It’s a New School Year so, Let’s Talk about Teaching Math

Happy New School Year!!!

As we are on the cusp of entering the 2016-2017 academic school year I am constantly thinking about what professional learning experiences I will provide this school year to improve math leaders pedagogical content knowledge.  If you teach, I am sure you can agree that teaching is complex work. If you are a teacher/leader of Mathematics, it becomes even more complex work because the teaching must be engaging, the lesson must require some struggle in addition to, providing students with the opportunity to reason and think critically about their work and the work of their peers. What’s most important to note is that we, as math leaders, are required to stay abreast of the advances in our field and in pedagogy. Lifelong learning is inherent to teaching. As math leaders, supporting this learning is the first and foremost obligation of instructional leadership.

So what professional learning will I provide this year to ensure a culture of professional inquiry where teacher learning is maximized? This year before I begin to promote the traditional approach of workshops I’m going to try a different approach. I going to consider conducting focused and structured conversations around math; where teachers are required to think deeply about their work and reflect on their instructional practices as it relates to their students’ ability to problem solve, reason about math and the thinking of their peers, and/or apply the math in everyday life situations using the appropriate tools. This concept of “talking about the teaching and learning of math” as a reflective practitioner stands to be the most powerful tool to promote teacher learning, if implemented effectively.

Just as with attempting to conduct talks in the math classroom, it’s necessary to have some current work or data to talk about. So, I may want to ask math teachers/leaders to keep self-reflective journals, make a video recording of a lesson, gather some student feedback after a lesson in the form of a survey/questionnaire, or invite two colleagues in to the classroom to observe their teaching. With this information in hand, we can get to talking!

What practices and actions do we need to take as math leaders to help students develop conceptual understanding?

What type of evidence are we colleting or gathering from students to identify the strategies used in the lesson were effective?

What strategies are we using to make the mathematics of the lesson clear? (i.e., Teacher is using examples, representations, and/or examples to move beyond just showing how to arrive at the answer)

What is the depth of our questioning? Do our questioning techniques prompt students to share their thinking/understanding or critique the work of their peers?

What strategies are we using to keep students engaged in problem solving when problems are difficult? What steps do we need to take to keep them persevering with the math?

What opportunities are we taking to include the mathematical practices, to extend student thinking and/or to develop conceptual understanding? 

These questions have the ability to spark valuable professional conversations around mathematical leaders pedagogical content knowledge. That was the “ah ha” moment for me!

In past years I’ve always gauged my need for PD based on testing data, teacher interest via surveys, talking with principals, and the vision of the Department. However, this year I plan to let my professional learning experiences develop as a result of the conversations had during my “talking about the teaching and learning of math” sessions. What better way to provide valued teacher learning in instructional practice than to let it be the result of teacher inquiry and discussion.

I invite you to join me in this endeavor in your district and let’s share some of our findings. How awesome would it be to have a Math Leaders roundtable devoted to “Conducting Professional Learning Conversations” relative to improving math leaders pedagogical content knowledge.

Wishing everyone a wonderful school year devoted to much math teaching and learning inquiry.

Stephenie Tidwell

One thought on “It’s a New School Year so, Let’s Talk about Teaching Math”

  1. This sounds like a wonderful idea! Teachers usually are not afforded the time to reflect on their practices and share with their colleagues in a supportive framework.

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