Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror #3

If you have ever been in my presence or one of my workshops, you will hear me say that I am always self-analyzing, always being self-reflective, and always looking for feedback. It’ s through my reflection that I am changing, forever learning the “how to’s” of educating. Simply, taking the time to ask myself a few questions like, “What went well and how do I know? What do I need to change and why? What did I do to learn something new about a student or my students today?” helps me to plan for the next time and correct the errors of today tomorrow. That is- as long as I am honest in my response to “me” because sometimes the answers (we must give ourselves) are not going to be the flowering glows we would prefer to hear.

But, let me say, if you can be or have been critical of practice for the better, you may be ready for this next opportunity to look at your practice in the mirror. It’s definitely not a new practice. And, it’s a practice that shouldn’t cause uneasiness for teachers but still causes many anxiety attacks when they see you walking towards their door. Yes, the “informal teacher observation.”

I encourage teachers to take a few deep breaths and think of this process as a tool. As teachers, we can get so enthralled in the teaching that we may miss that teachable moment, not realize we did something grand, or just wish we had another set of eyes watching and ears listening to our “teacher moves.”

There’ nothing to fear! Just follow the advice of @RobertKaplinsky. Invite someone into your classroom with a little sign that says #observeme.

It’s never too late to join the movement.

Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror #2


Talk about changing the face of professional learning; teachers as self-reflective practitioners can take a few lessons from the world of sports. Athletes and sports teams will gladly go to the videotape to verify a good or bad play, critique the implementation of a play, or just review technique. Imagine if teachers consistently used that practice to study what we do and how well we do it? I know there have been times when I thought I said one thing and the persons listening to me have said, did you mean to say XYZ? My response is usually, “Yes! What confusion have I caused? Let me correct it so that you understand my expectations.”

When we are at the helm, we are so engrossed in teaching. We know our instruction is very clear regarding what we want our students to understand, do or produce. That is until we get, “Can you repeat that again?” questions, until we gaze out into the sea of confused faces looking for clearer understanding, or get a response that we really just never expected!

So why wouldn’t we want to be able to “go to the tape” to review the play-by-play? Imagine the value the tape serves in relations to our instructional practice? That is, as long as we are taping with a focus in mind. Below are my top three areas I ask teachers to consider when videotaping is their choice for self-reflection:

  1. Questioning: Do I utilize higher-order questioning techniques? High cognitive demand questions invite students to explain their thinking, make new connections, describe their process, or critique other ideas. This type of questioning is needed to help students make sense of mathematics. If you need some examples here are a few NCTM higher-order question stems:

What do others think about what ___________________________ said?
Do you agree? Disagree?
Does anyone have the same answer but a different way to explain it?

  1. Think-time/Wait-time: After asking a question do I give students the opportunity to think before they respond or am I offering the answers and explanations to my questions? Research and data have shown that the use of student think-time and wait-time contribute significantly to improved teaching and learning in the classroom.
  2. Student Engagement: Do I provide learning activities to maintain students’ attention and focus? Marzano states that student engagement is dependent upon our instructional decisions. Why not take a look at how students engage with the activities we design for learning? Do students find the activities interesting or relevant?

There are many instructional practices to consider when reflecting on your teaching. Think about your pattern for circulating among groups/students, your explanation of material or specific content,  or even your pattern for calling on students.  Do you consistently find yourself on one side of the room more or calling on one student more than others?

I’m curious as to what teachers do with the tape once reviewed. Is it archived or recorded over? Do you save it so that you can compare the before I recognized I did this and now here’s what I do? Here’s where I believe we can gain even more learning about our practice. Let’s take another cue specifically from football. Imagine if we exchanged our game tape with another teacher just like football teams. Now we both are growing because I am studying my colleague’s change in techniques and reflecting on my practice too. Trading videotapes requires a school culture that promotes collaboration and a sense of trust among the teachers participating. Consider being a change agent and begin the practice without waiting for an administrator to suggest it. I promise being a self-reflective practitioner will help you grow professionally.

Have you used videotaping as a practice? I would love to hear what you gained from your experience. If you have been saying you need to videotape your teaching, there’s no time like the present. I look forward to the dialogue!

Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror #1

Wow! October was an extremely busy month for iTeachMathEducators. Lots of PD sessions and workshop presentations. After each opportunity, I came away greatly pleased with the number of educators who told me I inspired them to change their thinking or helped them to think differently about their classroom practice. Of course, I love teaching teachers and teaching math. However, that “What a great presentation!” feeling lasts hours if not a day,  and if lucky a week. Once you return to your classroom before you know it, the time set aside to be innovative and try that new stuff becomes lost. Not lost in like forgotten but lost to the every Monday staff meetings, the grading of papers, assessment giving, lesson planning, PLC meetings, and all that extra compliance stuff that now clouds the role of teaching and instructional practice. So, I understand that you will think about that professional learning session, hear the speaker’s voice in your head and even have mental images of being there. What I desire for you to retain, from my presentations and any other presentations, is that feeling of empowerment you felt when you began to think about your practice.

You must recognize that you have the ability to change the face of your professional learning. I guess of sorts; I would call it “Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror.” Why the mirror analogy? Mirrors reflect, of course. Possibly you haven’t been able to implement every single thing you learned but how are your students doing with, performing based on, or responding to what you have implemented? Has the change in your teaching practice assisted them in learning? Don’t end up like Tiger.

Does your practice promote learning?

The questions above require you to think about and reflect on your practice. There’s the secret, “Reflection.”  However, I want you to move beyond just thinking about it. I want you to write about it. Correct, I want you to begin keeping a reflective journal. Call this strategy #1 because this is a three-part series.

Journal writing has become a powerful tool in the field of education. Why? Writing forces you to think in ways to clarify ideas and modify others. When you reflect on your practice and collect information about the teaching going on in your classroom, you begin to analyze and evaluate the information you’ve collected. It’s through this exploration of your practice that you begin to change and challenge your teaching. So, reflective teaching is really a means of professional development that starts with you, in your classroom.

Well, how do you begin? You just start writing, but you have to follow some framework. Let me share the four question framework I use to get teachers started thinking about their teaching:

  1. Can you give me a DESCRIPTION of what occurred in class, in your lesson, or in the class discussion in detail? A possible journal entry might look like… I did a lesson on slope today. Instead of using the textbook, I supplemented the lesson with an activity that required the students to experiment with… They were required to identify… After holding a discussion, I then used the text to…
  2. Can you ANALYZE your responses and your students’ response? How did you feel? How did you respond? Possible Response: “I was excited that most students were engaged in the lesson. One group was not as attentive. I had to remind them of the group work rules several times. They told me that they did not get the slope concept. I asked them the meaning of slope, they said, ‘rise over run’ but couldn’t give me a visual picture of what that meant or explain that it was the change in the y-intercept over the change in the x-intercept when I gave them two points. I felt anxious because I if I didn’t help them to connect the mathematics of slope with explaining it as ‘rise over run’ maybe others don’t understand slope either. 
  3. What NEW KNOWLEDGE/STRATEGIES do you have? Here I’m asking teachers to draw some conclusions (in writing) that confirm or disprove what they know, believe, or think to be true. Possibly they are trying to implement a strategy based on an article they read or a PD session. Then possibly, they just did what they have always done, and it doesn’t seem to be effective anymore.  Based on the information in question 2, the teacher thought providing more visual representations would have helped students make a connection to the meaning of “rise over run.” Question 3 gives me the opportunity to invite teachers to do some research. What learning theories relate to the situation? To what degree is theory or research confirmed or disproved based on your experience? What conclusion can you draw from your experience? In other words, what are the research-based best practices out there right now as it relates to your experience? 
  4. What are your FUTURE ACTIONS? Now that the teachers know what they know, they can discuss how the experience will influence their future actions/practice. What will you do in similar situations? How will you use this information to influence other decisions you make about teaching and learning? 

It may seem like a daunting task; however, once you get started it becomes an embedded practice. You just find yourself doing it without thinking. Don’t believe me, give it a try and let me know how it is going for you! All you have to do is pick up the pen.

Additional Readings:

The first edition
The second edition available 3/17






A practical guide to the essential practice that builds better teachers.

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