Teacher Forum Talks: STEM-spiration, CTE, and Teacher-led Learning

We launched the 100Kin10 Teacher Forum to hear directly from STEM teachers. Teacher Forum members help us keep a pulse on what’s happening “on the ground” by pointing us to real-time insights from classrooms and schools across America.

Members lead listening sessions in their local STEM teaching communities and raise up what diverse groups of STEM teachers are hearing, seeing, and experiencing. We use these insights to inform how we address the Grand Challenges and share them with the field.

We have much to learn from our nation’s teachers. Each time we convene the Teacher Forum, we hear how much teachers appreciate being able to share their experiences. As one member put it, “The biggest thing for me right now is that teachers need to be heard from 17 times more often than we are heard from right now.”

Lately, we have been hearing from the Teacher Forum that: there is a surge of energy around STEM (and that it’s coming from students!), thinking is starting to shift around CTE and STEM, teachers are hungry for teacher-led professional learning, and that school leaders continue to be key drivers in creating environments that support STEM teaching and learning.

STEM is inspiring students and re-inspiring teachers

The best advocates for STEM learning may be those who are experiencing it. We were delighted to hear that many teachers are feeling energized about STEM and that their primary inspiration was seeing how STEM sparked curiosity and fueled persistence in their students.

Teachers shared that STEM creates a safe environment for students to take risks, experiment, and fail often. Students love STEM because it’s fun but also because they feel empowered. As teachers witness persistence become the norm in their classrooms and their students start to view failure as learning, they also started to adapt this mindset and become more comfortable experimenting in the classroom.

“It is exciting to learn alongside the kids. Problem solving and trial/error is part of the STEM package and that itself can provide teachers energy for moving forward!”

STEM + CTE: Bridging the classroom and the “real-world”

The relevance of STEM to real-world circumstances and challenges excite students and teachers alike. Students engage more in content they can connect with, and teachers are inspired to keep up with changes in industry and learn alongside their students. It’s a reminder that today’s classroom will need to prepare tomorrow’s garage inventors, climate scientists, and other problem solvers.

Given this, it makes sense that teachers are starting to see the worlds of career and technical education (CTE) and STEM move closer together. Teachers noted that districts typically don’t identify CTE as STEM but that this is starting to change. There is excitement that STEM could start to be seen as a system or integrated into the system, instead of narrowly defined as distinct subjects.

Teachers want to tap the expertise of their fellow teachers

There is no substitute for lived experience, and teachers are eager to learn from the experience of their peers. We heard from the Teacher Forum that more professional learning needs to be led by teachers, whether that be through teacher-led professional development or collaboration during the school day.

We’ve heard again and again that the best collaboration is teacher-driven. Armed with common goals, teachers want the time and freedom to choose how they reach them. In particular, teachers mentioned that they value being able to observe other teachers, receive coaching and feedback, and have a mentor or partner in the building to push them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new or veteran teacher, having a thought partner or someone who has done it before can be the support system that keeps you moving forward and growing.

“The best way to feel supported is to see what other teachers are doing, learn from it, and see what’s happening in other classrooms.”

Teachers are looking for leadership and support from their school leaders

Recognizing the redundancy of the statement, teachers say leadership from their school leaders is paramount. Teachers shared that support from their principal and other administrators was key to having the materials and resources they need to bring excellent STEM learning to their students, but also to having the time and space to learn and grow.

For example, teachers want their principals to advocate for and prioritize STEM, both with time and budget. Some are hoping to do this by bringing their principals with them to STEM professional development so that they can see the power of STEM.

Others are looking to for school-wide vision and culture. They know that their school leaders are the ones who drive the work environment of their school, and they are eager for them to set the tone for the school building to be a place of learning and growth for students and teachers.

“[Teachers] need to be encouraged by principals and building leaders to take trainings. If we want to keep these teachers, we need to have those supportive structures in place... taking all the hoops out of the way for teachers to take on new learning and implement it.”