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A practical guide: How leaders can make evidence-based decisions about STEAM provision

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith is an award-winning teacher and leader with a passion for supporting those who work with children and young people. As Director of One Life Learning, Fiona works with schools and trusts, professional learning providers and edtech companies. 

At the heart of effective STEAM leadership lie the strategic decisions that shape what STEAM looks like in your school. These decisions will be informed by many different influences.

STEAM Leadership: Why you will make the greatest impact on your STEAM provision

It is important to understand the significance of your role as a leader when using evidence and making decisions.

To illustrate this, let’s use the Funnels of Influence model[1]. Imagine two parallel funnels – one channelling the unique ideas that we each bring to any conversation and another funnel, which channels influences from the context we are working in.

These two funnels pour all those influences into a blend that shapes

  • What we believe (or think)
  • What we say
  • What we intend to do
  • What we actually

These subtle differences make a huge impact on how we engage with evidence and decision-making because they create all kinds of preconceived ideas, assumptions, and biases about what will impact children’s learning. Therefore, your relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Maths will shape how you conceptualise those subject areas.

Your views and beliefs about teaching and learning will shape the nature of your collaborative learning provision and the implicit messages that you convey to learners about resilience and growth mindset – all key principles behind STEAM provision.

Did you know that there are at least 23 different types of bias that we all bring to our decision-making[2]?

Before we start to think about how we use evidence in decision making, it can be helpful to be aware of our relationship with the principles that underpin STEAM.

Key questions to help you with this include:

1) What is your view on the role of schooling in children’s education and broader lives and the place of STEAM within this? Do you believe the premise of STEAM is about preparing young people for the workplace, providing a pipeline of skilled future employees or that it encourages critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, problem-solving, resilience and a growth mindset – or both?

2) How do you think that children’s knowledge about STEAM ideas comes to exist? From knowledge imparted by subject experts, or  through discussion or experiences?

Girl holding Oti robot

3) What are the relationships between the skills that STEAM encourages and learner motivation? Some argue that learners are motivated by the STEAM stimulus, which then develops critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, resilience, and a growth mindset. Others argue that these skills are necessary prerequisites for meaningful access to STEAM opportunities.

The critical consideration for you through STEAM leadership is to surface these ideas and to reflect on what they mean. The Innovative Pedagogy Framework provides helpful thought-prompts to guide your thinking here. These reflections of your lens on STEAM will shape how you engage with the ideas, evidence, strategies and resources that will bring your school’s STEAM provision from plans into practice.

Consider the Nature of Decisions you will make within STEAM Leadership

These might include:
1)    Defining your STEAM vision and approach
2)    Identifying the most appropriate STEAM teaching and learning strategies
3)    Evaluating the impact of your STEAM provision

Defining your STEAM Vision and Approach

Defining (or clarifying) your STEAM vision and strategy ensures that later decisions are both easier to make and align all stakeholders with a shared direction. This directly impacts the practical actions of both teachers and learners in the classroom.

There are many great sources, in addition to TTS’ resources, that provide broad overviews and links to further reading, such as:

One of the challenges that we face when using evidence to inform our decision making is that for every article or resource that argues for a particular approach, there’s another that counters it.

Ideas and approaches can become out of date very quickly. As a professional in a leadership role (particularly if you are not a STEAM specialist) this can create confusion. Your task is to ask:

  1. a) Who produced the material that I am reading?
  2. b) What evidence led to their recommendations?
  3. c) What is their vision for STEAM and how does that shape their message?
  4. d) What is their motivation for engaging learning and teaching?

As you unpack what your reading tells you, hopefully, you can see why it was so important to have your own established thoughts on what great learning looks like. This enables you to critically ask, “How do the ideas in the STEAM materials align with my vision for what great learning looks like?”

Find out more about how STEAM will prepare the workforce of the future >> 

Identifying the most Appropriate STEAM Teaching and Learning Strategies

Like any aspect of education, many materials will champion a particular resource or teaching approach. For teachers who already have a full timetable, these ‘out of a box’ solutions (particularly when recommended by a peer) can be attractive.

According to one study, 42% of teachers made these kinds of decisions solely based on the recommendations of colleagues in other schools[3]. While valuable in saving time and creating an awareness of what is available, these kinds of decisions are not without their risks. Just because something works in one setting, doesn’t mean it will work in another.

Children building in classroom

For example, consider the extent to which another school’s context (vision, values, intake, size, teaching and learning strategy, performance, staffing and budget) are similar to your own. It may not have been the product or approach which generated results but one of many other variables.

As a STEAM leader, you need to wear a more critical lens when deciding what to utilise and adopt across your organisation. Thankfully, there are a number of great sources which can help you to identify what the most effective teaching and learning strategies are:

Evaluating the impact of your STEAM provision

A vital final part of decision making when leading STEAM involves evaluating what works and why and identifying when ideas do not work as intended so that future practice improves.

International educational reform expert Thomas Guskey encourages us to think about impact through five levels which apply to both teachers and students[4]:

  • Reactions to stimulus
  • Personal learning
  • Consequent organisational change
  • Embedding ideas within new practices
  • Creating a positive impact on the lives of others.

At all stages of evaluation, the STEAM agenda encourages us to consider how the principles of STEAM and its subjects can positively impact the world around us.   

Embedding meaningful reviews of the impact of STEAM leadership decision making connects your intentions (as set out in the first part of this article) to the lived experiences of the students whose needs and future you are serving.

The two vital questions that you will want to ask yourself, and your team are:

1)    What evidence is there that our intentions for STEAM provision are being lived out in reality by our young people?

2)    What evidence is there that our STEAM provision is making a tangible difference to how students view themselves, their learning and their future?

Loved this article?

Find out about Tim Peaks’ inspirational STEAM story >>    

Critical Thinking

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