Wednesday, March 14, 2018

School Designation: Process > End Results

In September of this school year I became aware that the state of Tennessee had a STEM School Designation Process. Being a little over a year into implementing a STEAM curriculum at Chattanooga Christian Lower School, I decided to look at the criteria to discern what my state felt was "best practice" in regards to STEM education. There are 18 sub areas under the headings of Infastructure, Curriculum and Instruction, Professional Development, Achievement, and Community and Post Secondary Partnerships that are critiqued.

As I looked over what was deemed "best practice," I was fairly excited to learn that we were either hitting all of them hard or were in a process of doing so. I met with our STEAM leadership team and we decided to go ahead and apply for the designation based on our self- evaluation. Two weeks ago I received the news that the committee felt we needed to make some growth in 4 of those 18 sub areas. Honestly, I believe that much of the issue is less that we need to make growth and more that I did not do a great job at documentation in those areas. That being said, our STEAM leadership team has already looked at the feedback and we have made a plan to move forward for next year. The hard part is behind us, it's now just being intentional about updating our sub area folders as needed.

That being said, I was more than a little disappointed that we did not receive the designation this year. We had some unexpected circumstances during the time that the Designation Review Team needed more documentation. I wasn't able to give them the information needed but I also know that we did need to do some improvement in the amount of PD opportunities we give our teachers in regards to STEAM. So here is where I am at...

The process of gathering information for the state of Tennessee for the STEM Designated School process has grown our program more than any assigned "you made it!" stamp could ever do. Being mindful about what is being requested and questioning the WHY of what is deemed important has helped me to add more robustness in areas that we currently might have been lacking in.

This process also has opened the door for me to say "This is best practice, we have to give the teachers the scaffolding they need in STEAM if we expect implementation to go well." It gives me documentation to stand on but furthermore it gives me preset goals that are aligned with what the world (or at least my state) thinks is "best practice." For me, it is never going to look just like what the state desires because we are a private Christian School that wants to definitely strive to holistically teach our students...humanities are just as important to us for a well rounded student BUT if we are doing the things deemed best practice in STEM why not share that?

One of our teachers asked, "Why do we want to be a STEM Designated School?" The answer for me is easy, it gives us solid framework that the outside world is already familiar with and that studies show parents want for their students. But as a leader of the STEAM program, it gives me solid goals in the form of a rubric that can help our school navigate the growth of this program. I don't have to spend my time defining what best practice is, I can spend my time creating opportunities for best practice to happen. Watch out next year, Tennessee...we got this.

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