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 🙂


10 thoughts on “Q is for…

  1. You are starting a slightly different journey, so there are a whole host of new questions bubbling up. Consider coming to NCSM in April and learning more about your new leadership role. I can think of a few sessions right off the top of my head that would answer some of them or at least get you thinking of more questions! Mathedleadership.com

    • Hi Kim! Thanks for reading. It’s not exactly a new “role,” just that people know how much i do on my own to grow and are starting to draw on my passions a bit! I am going to ncsm (well, I’m planning on it but haven’t registered yet) and would absolutely love to hear the sessions you have in mind. I went last year and was frustrated. Careful- I don’t need anymore questions- I need some answers first!!! 😉

      Thanks for reading and sharing! Look forward to hearing what sessions you have in mind!

      • As Program Chair I think every session will be a-ma-zing! 🙂

        The first thing I want to say is that you are a leader: leadership doesn’t have to come with a title. It comes with action and intent and when others follow your lead. Also, the fact that you’re asking different questions puts you in a different role. Embrace it!

        District PD is always an unknown variable. Of course the best way to change it for the better is to be on the inside. One session I am really looking forward to is Mike Flynn’s session on reluctant teachers. He dug deeper than the surface to try to figure out why teachers resist learning environments. This seems directly applicable to your situation!

  2. robertkaplinsky says:

    Gosh, these are not easy questions to answer because these are complex situations.

    Meeting #1
    I have found vertical articulation meetings to be tricky, as a rule. They can quickly turn into blaming the other grade band or a tag team to blame the district. I’d recommend focusing on the smallest grain size possible. For example, begin with a conversation about the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade. The reality is that many schools don’t have a good sense of the transition from their earliest grade to their latest grade (such as 6th to 8th or 9th to 12th), so it is hard to talk about later grades. You may find issues like a HS teacher complaining about lack of preparation with standards A, B, and C… which are either no longer in that grade level or not a standard at all.

    Meeting #2
    For this situation, maybe you could have the PD committee set the target goal and the teachers decide how it will be accomplished. For example, the PD committee could say that planning time will be allocated for teams to either implement rich problem solving tasks or assessments that measure the results. Then, collaborative teams can apply for the time and say what they plan to accomplish, how they plan to do it, and how it can be measured. That way, there is more professional flexibility.

    Hope it helps.

    • Great things to think about. I have to remember to think in small steps, not snapping my fingers and *poof* everything is magical and amazing! Thank you!

    • There is something equalizing about multiple grade levels doing non-standard mathematical tasks together. Focus on an SMP and pull out the mathematical representations and math talk at the different grade levels represented. Look at student work. Either way, tackle problems of practice.

  3. I’m excited that you have been asked to be a part of this district-wide work. Too often classroom teachers aren’t which kills me.

    My big learning from my role as a district admin:

    *From Dan, at Desmos PDs, I have learned the importance of giving folks a chance to weigh in on any ‘elephant in the room’ issues. For example he always starts PD by asking ways teachers have seen technology both help and hinder a lesson, really honoring the ways that teachers have had tech hinder a lesson. He also then has a clear transition to move on and not get bogged down in this. He is also amazing at learning everyone’s names really quickly and addressing everyone by name. Relationship building has paid huge dividends for me as well.

    *Best district-wide ongoing PD involved teachers bringing in student work from lessons/units they were especially proud of which showed their growth as teachers. We had a series of PDs where we did a gallery walk at each one, with a set of reflection questions that teachers responded to and everyone got to read as they walked around looking at student work. Having teachers’ voices and experiences push everyone’s thinking allowed everyone to be that much more honest and open to change.

    *Self Directed PD: In our district, to have a 1:1 classroom (cart of Chromebooks), you have to first become a Google Certified Educator (you get paid 14 hours of time for doing this). Year 1 I got a lot of push-back from teachers who didn’t like the standardized exam or the online studying. So we made a second option. We wrote an online alternative assessment where we chose 15 instructional tech tools that are widely used in our district, made screencasts on how to use each of them, shared student work from classrooms using them. Teachers had to choose 7 tools that they wanted to learn more about, use our resources, and then develop items they’d use with families, colleagues or students with each tool. Teachers loved this option and developed really creative work when given choices on which tools to learn about and to create solely for their purposes.

    *Incorporating teachers into PD makes a huge difference-everyone is more invested and engaged when classroom teachers are leading. It’s really important to be able to pay them for planning time and for leading the PD.

    Happy to talk more if it’s helpful and I am eager to hear how this redesign of PD process goes and learn from your experiences.

    • Gosh- thank you so much Allison! I really appreciate you taking the time to explain all this. I can’t wait to see what progress we can make 😊

  4. Excited for your chance to be a voice in these decisions and processes. I have 100 ideas/things i have done with this but not so much time to write them up right now. DM me of you’d like to set up a phone chat date. Love to share some of my thoughts and/or be a sounding board for yours.

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