Starting a STEAM Program: 6 Elements for Success

8 Min Read  •  STEAM Education

When starting a STEAM program, there’s so much to consider as a leader. As with any other initiative, it can feel overwhelming at first when you think of everything that needs to be done. Deciding which tasks to tackle first becomes both daunting and a necessity.

Often, we see schools who follow one of two approaches: all or nothing. Schools either go all-in and try to do everything at once, or they stall out when they look at what needs to be addressed and don’t gain any forward traction.

To help make this a bit easier, we’ve outlined 6 elements for success when starting a STEAM program. These elements break down the biggest considerations and then outline specific tasks to be done within each. You can take these elements one at a time for a slower rollout, or layer them for a faster but more comprehensive approach.

STEAM Program elements of success


Let’s take a look at each element, as well as its indicators for success:

1. Climate and Culture

Climate and culture is the overarching environment that embodies the STEAM approach in your classroom, school, or district. There is an established vision, mission, and goals that embed STEAM as a natural part of the school environment.

Indicators for success include:

  • The STEAM vision, mission, and goals are written and include a variety of arts areas (visual art, music, theatre, dance, and media arts)
  • The vision, mission, and goals are posted publicly.
  • There is evidence that STEAM (both STEM areas and the Arts) is an integral part of a school’s internal and external identity.
  • Sharing and celebrating STEAM successes and challenges are the norm.
  • The school environment reflects a priority, respect, and support for collaboration, creativity, and hands-on, inquiry-based learning.
STEAM Certification for Leaders

2. Infrastructure

Infrastructure refers to the specific departments that provide support for your climate, culture, and program. These include logistics, finances, and schedules which are developed or enhanced to promote and support STEAM instruction.

Indicators for success include:

  • Daily, weekly, and monthly logistics which allow for teacher partnership and instructional STEAM implementation
  • Provides time, space, and financial resources to support STEAM implementation
  • Dedicated weekly collaborative planning between STEM and arts teachers to create instructional lessons and units connected to standards and focused on student growth.
  • Monthly peer review/reflection time.
  • Provides dedicated instructional time for arts-specific classes led by trained arts instructors, in addition to STEAM instruction.

3. Professional Development

For STEAM to take hold as an approach, consistent professional development is offered. This increases content and arts knowledge among all educators, develops integration mindsets, and supports collaborative planning practices to ensure aligned STEAM-focused instruction.

Indicators for success include:

  • Teachers, coaches, and administrators receive on-going, consistent STEAM professional development, including integration and arts specific strategies and content knowledge.
  • There is evidence of implementation of PD in classroom instruction.
  • Time and resources are provided to visit other STEAM schools (virtually or in-person)
  • Mentoring and STEAM-focused PLCs are available for staff.
  • Incorporates investigative research-based practices, 21st century skills, arts integration, project-based learning, and interdisciplinary instruction.

4. Curriculum and Instruction

In a STEAM program, schools are provided on-going curriculum exploration and planning which supports intentional two-way integration of the arts and STEM content areas through aligned standards. STEAM instruction is hands-on, experiential, and inquiry-based.

Indicators for success include:

  • Lessons are created through connecting naturally-aligned standards between STEM and Arts areas.
  • Teachers regularly collaborate on the development and implementation of integrated lessons and units.
  • Instruction is inquiry-based, models the STEAM process, and provides hands-on, real-world learning experiences connecting arts and STEM areas.
  • Classroom instruction is largely experiential with a focus on student-centered learning. Students are encouraged to problem-solve, develop divergent thinking skills, and apply knowledge they have acquired.
  • STEAM careers are specifically shared, explored, and used as a reference in lesson development.

5. Assessments

In a STEAM program, reflective, on-going assessment practices are evident. These include diagnostic, formative, and summative measures that equitably assess both STEM and arts content areas.

Indicators for success include:

  • Student assessments include a variety of diagnostic, formative, and summative measures aligned to connected standards in each lesson.
  • Assessments authentically capture student growth equitably in both the STEM and arts areas addressed.
  • Staff regularly use assessments as a tool to drive and inform instructional decisions and practices.
  • Opportunities are provided to students and teachers to use assessments as a self-reflection of overall learning.
  • Combined assessments from learning experiences are used to provide a comprehensive picture of student understanding.

6. Accountability and Sustainability

How do you ensure that a STEAM program or initiative will last? Accountability ensures that data is captured authentically and purposefully, and used to inform program next steps. Partnerships are cultivated and established to provide long-term sustainability for STEAM efforts.

Indicators for success include:

  • There is a written process for cultivating and supporting business, arts, and community partnerships.
  • Business, arts, and community partnerships (all 3) are actively pursued. These include both fiscal and non-fiscal resources.
  • Partnerships are on-going and include in-class demonstrations and career connections.
  • Data from a variety of sources (student assessments, state tests, staff and stakeholder surveys, etc) is used to inform program next steps.
  • Evidence showcases that the STEAM approach can be supported, scaled, and sustained for at least a 3-year period.

Moving Full STEAM Ahead

With these 6 program elements in mind, schools can focus on building long-term success with their STEAM efforts. The indicators offer specific, tangible outcomes to help eliminate overwhelm and move the needle towards STEAM goals.

In our upcoming STEAM Certification for Leaders program, we take this one step further with a STEAM Program Scoring Guide. Leaders are able to use this guide to inform where they are within the 6 elements and which components need to be addressed to build a robust and meaningful effort. If you’re ready to get your STEAM program off the ground (or just want to kick it into high gear), this program is worth exploring.

More Resources from this Series

Want to see even more tools for leading STEAM efforts in your school or district? Start here:

STEM, STEAM, or Arts Integration?
STEAM Readiness Scale