Productive Partnerships: Tools and Strategies for Math Leaders
Building Productive Partnerships
This is the first in a series of articles about supporting the work of teaching math as an instructional leader. This series offers tools and strategies for math leaders to build productive partnerships with teachers. Watch this webinar for a more in-depth discussion.
I often hear people say, “Everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.” Yes, and almost everything I ever needed to know about good math instruction, I learned in my classes studying to be a kindergarten teacher.”
Early childhood educators emphasize the importance of acting as a facilitator of learning. What does this mean to administrators and other instructional leaders? While administrators are encouraged to focus as much time and energy as possible in classrooms, the kindergarten teacher voice inside me cautions, “Yes, and remember to focus on the planning.” Making this time in planning productive was challenging for me as an instructional specialist and as an elementary principal. I came into these roles with a rich background in instruction, so I was able to listen and offer some good suggestions for instruction. However, I felt frustrated that planning sessions were not moving instruction forward to the levels I had hoped. I needed tools and strategies as a math leader to help cultivate intentional conversations during planning.
I believe that the best planning tools are teacher-focused and subject-specific. My job as an instructional leader was largely to inspire, encourage, and enable teachers to do their best work. Providing tools for effective planning can be an important step in that process.
What might some of these tools look like for elementary math instruction? I created a self-evaluation tool for teachers to use for planning along with a list of conversation starters that instructional leaders can pair with the tool. This tool is a fusion of ideas and experience shared with many wonderful colleagues over a 30+ year career in education, as well as a synthesis of a wide range of literature I have read over the years (see specific acknowledgements below).
Evaluating themselves and setting their own goals for improvement gives teachers ownership of the process. While I did not have this specific tool when I was in the role of principal, I used similar processes and tools in this role. I have found that most teachers are very accurate in identifying their own strengths and areas for improvement and very enthusiastic about working toward goals that they own. Using the tool, teachers evaluate themselves in each area, and then choose one to three goals as primary areas of focus for professional growth. These may be areas of strength that teachers want to hone to an expert level and/or areas of need that teachers want to improve.
Teachers devise a plan for improvement in the selected areas and note support that they may need in achieving their goals. For instance, if the teacher requests help in finding resources for teaching concepts, the instructional leader might recommend a resource such as the ORIGO One video below.
If a teacher asks for help in finding appropriate engaging tasks, the leader might refer the teacher to an online resource such as this:
Teachers and instructional leaders discuss these goals together and keep them at the forefront of the discussion during planning meetings. Administrators will need to be intentional about these conversations, keeping teachers focused on individual goals, and paying attention to other important elements that may be affecting planning. Using the tool below will help focus the conversations.
Join me for the next post in this series when we explore what to expect when visiting the math classroom and post-visit conversations with teachers.
Special thanks to Janeal Maxfield and Cristina Charney from North Thurston Public Schools and to Kirsten Danisavich from Worcester County Public Schools for their contributions to the tools and strategies for math leaders discussed in this blog. Thank you to Dr. Tammy Heflebower, contributing author to Becoming a Reflective Teacher, for helping to confirm and clarify my thoughts about supporting teacher growth.
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About ORIGO Education
ORIGO Education is dedicated to making learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible for all students with Pre-K and Elementary print and digital instructional materials, as well as professional learning for mathematics.