Six years ago I left a community I cared about, an awesome group of math teachers, and students I loved to find out two things: 1. How do humans learn mathematics? 2. What constitutes a "good" teacher?
To answer my first question, my journey has allowed me to work with students from TK to 12, from age 4 to 19, from the most studious of learners to the most resistant of learners, where each moment provides learning opportunities. I cannot say it has always been easy, but few things worth knowing are rarely easy; however, I have caught glimpses of how we learn through being able to work with this span. Understanding when we are exposed to different concepts and tracing how those concepts evolve through the grade levels, connecting this to why students still seem to show up year-after-year acting like each concept is brand new, and finding ways to combat that process. While I am so very, very far from a satisfactory answer to this question, I have developed a solid foundation for how and why.
My second question I originally thought would be the easier question to answer, but I have found that I still do not have as solid a foundation as I do with the first question. As a new teacher, I thought a "good" teacher looked like the photographs below:
The teacher at the front of the room, every student quietly hanging on every word I say, because the students were hungry to learn, and I was THE TEACHER, the dispensary of knowledge. These images quickly faded as I got into working with kids because they didn't have this same image of what their classroom should look like or that this is how I envisioned their learning.
Making a long story short, I found that my journey changed when I could have fun with students, I could be myself with them, and we could still have some sort of learning environment moving forward. After five years, I felt I was ready to really dive into answering my two questions. I didn't consider myself a "good" teacher, which is why I had the question. I knew that I cared about kids, I knew that I developed connections with them and I was always curious how they were doing. I knew that most of the time I was listening and dealing with helping them get past their "friend drama" or other types of drama in their life, which is their reality and they wouldn't, no couldn't, learn math if they were in the wrong mindset. I knew that I could laugh with kids and those disruptive, not afraid to be themselves, loud, and challenging students were my favorites. I like authentic people, people who tell you that you have something in your teeth, who call you on your BS, and who challenge you, but I didn't know what a "good" teacher looked like, sounded like, or did. My perception at this time moved from the images above to something amorphous and unclear, but with one important characteristic.
The message I was receiving said that the only thing that made a good teacher were the results the students were getting on whatever the measurement tool was, and it was almost entirely related to some sort of test. My effectiveness and worth as a teacher, my only criteria to determine if I was a "good" teacher, or not, was based on a single number. What's worse is that this single number only had to be high enough as compared to my colleagues to make me stand out as a "good" teacher. Not only does this not set the stage well for collaboration because I don't want any of my colleagues to know the "secret sauce" because they'll be just as "good" as me (I have to pause and say how much this sucks for our kids sitting in your's and mine's classrooms).
Although the notion that I was judged based on a single number didn't feel right to me, the gravity of importance related to the sacred number indicated that my notion was misguided at best. This process led me to seek out what makes a good teacher, and what might we pay attention to, because I was convinced there has to be more...that being a "good" teacher was more than determining if my milkshake was...well...you get it.
As my understanding about the learner grew, I noticed that most students respond to and desire their teacher to care about them, the individual, and seem to care less about the effectiveness of strategies or the preparation the teacher put into their lesson plans. Kids care about their relationship with you, they don't care about the learning you want them to master. From a kid's perspective, a good teacher is:
The educational system has this other focus which is results based on various measurements, but mostly based on a standardized test that inevitably is used to mark if a teacher is a good teacher or not. From this perspective, all the relationship and people side of things only matters if this helps produce better test scores, if we are machiavellian about our approach here then really any ends will justify the means provided our results meet whatever criteria we meet. Now granted, it is as dire as all that, but our current state I already see that approach coming back as the thing that matters is scores. It may be obvious by this constructed narrative where I stand on this issue, but personal belief aside, I am not really closer to answering my second question.
Granted that a balanced approach seems the most logical in terms of wanting measurable results from students that exist in an educational learning environment that promotes and cares for them. I believe all reasonable adults would agree with this middle ground, and the problem I still have is that this feels a like a great compromise, I don't see it as a meaningful answer to my second question. Perhaps input from others would be helpful in parsing out some sort of truth from this conversation:
My dream of starting a Twitter chat happened two years ago when I started #MathConceptions with the help of my buddy Shane Ferguson. Since that time, I have had the dream of starting a chat with the folks I work with, to grow and learn with those closest to you makes the most sense. As with so many signs I am reading and learning about, if you want to see something happen you should jump in and get moving on whatever that thing is...so I am starting another Twitter chat to tell our story from Burton School District.
Our team of coaches has grown significantly this year, with a lot of folks being new to their roles, having a centralized location to pull info and share stories seems to make sense. Our first topic is on Growth Mindset, as we all benefit from fostering a growth mindset. Each week we will have different topics and hopefully different educational leaders from our community jump in and we all learn about a common passage. Our first chat starts on 9/10 at 7:00 p.m. Pacific standard time. I am excited for the new journey and the amazing folks that will be there, or will eventually be there.
One of the things I love about teaching is how we continuously grow, learn, evolve, and become better at the crafting of learning experiences for our students. Inspired from a variety of amazing educators from within my personal learning network (PLN) I have compiled a series of game like structures for all learners to access and I call the whole kit Ten Minute Math (#tenminutemath). The sequence the various games are shown below, with a clickable index to follow.
One of the blessings of my current position is being able to model lessons and concepts in all grade levels from Kinder through high school and I've tried a variety of these at various grade levels to showcase their value and impact. Well if you'd like to try, please make a copy of this slide deck and get to work. I only hope you share your experiences and modifications so we can all learn a little more and get better together, or you can type tinyurl.com/10minutemath and have fun!
We are always on the hunt for resources that make our teaching lives easier, and I love to curate and share. To this end, I am showing some of my favorite and richest collections of resources for powerful mathematics instructions. Starting with a collection of powerful uses for one of my favorite ways to capture student voice, Flipgrid, through a collection of some of the amazing, sharing educators in my PLN, with over 40 ways to capture student thinking. The clickable Flipgrid PDF is has a variety of ideas to spark your creative teaching practices and let students voices shine. The second clickable PDF I am sharing is a link to several other clickable PDFs depending on what you are looking to do with your learners. The Math Coordinator in me wanted to share some ways for you to access instructional strategies that allow you to go deeper with students. The MCs Top Six clickable PDF is for you if you're looking for empowering students through meaningful math experiences.
The next two clickable PDF resources may be confusing if you're not careful with understanding their intent. The one of the left below (Single Serving) target is for single lessons, if you are looking for powerful single lesson ideas then this is the clickable PDF you need. If you are looking for deeper learning experiences, then the clickable PDF on the right (Multi-Servings) is the one you need. Please note, like the MC Top Six above, these may lead to additional clickable PDFs depending on the resource type. For example, on the Multi-Servings (on the right below), if you clicked on the Clothesline Math resource it would lead to another clickable PDF with the various clothesline math resources linked there. There is too much on either of these resources to go into in any more detail here, but I encourage you to jump in and start clicking away. The resources are linked below.
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