifacts (i.e. photos, email communication, mini-grant applications, etc.) (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). This method of analysis and reporting allowed us to utilize “description, interpretation”, and “identification of recurrent patterns in the form of themes” (Merriam, 1998, p. 12). This qualitative methodology in education research provides detail and nuance to support possible future replication and learning from our findings.
As we interpreted qualitative data collected over the scope of the Fellowship, we began noticing trends across data sources that illustrated how the teachers had developed and strengthened their STEM teacher self-efficacy and sustained their leadership initiatives beyond the program course structure. These trends are categorized below into three themes: 1) Realizing STEM identity: Mitigating imposter syndrome; 2) Harnessing STEM leadership: Advocating for more STEM in school and; 3) As positioned by others: Sustaining as STEM teacher leaders beyond the Fellowship. Each of these themes help us describe the stories of these teachers’ growth, development, and recognition as STEM teacher leaders in their schools and districts during and towards the end of their Fellowship program.
Realizing STEM identity: Mitigating imposter syndrome
All thirteen Fellows had some degree of uncertainty about their belongingness in STEM at the beginning of the Fellowship. Many shared in one of their first assignments, a STEM autobiography, and then later in their course reflections that they had not seen themselves as STEM experts, rather as math, science, elementary education, or computer science experts. Through mastery experiences, such as microteaching and vicarious experiences, such as vertically articulated collaborative groups, the Fellows developed a sense of confidence in their abilities to lead STEM integration in their classrooms. Crossing this barrier was important in advocating for more STEM integration beyond their classrooms.
Harnessing STEM leadership: Advocating for more STEM in school
Once the Fellows began to notice their strengths as STEM integrators, they began developing guided leadership projects. With the support and mentorship of Fellowship faculty and staff, Fellows worked towards extending STEM integration to other parts of their school and districts. This included conducting professional development for other teachers in their district, creating a professional learning community for STEM in their school, and creating afterschool STEM programming for elementary school, among other projects. As STEM experts, these Fellows pushed their colleagues, students, and families to embrace STEM, even in social studies and English language arts contexts.
As positioned by others: Sustaining STEM teacher leadership beyond the Fellowship
Throughout the Fellowship, it was important that Fellows gained confidence in their leadership roles in their schools and districts. A common issue among grant funded programs is the fact that once program funding, support, and professional development ends, so do all the achievements and changes that the program brought about. In many situations, once the championing program concludes, the participating teachers lose steam, administrative support, and even some of their positional power as others forget their accomplishments in the program. This was a big fear of ours as the bulk of the program supports began to ramp down in 2022. The only remaining supports were a stipend and monthly meetings. The coursework and weekly meetings, ended in 2021, and yet the Fellows STEM leadership identities only continued to grow.
In monthly meetings Fellows shared their updates with us on their leadership initiatives. Many departed from their guided leadership projects from their courses to take on even bigger roles in their schools and districts. While the implicit positioning by the program facilitators remained, other people in the Fellows’ lives began to explicitly position them as leaders. This was evident in the way that Fellows were brought onto STEM committees at their schools, consulted as STEM experts for curriculum and professional development for other teachers, or named as district-wide STEM representatives. In the February 2023 meeting, Fellows overwhelming noted the principal supports that they were receiving. This was significant given how little Fellows had mentioned principal or administrator support in the past. This administrative support provided Fellows with funding, time, and recognition that they otherwise would not have gotten in the past.
The Fellowship program has shown these Fellows that they can be and should be leaders in their districts, it has allowed them to recognize themselves as leaders and seek that recognition from their administrators. With continued recognition, we expect that these Fellows will continue to grow and strengthen their STEM leadership identities. As we continue to analyze the data from years two and three, we see these teachers blossoming into full-fledged leaders in their schools and districts. Since inception, two have become coaches for their elementary school (one STEM and one math); one has been awarded a grant to start an afterschool STEM program for elementary that was so successful she was asked to expand it for more grade levels; three have worked to lead a family STEM engagement program across their district; one has been accepted to another computer science for elementary fellowship; and all of the participants have improved STEM instruction, particularly in the areas of technology and engineering.
As the field of STEM education thinks about how to support STEM for all learners, strong teacher leaders can help push change from within schools. The elements of this program could be replicated to support educators in developing STEM teacher leadership skills. This program helps maintain the connection and foster the growth – it is not just PD and see you later, it is nurturing and community.