Teaching Opinion

Why Do Leaders Avoid Developing STEM Teachers?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 03, 2017 4 min read
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Today we are seventeen years into the 21st century. Is it time for us to stop writing about this as a new century? Most assuredly, it is. But, we find ourselves still tied in practice to the previous century’s models as if they were irreplaceable. This fall we have seen expectations and accepted behaviors overturned in so many places... police actions, political candidates’ actions, the behavior of news commentators, even the sources of news and the confidence of facts in the news. Political correctness has been contorted to mean restrain from saying what you mean and so there has been released in our nation a flurry of vile and hateful language. Last week a school board member in Buffalo and former Republican candidate for governor of New York spewed forth deplorable...yes, deplorable... comments about the POTUS and first lady. The comments were as racist as could be imagined and his apology inadequate. It has become increasingly clear that this century requires high school graduates who are prepared with the advantages of a STEM-focused education and developed as critical thinking, ethical, young adults.

The potential of organizing learning environments around STEM-thinking is as limited or limitless as the vision of the leaders in the schools and districts implementing it. The potential for problem-based learning (PBL), embracing collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity and linking other subjects like the arts, English, history, business, physical education, exists within the potential STEM holds.

STEM, STEAM, or whatever you choose to call it locally, is built on lessons from the 20th century but forms the foundation for teaching and learning in this one. And, while deciding how your school and district will design the way STEM or STEAM comes to life, how subjects will connect to each other, and what partnerships will take root, an understanding of the value these four subjects hold has to emerge first.

These four subjects can become the epicenter of the design for learning. In the real world, these four subjects are related and perform in service to each other. Without excluding the importance of all other subjects, it is how these subjects inter-relate and are in service of eachother that begins the understanding of the nature of how all other subjects belong. The folks working the fields that use these areas have to be creative, critical thinkers, collaborative and good communicators. The relationships needed for the shared work of solving real world problems and becoming innovators require a strong set of ethics. Schools, the 13 years before college and career, is one of the few remaining places where this begins and is reinforced. What might get in the way?

Give Students A Chance
A leadership challenge lies, in part, in what has become a common problem...the avoidance of entering the province of science, technology, engineering, and math. We have even heard school leaders publically admit, “I’m not good at math.” Even more have little understanding of engineering, technology, or science. The leadership responsibility however, has to do with understanding the way learning takes place in those areas and the interconnection among them. For example, leaders have a responsibility to understand the value of introducing engineering concepts even in the earliest grades. Although this does not mean that all students will graduate and enter careers in these areas. It does mean all students will be able to make choices based on experiences in STEM fields. It also means all students will develop the skills that are expected in most all careers in this century: collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. EdWeek recently published:

Highly qualified science teachers are in short supply in the United States. What is keeping prospective science teachers out of the classroom? And how can education leaders ensure that there is parity in science classrooms across all districts and for all students? What do the numbers reveal about the quality and parity of science learning?

Focus on PD
We need better science, technology, engineering, and math teachers. An advantage and a disadvantage is schools enjoy a reasonably stable staff. Schools cannot simply go out and find new teachers who are more highly skilled in these areas and replace those who are not. School leaders have the obligation to focus professional development to support the ideas and concepts essential in these subjects and their relationships to each other.

Remember The Goal
Along with developing stronger understanding in and support of teachers, leaders also have to watch the horizon line. Technology is driving change so fast that line keeps moving. The leader’s vision and capacity to energize collaborative momentum are the fuel for the shifts in practice and community support. Return to the rationale. Why do all this work when it is hard enough to get through the year of budgeting, scheduling, assigning teachers, handling challenges, filling out reports, building and managing relationships, solving problems, supervising faculty and staff?

The answer is found in questions. We take these from Edith Ackerman of MIT’s Media Lab:

  1. How do creative individuals balance tradition and innovation, stability and change, safety and risk?
  2. What distinguishes creative from inquisitive minds, poetic from scientific quests?
  3. In what ways (if any) are today’s children different from the children we were?

And we add this fourth one...

4. Can we, with certainty, assure the children we serve, that we are preparing them to be literate, successful adults in this new world?

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.