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The Role of School Culture in Supporting STEM Learning

STEM education is getting a lot of attention, from politicians to Silicon Valley CEOs calling for more STEM teachers and higher student standards. But it's not just about funding or curriculum changes: it's about creating a culture where STEM learning is exciting and valued by everyone in your school community.

School culture — a school’s values, rules, beliefs, practices and expectations — impacts student achievement in any subject, including a quality STEM curriculum. Although school leadership plays a central role in leading and supporting a STEM curriculum, buy-in from other stakeholders — families and the community — is also crucial.

A quality STEM curriculum goes beyond the subject matter and includes how people in your school work together. To support authentic STEM learning, schools need to be viewed as a whole and not only focus on STEM subjects. Cultivating a school culture that promotes curiosity, collaboration, experimentation and continued growth is at the root of STEM learning success.
There are many components of school culture that advance a quality STEM education. Continue reading for a few ideas to build a school culture that supports STEM learning.


  • Teachers must be empowered with support, resources and time to build a school culture that supports STEM learning

  • Teachers from early childhood learning through high school need access to professional development, particularly targeted programs focused on the capabilities and knowledge to teach STEM

  • Educators need ongoing professional learning and other high-quality STEM learning opportunities, including mentoring and career growth opportunities

  • Teachers need the tools and resources to deliver STEM learning

  • Educators need strategies and training to make STEM instruction culturally relevant for all students, which includes being responsive to linguistic and learning needs

  • Schools should provide a culture of continuous improvement that encourages teachers to reflect on their instructional goals and their effectiveness

Community Collaboration

Building sustainable partnerships with community businesses and organizations promotes the success of STEM education to the community. The integration of community and schools creates a culture of community collaboration and demonstrates how a STEM education benefits everyone. In addition, community and business partnerships make learning real for students, enabling them to see the relevance of what they are learning and how it applies to different work and career paths.

Offer STEM-Related After-School Clubs and Activities

Once a curriculum is in place, it's time to focus on an equally important aspect of STEM education: student engagement.

One of the best ways to encourage this kind of engagement is by offering students opportunities to participate in STEM-related after-school clubs and activities. These opportunities should be fun and engaging, relevant to the students' lives, collaborative, hands-on, student-led and flexible — which are all qualities that make them less like schoolwork and more like playtime.

Host Special STEM Events for the School Community

Hosting a STEM event is a great way to get your community involved. From the traditional science fair to a robotics competition where students go head-to-head with each other in teams to design autonomous robots that can solve problems, it’s an excellent way to engage students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community.

In addition, schools can organize an annual STEM career panel featuring guest speakers from various industries to talk about their jobs and the path they followed to get there. It’s a fantastic way to allow students to see what types of careers exist, which helps them align their passions with potential jobs they may be interested in pursuing after high school or college graduation.

School Leaders Drive Cultures That Support STEM Learning

School leadership sets and models the core values for staff and students, which is instrumental to building a culture that supports STEM learning. 
The National Math and Science Initiative offers an array of services to help school leaders build a supportive STEM environment in their schools. We identify unique challenges and help increase equity and access to advanced STEM learning, particularly for students who have been historically left out of STEM education. 
Learn more about our impact and how we can help you build sustainable changes.