Building Capacity

February 9, 2012 at 11:28 am Leave a comment

In my district we have not adopted any new initiatives for about two years now,   with the hope that we can build capacity of all of our teachers.  This is a hefty undertaking, when you think about wanting to let teachers be part of the process of change and reform, and when you think about how many teachers we have.  True, we are not HUGE, but we are a fairly large district considering our fiscal and human resources for professional development. We have however adopted the new Common Core State Standards, well our state did, but thank goodness!!!

Three years ago we rolled out a district Math Expectation Guide for the purpose of giving teachers the guidelines of best practices that we expect for teaching elementary math.  Our major focus has been on shifting teachers from “traditional”, textbook/paper pencil math lessons to hands-on, inquiry based problem solving.  Constructivism. I was lucky enough to be a school math coach when this came out, so I had opportunities to really teach teachers how this should all play out.  Other sites have not been so fortunate, and when you try to train the masses on something, we know the message isn’t always received the way it was intended. My colleague and I have had many discussions about what did and didn’t get clearly communicated to teachers.  Some days we feel as though we’re back peddling.  Nonetheless, our goal this year is to BUILD CAPACITY through staff development and our monthly TEaM Math meetings with a representative from each school.  *Sidenote, TEaM stands for Transforming, Engaging, and Motivating.  Three words not usually associated with mathematics instruction.*

If you have ever tried to get an important lesson out to more than a small group, you will understand that Building Capacity isn’t always easy.  First of all, you need everyone to buy into what you are doing.  Then there’s the issue of TIME. How do we find the time to provide opportunities for discussions, professional reading, taking risks, reflection?  And the list goes on and on.  More importantly, you have to think about WHO.  Who is going to train others? Who are we going to send to meetings, professional development, collaborative planning to get the “good stuff”?Who will  bring it back and deliver the message to the rest of the staff?

While I believe we have to build capacity for what we expect teachers to do, I also believe that we have to build capacity for what teachers know.  I am a firm believer that people do the best they can with what they have.  I’m also a firm believer that many teachers think they are supposed to know everything. (Occupational hazard?) Teaching has taken a huge shift in the last several years, an exciting one, but one that requires us to own up to our weaknesses and fears.

I question a lot of things in life, and I certainly have spent the last 4 years questioning how it is that I’m a Math Coach when I NEVER set out to become one. I do love it though!  My aspirations were to become a Literacy Coach or something of the sort.  Light has been shed, if only a little at a time, on why I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.  My greatest reward is seeing students light  up when they “get it”.  Right now, my students happen to be teachers.  In an effort to build capacity and start to chip away at the real root of our students’ mathematical understanding, I want to address teachers’ mathematical understanding.  Today I did so by offering a professional workshop on building numeracy. More about that in a future post.  My goal hope for the 20 teachers who attended the workshop was not only to provide something that they could use in their classrooms ( we know teachers LOVE a Make and Take), but also to attend to something so deep  as number sense without them feeling threatened.  I’ve written about my readings, and personal A-HA moments in this journey.  So why not share this with other teachers to open up the dialogue that we don’t know it all, we don’t feel comfortable with the mathematical understanding of our students because we (some) don’t feel comfortable with our own mathematical knowledge.  If you get it,  you’re good at math, and good at teaching it, good for you!  Think of this: in your classroom there is at least one, probably more than one student who doesn’t get it, and they need you to be sensitive about that.  That’s where I come in as a coach and help you.  I’m not just a Math Coach, I’m a Math Teacher!!!! There I said it!  I. AM. A. Math. Teacher.  It might have taken me going through a process, (About 10 years) but I got here.  I’ve arrived, and now it’s time for other teachers to do the same.  The image below is feedback from today’s workshop… 

This is a celebration for me! I will frame this little Post-It note and hang it in my office to remind me that my struggles were not in vain. Sharing my journey of becoming a mathematician  helps teachers, but even greater the reward is it helps children learn!

Back to Building Capacity… now my hope is that the 20 teachers in attendance today will share this with 20 more teachers!  In order to build capacity, we have to collaborate!


Entry filed under: Reflections.

Talking in Math Class Number Sense Routines: A Book Review

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Kristen Hahn

February 2012
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