by Leslie De Leonardis (@MsDeLSTEM)
I have been on a much longer hiatus from blogging than I would have liked. Part of the reason for this hiatus is that I have been busy getting our Cohort 1 STEM schools ready for their STEM transition for 2019-2020. This preparation includes gearing up for STEM classroom makeovers, participating in a week long Professional Development boot camp and tying up loose ends for their new curriculum. There is so much excitement as this preparation takes place. The other reason for my hiatus is simply writer’s block. I had a hard time finding a worthwhile topic to blog about … but I found one! It's a bit long, but hopefully worth the read!
These last few months have been filled with visits to about 30 catholic elementary schools interested in joining the STEM Network. As the Network grows to adding 3 school every year, there are many schools eagerly awaiting their turn. In ALL my visits, principals have asked me one simple question: What can we do in the meantime to prepare for a STEM transition? This is such a great question! Schools, teachers and principals should and can be empowered to begin this STEM transition on their own.
One important lesson I have learned in my previous 5 years as a principal of a school going through a very tough transition/rebuild is that change doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen overnight. Slow and steady wins the race. True change must occur with a strong foundation so that it can stand the test of time. It is important to be patient with all initiatives we put into place in our schools. I hate to break it to everyone out there, but there is no magic fix or golden ticket that will transform your school as you envision - immediately. It takes time, talent, cultural shifts and so much more. This includes STEM. It will not be that magical band-aid everyone hopes will “fix” their schools. Rather, as I stated in my other blogs, it must be a commitment to a (STEM) mindset that has the ultimate goal of equipping and empowering our students beyond their time in our schools. Putting STEM learning into place should come with the aim of changing current statistics our students are facing - above and beyond our 4 walls (check out blog #2). In order to do so, we must put into place a strong foundation.
However, just because we can’t do it all doesn't mean we can’t do something. Every school is in a different place when it comes to their readiness to incorporate STEM. Below, I outlined a simple 3-item list that schools can use as a guide to begin their STEM Journey:
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare … your teachers!
Advice I give all schools is to spend time - even one whole school year - preparing your teachers in understanding the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This surprises many principals who are maybe expecting me to say they should buy this curriculum or buy these resources. Spending a year simply taking the time to unpack and understand the NGSS standards will have immense impact on all classroom instruction. These “new” standards have been written in a way that not only promotes STEM learning, but also fosters interdisciplinary approaches in the classroom. I also recommend involving ALL your teachers in this NGSS PD (not just your science teachers). This will create a natural interdisciplinary culture among your staff. And yes, I do mean just spending a year for teachers to consume all they can about NGSS. Building your teachers’ capacity is one of your best investments.
2. Commit, Commit, Commit … your school!
As administrators think about STEM for their school, it is important to decide, as a school, to what degree will STEM be part of your school life and culture. For example, will STEM learning be a mindset that takes place in every classroom, everyday? Or will it be a block of learning once a day/week or only after school? The level of commitment to STEM should be decided as a whole school with all stakeholders. It must also involve studying your neighborhood and having a clear understanding of your local community. MiddleWeb is a great resource for information and more detailed steps to take for such commitments.
3. Empower, Empower, Empower … your parents!
Parents are your biggest allies. They are the key piece needed to make your STEM transition possible and successful. Therefore, it is important to equip parents with the tools to continue the conversations about STEM at home. It is integral to create a true STEM ecosystem that links all stakeholders together in a learning process that brings STEM to our students on all levels. To do this, holding parent meetings that do more than just discuss school business is fundamental. Why not have a parent meeting that reviews the shifts in NGSS/common core standards and provides them with strategies to support their children to a reasonable capacity? Why not have parent meetings that the sole focus is for them to be involved, alongside their children, in a hands-on science/STEM activity? A great resource for schools to learn details on how to accomplish this is the book Staging Family Science Nights.
Of course there is so much more that can be done to transition to STEM. I, however, felt that a simple list is a great way to implement low pressure/low stakes initiatives for schools to build a foundation. If I could add one last step, it would be to just do something! Margaret Shepard said it best, "Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”