Q is for…

Last year, well, last last year (Dec 2016), Dan Meyer and some friends (including my own personal Yoda, Fawn Nguyen) did the keynote at CMC North with a theme of questions – what questions do teachers have in different decades of their teaching lives. I always intended to go back and re-watch the presentation (I haven’t) and reflect on my own questions (nope). But what I’ve known since that night was…

Q is for Questions (Let’s be honest, it was that or quotes…)

As I sit here on a Sunday evening after a lovely Christmas break that was filled with a ton of twitter reading – going back to old saves and actually reading them, as well as reading a yet to be published book that’s of particular interest to my current professional state of mind, and other things of that nature, I have a lot of questions. As I look to the week ahead and have to prepare myself for the actual work of teaching, my mind is on 2 meetings I have been asked to attend – meetings that are certainly part of my teaching work, but that go to the bigger questions of the profession. I’m thrilled to be invited to these meetings. My “just a teacher” ordinariness has a lot to offer in both of these settings and I am happy to be invited to share my voice (even though it will quiver, no doubt). But questions… they are rapid fire in my mind as I look ahead. I asked my closest colleague about the meetings because we work within the same system and have, I think, similar frustrations. She is more pragmatic in looking at them, while my inner Pollyanna comes bursting out.

So what’s a girl to do? Turn to her tweeps, obviously. {Full disclosure, I wrote a ton about the first meeting and some things about my teaching situation/setting. I envisioned a long list of myriad questions. I don’t think anyone needs that. I deleted what I started with and am just sticking to some of the big picture questions.} These questions are not of the rhetorical kind, so if you have any advice or answers, please let me know!

Meeting 1:

I was invited by my former principal (who has moved to the “district” level) to meet with him, another “district” person, and a teacher from another school who I know and enjoy. The purpose was described as a brainstorming about what he’s heard about the Jr. High programs not lining up with the High Schools. Now, to be honest, I think a lot of what he’s “heard” about this misalignment has come from yours truly during the 2 years he was my principal.

{The biggie} If I know (based on previous students’ feedback, current students’ visits, meetings at the HS, etc) that I’m sending my kids to a very traditional setting – no desmos, plenty of tricks, no focus (or knowledge of) SMPs, no discourse, notes and tons of hw (only, not balanced with other things), etc., then what’s the point of doing what I (try to) do?

Ultimately, I guess my answer to that is I’d rather them have 4 years of it than none of it, but why do I care so much, then? If they “survive” me for 4 years then they can go to the relief of just being told what to do and how on a quick march to Calculus, does it even matter that they have exposure to something else? Even the kids question – “if we’re going to be taught the tricks in HS, why do we have to do things your way now? Why do we have to know why?” Do they have a point? Should I just be another cog on that march to Calculus wheel?

I find myself frustrated that no one else (save one person and her staff who she has worked with so much) sees what I see. I meet with teachers from the other schools and they may take a suggestion or a resource from me and maybe we are more alike than what our conversations lead me to believe, but again, what’s it to me? By the definition of the HSs, I think they would say whatever we are doing is “working.” So why change anything?

Why does it matter to me? I explained to someone recently that I feel like an ant trying to climb the Great Wall. But why am I focused on things outside of my own 4 walls, and outside the walls of my school? Who am I to think that I can cause change on such a grand scale? I can’t even catalyze change in my own grade level? Who am I to expect and want better? Do I actually think that I can start a ripple that 5 different high schools will even look at? And if not, what does any of it even matter? (ok, those ended up mostly being fairly rhetorical.) (i guess I need more pep talk, less answers… Go ahead… roll your eyes. I deserve it).

But ok, so I sit down this meeting. I want to create some steps to actionable change. I want to help create a culture of math excellence – where math is enjoyable and not something to dread. I want to help teachers be excited about all the possibilities. Where do I even begin in convincing others that it’s needed? Or is it? Am I just so stubborn and so arrogant to think that I’m right and they’re not? Do I just continue to do my thing? Consider the SMPs and the effective teaching practices outlined in PtA and be ok that most others haven’t even heard of PtA or the SMPs? Use super great resources from across the MTBOS and tell an amazing math story, but tell it from my silo? Again, if the high schools don’t really see issue (they are all too happy to put kids straight into Geometry even though I know full well I didn’t fully cover the Alg 1 standards in the rush to compact and accelerate.), who am I to ask for better (different?)?

So what does my conversation look like?

Meeting 2:

A handful of teachers were invited to the next planning meeting for “district” PD. If you know me, you know I love me a good conference! But, I also love PD. Well, good PD. I’ve had so many opportunities to take part in really great PD. It excites me. I love learning and talking about teaching. But in my local world, that makes me weird. But, I can complain about poor PD or I can offer my input to make it better. So that’s what I did – I told my previous principal that I would gladly volunteer to be a teacher voice on the committee. This is my first opportunity.

We meet as clusters a few times a year – a cluster being 5-7 schools grouped geographically. At these meetings the teachers are k-8 and teaching all subjects. Most of the Jr High teachers teach one or two subjects. One of my goals is “assume best intent.” I truly look at the work the PD committee has done the past couple years and I look at the best intentions. I think they have made steps to really try to do good things. But, it doesn’t always come across as the teachers would hope. We asked for time to collaborate with people who taught the same things, because that doesn’t exist on our campuses. They accommodated that. Sort of. Best intentions, not super great implementation. People were frustrated by the tasks we were given to do in those settings – they honored the request, but it was still met with doubt. This year at one of our meetings they tried to differentiate by doing “centers.” Again – best intentions. The outcomes? Not great. Many people stuck with their friends rather than an appropriate level, and there weren’t experts at some of the levels to guide the teachers at those centers. The job the committee is tasked with is nearly impossible – all those subjects, all those levels? In the crunch to make it apply to everyone, it ends up too broad to help anyone. Add in there’s a lot of being read to, and something’s got to change.

Much of my twitter reading over break has been PD focused. I sent a bunch of blog posts to the member of the committee who invited me to the meeting. I’m hoping, again, that I can help to be a catalyst of change. I don’t expect things to change and then sit back and wait, I want to be part of the change in whatever way I can. I have a few ideas that, while I may not share in a meeting with a bunch of principals and other teachers (please… have we met?), I would feel perfectly comfortable discussing with the “district” admin people.


What are some of the best district/school led PD efforts of which you’ve been a part?

Have you ever been in a setting where PD was self directed? What did that look like?

What are your greatest hopes when you attend a district type PD? What are your worst fears at the same?

How are teachers incorporated in leading PD? Has it been a positive experience?

Basically, knowing that our situation isn’t working well, do you have examples of something you’d share? (May be helpful to note there are no coaches or anything like that in the “district.”)

How do you make colleagues find joy in  profession learning if they don’t see it?

In your states, what are the requirements for ongoing growth in terms of your credential renewal? If your state (like CA) has no requirement, does your district? How is it tracked?

Again, what does this conversation look like?


Anyway… so that’s my week ahead. I don’t know that I will have answers to anything, but it’s nice that the conversations are happening, at least! I really would be so thankful for any and all answers or feedback to these questions 🙂 Comment away. If you want to email me something more lengthy – cmmteach12 on gmail 🙂