I focus on belonging, STEM, and radical collaboration.

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek into the STEM education trends that my organization, Beyond100K, compiles annually. The trends in this synthesis, drawing from hundreds of conversations, surveys, and more, will define STEM and education this year.

Trend 1: Belonging Matters in STEM

Through an intensive listening and research effort, more than 600 young people told us that belonging was essential to persisting in STEM and pursuing a STEM career.

It is clear that, to help spark the brilliance of millions more young minds and to keep students from disengaging from STEM, teachers and schools need to prioritize a focus on equity, representation, and especially belonging in STEM education. Ed Tech and tool creators, take heed: There’s a growing demand for frameworks, tools, and metrics that can help teachers implement and assess efforts to expand belonging in their STEM classrooms. Luckily, we’re far from starting from scratch, with strong tools to adopt and adapt. A University of Michigan researcher developed a framework to help teachers foster student belonging in math, and a University of Texas chemistry professor developed a simple and intuitive way to foster belonging among students. LabXchange is developing evidence-based curricula to support educators to foster students’ sense of belonging, identity, self-efficacy, and confidence in science, to support its 15,000+ science resources. The Education Trust developed a state-by-state dashboard focused on teacher diversity, and the National Academies will be publishing a consensus study on equity in K-12 STEM education in the spring. In December, the US Department of Education launched YOU Belong in STEM, the first national STEM initiative in over 10 years. Its name tells us everything we need to know: Creating the conditions for STEM excellence starts with students and teachers feeling a sense of belonging in their STEM classrooms.

Despite all this progress, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the uphill nature of this work. There is a longstanding, deeply-rooted belief that STEM fields are only for the elite few who have what it takes to succeed — and in which rigor and excellence are measured by how many students fail. It will take a shift not only in K-12 but in higher ed and in the workforce to truly create the conditions where all students can know that they belong and can succeed in STEM.

Trend 2: STEM Teachers of Color Are Key

There is a legacy of exclusion impacting who we see and don’t see in today’s teaching profession. Since Brown v. Board of Education, teachers of color have been marginalized and discriminated against, leading to generational inequities for teachers and students alike.

Though publicly available data lags, about 50% of our public-school students are BIPOC, but only 20% of public-school teachers are. Fortunately, we continue to see an emphasis on increasing the recruitment, preparation, and retention of BIPOC STEM teachers.

A group of organizations working on diversifying the STEM teacher pipeline recently created a public website for organizations committed to the recruitment, preparation, and retention of teachers of color. Federal funding is supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to scale up teacher residency programs, and the US Department of Education is giving $25 million to boost diverse teacher education across colleges and universities. Breakthrough Collaborative, Young People’s Project, Teach For America, Relay Graduate School of Education, and Alder Graduate School of Education, among many others, have made commitments to recruiting more BIPOC STEM teachers.

Through deep research, we heard that to not only attract but retain a more racially diverse teacher workforce requires positive work environments that center belonging for teachers of color. A recently published toolkit offers specific recommendations for administrators to improve work environments for teachers of color, but more will need to be done to support schools to create work environments in which all teachers, and especially teachers of color, can thrive.

Trend 3: The Earlier the Better for Teacher Recruitment

Unless you’ve been quarantined from the news, you know there’s a steep and accelerating nationwide teacher shortage, especially in the STEM subjects.

So we’re heartened by an emerging trend to go upstream of the shortage to focus on attracting potential STEM teachers earlier, in part by recruiting potential teachers with nontraditional backgrounds.

Schools and districts around the country are reinvesting in time-tested recruitment tools like signing bonuses and tuition reimbursements. At the same time, there are more programs that aim to reach potential teachers earlier, including by creating opportunities for high school students to gain experience and training. Young People’s Project is growing its teacher cadet program to certify over 500 high school and college students as math literacy workers, en route to a STEM teaching career. Breakthrough Collaborative introduces college students to careers in teaching, partnering with local community colleges, state colleges, HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions. At the other end of the spectrum, EnCorps, which focuses on older adults, is expanding teacher recruitment; maybe the tech layoffs will have a silver lining for STEM teaching?

Trend 4: More Pathways to Teaching

Across the country, more routes to teaching are sprouting up, a welcome antidote to the decline in traditional teacher preparation.

Apprenticeships, collaborations between education and labor departments in states, residencies, and new community college pathways are expanding across the country, as are fast-track education programs that make the transition into teaching possible for more people. In Texas, UT Austin and Austin Community College are pairing up to lead a program called UTeach Access that will recruit students who applied to study biology, chemistry, math, or physics and offer them a spot in the UTeach STEM teaching preparation program. Reach University is offering job-embedded learning, where half a degree comes from on-the-job work and half comes from personalized online tutorials. The National Center for Teacher Residencies is supporting new teacher residency programs across the country and is partnering with HBCUs to enable students from under-served districts to build a career in STEM education.

An important note: Some efforts, like those in Florida, simply reduced requirements for teachers, instead of supporting more people to meet the teacher-preparation goals that will best serve students. The evidence from past downturns like we’re seeing now is that short-term, emergency responses are counterproductive and negatively impact all students, especially students of color and students in our least-resourced schools. We must ensure that efforts to ease pathways into teaching don’t devolve into a race to the bottom on preparedness.