Week 8 (March 8-14) Chapter 6: Recognizing and Overcoming Obstacles

  • 16 Mar 2013 3:25 PM
    Reply # 1244323 on 1238947
    Kathryn Elkins
    This prompt was timed perfectly.  We just completed a workshop based on the CCSS.  Members of our Transition Math team facilitated a 3-hour  workshop to over 125 teachers and administrators.  It was an extremely well-planned workshop where grade level teachers unpacked the math CCSS using the North Carolina materials and determined gaps with our current Investigations program. Participants reflected on the development of thinking and reasoning skills as they watched a teaching channel video on the CCSS.  This was a follow-up workshop to a previous pullout day. The depth of conversation and reflection was invigorating.  Teachers learning from their peers is very exciting.  The workshop facilitators shared their experiences piloting about how they went deeper with our current math program, eliminating content no longer a focus, and embedding the math practices into daily instruction.  Allowing our staff piloteers the freedom (dignity) to align curriculum and instruction (with significant staff development) and receive support from each other was very powerful (collaboration).  It gave them the courage to share their experiences with their grade level colleagues and were very enthusiastic about making changes. One of the facilitators said, "We need to invite the other teachers to to join this math party."  The CCSS's focus will allow more time to go deeper and provide the time students need to develop deep understanding (quality).  We cannot cut corners and jump to the algorithm without students making sense out of the math.  As administrators, we need to provide a framework for our leaders to study, take risks, and plan meaningful staff development.  We then need to step back, get out of their way, and be there for support when needed.  I could not be proud of the team's accomplishments. Our workshops are not one shot deals.  The next steps are to plan our phase in plan for FY14.
  • 16 Mar 2013 8:39 PM
    Reply # 1244470 on 1238947
    Kate St.Denis
    How are you working toward good quality, meaningful professional learning in your setting?   Which of the leadership move(s) strike you as the most realistic for you to pursue in your setting and with your colleagues?  What obstacles to change are you trying to overcome?

    We are working on professional learning across grade levels in the district and between grades in our schools. I am co-leading a k-2 after school math study group which is very well attended and rife with rich discussions. I also lead the 6-8 math team where we have just begun a book study on Developing Essential Understandings, Expressions, Equations, and Functions from the NCTM series. Our most profitable meetings are spent solving math problems together. 
    Overall, I believe that our greatest obstacles are cultural. Michele L talked about isolation which is certainly an issue in our rural schools. Having one class per grade is rich for community building, but deadly for professional development and ultimately accountability. Couple that with our educational culture of closed doors and we do exactly what Leinwand cautions us against.
  • 17 Mar 2013 9:22 AM
    Reply # 1244648 on 1238947
    Evelyn Krahn
    At this time our school district has taken the first steps in providing its staff members with good quality professional development in mathematics. A team made up of K-12 teachers have been meeting throughout the year communicating their findings of how they have been aligning our present math program to the CCSS. This pilot group of educators have developed a community where meaningful discussions have taken place. This past Friday we met will are grade level colleagues and presented our vision for the transition to the CCSS. I was able to share many of the resources suggested from this chapter. One of the obstacles I am trying to reassurance to my grade level colleagues is that change takes time . If we work together we can provide a learning community where our students can be successful learners.     
  • 17 Mar 2013 10:54 AM
    Reply # 1244683 on 1238947
    T. Hartnett
    How are you working toward good quality, meaningful professional learning in your setting? Which of the leadership move(s) strike you as the most realistic for you to pursue in your setting and with your colleagues? What obstacles to change are you trying to overcome?

    While no longer in a math coach role, my strong desire to encourage best practice in mathematics could be characterized as a compulsion.  As an interventionist, a big chunk of my duties thus far has consisted of working with smaller groups of students in a tier 2 pull-out situation.  However, over the past two years, I have been able to carve out time for team teaching.  Last year, team-teaching a 6th grade math class with Tom Light proved to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  We collaborated in enhancing our Mathscape program lessons by incorporating the formative assessment process and workshop model.  In addition, we differentiated our lesson plans for both ends of the spectrum and were able to provide tier one intervention support for students who needed it, whether they were on my caseload or not. Tom began the year as the 6th grade math teacher of all 3 classes and we were both participating in a formative assessment  p.d. experience; it made sense for us to work together.  The learning was mutual as we both brought different strengths to the planning.  While we didn't have time to plan together, we utilized e-mail to communicate and took turns enhancing lessons.  This year, a grade 5 teacher with a passion for mathematics and the willingness to go beyond what's expected expressed interest in learning about formative assessment. Because we did not have a shared p.d. experience in formative assessment, there have been limitations.  However, the 20 fifth graders in this group will arrive in 6th grade accustomed to using learning intentions and success criteria to assess their learning.   Both experiences meet Leinwand's criteria: p.d. that is ongoing and takes place in the classroom. In addition, last year's team teaching experience had more of an impact on NECAP data than any of my small group intervention work with students who are not close to meeting has had.  

    Our district does have what Leinwand calls "Grade level and course committees." We call it the Math Transition team and the volunteer members of this committee have been "granted permission" (encouraged, actually) to let some things go as we work toward implementing the CCSM.  One practice described by Leinwand yet seemingly missing in my current district is that of professional learning communities. Teachers do have time to meet as grade levels and additional time is carved out for after school grade span intervention meetings.  However, discussion seems to focus on "administrivia."  I believe that using these times to examine student work/ data and formulate questions about practice would help improve transparency and, thus, provide the impetus for collegial visits and videotaping/sharing.  

    The biggest obstacle to change I am trying to overcome is that of a lack of vision.  When teachers and principals do not share an articulated vision as to what effective math instruction looks like, it is difficult to move forward.  After all the time and energy we spent last year, Tom is no longer the 6th grade math teacher.  He is once again a generalist responsible for planning and teaching all subjects.  I learned Friday that the 5th grade teacher with whom I have been teaming this year may not be teaching mathematics at all next year.  It feels as though we are moving backwards and I believe a lack of a shared vision is the culprit.  To end on a positive note, there is talk about having principals participate in a Sensible Mathematics books study next year.  This experience could be the beginning of a shared vision!
  • 17 Mar 2013 3:44 PM
    Reply # 1244813 on 1238947
    Wayne Dorr
    This prompt generated a ton of great commentary.  It certainly demonstrated the vast differences across the state in these really important issues.  I think that Kate's point about culture being an obstacle to change is so relevant.  One can go back to the work of a guy named Ron Havelock from the 70's and 80's (who was a brilliant organizational expert) and hear the same issue raised.  Several of the comments of others in our group spoke eloquently about that as well - either in terms of where it aids or creates a barrier to staff growth.  Tracy's note about the lack of vision is particularly significant if a system is to move forward, and an understanding of where a system is going, and what it should look like when it arrives, was one of the five most salient features of effective schools identified in the early 80's by Brookover, Edmunds, Rutter and Lezotte, et al.  I'm not lecturing here; I'm just suggesting that the points made by nearly everyone this past week have been cited as critical by others for a long time; and they should continue to be the focus of our work if we're to bring the kind of change that Leinwand envisions and urges.  I also agree with Rhonda's point about using all five of Leinwand's leadership moves.  Good leadership understands the issue of building-level context.  It's difficult to apply cookie-cutter expectations across every building in a system.  That kind of sensitivity, I believe, also builds trust between leadership and staff.  For me, whenever I've assumed a leadership role, I've always sought to understand the culture of my organization first, spend time with staff (to understand how they see the place and its needs) second and then try to create opportunities for collaboration (my favorite model is the PLC) for all of us - together.  And Leinwand's commentary pretty much demonstrates both the complexity and need to focus on those critical elements.  He has a nice, uncomplicated way of presenting those ideas.  I would like to comment on something that he didn't address except in passing.  System leadership should take on the task of clearly articulating the absolutely essential need to provide resources for staff time for collaboration; and commit to that principal as a vital component of strengthening  their system, and by commit I mean that this resource must be kept in place and not the first to go in a budget cut (as it nearly always is).  When that happens, it's like taking the engine out of a car and expecting it to go faster.
  • 17 Mar 2013 7:43 PM
    Reply # 1244929 on 1238947
    Jenny Jorgensen
    In response to the reading of Chapter 6: Recognizing and Overcoming Obstacles, I feel very fortunate to work where I work and with whom I work.  There is a vision about education in our school district and the work that we do is guided by this vision. We have collaboration at each grade level; teachers teach a parallel curriculum.  The teachers have weekly, common planning time where they plan for the following week, discuss student work, score student work, review upcoming assessments, etc. It's an environment very far removed from the isolation feeling that some teachers feel or have felt in the past.
    I agree with Steve's discussion about math teachers and that the teaching of mathematics is different from other subjects. What we teach and how we teach mathematics should be different that it was 20 years ago. I remember the discussion with a parent, who at one point in the discussion said, "It was good enough for me, I learned it." I wanted to ask him how many students "it" wasn't good enough for; something we probably didn't know about our classmates.
    Obstacles to change are thankfully not an issue, for the most part, at our school. As I've mentioned above, our teachers work collaboratively and we have support.  The idea about insufficient time is interesting. I remember hearing the DuFours speak and their comment about paying attention to how we use the time we do have. I find that, I and a group of teachers can accomplish a lot when we set our sights on accomplishing specific goals; this often includes an agenda and some ground rules for how we will work together.
    With my position, Lead Teacher, the district has invested in providing teachers with in-class professional development, curriculum instruction support, and an opportunity to co-teach or observe a demonstration lesson. We meet, not as often as I'd like, as a math learning area group about four times a year.
    I am a bit alarmed with Steve's comment, "Leaders need to give colleagues premission to skip unnecessary lessons or even whole chapters in textbooks..." pg. 83. I think I'm alarmed because this might lead to very different learning experiences for students in the same grade level.  We want students to progress to the next grade level with common mathematical knowledge. Steve's comment might be less alarming if we weren't already using current curricular materials. In purchasing these materials, it was made very clear that we were NOT to skip lessons or keep our "old favorites" as we learned to teach with the new materials. I wonder if this sentence hit a chord with others.
  • 18 Mar 2013 3:47 PM
    Reply # 1245769 on 1238947
    Heather Dority and Kim Smallidge
    Many teachers at our school are very frustrated with the math series that we are currently using. This frustration is actually acting as a great impetus to discuss best practice in math. As a result, many of our colleagues are pursuing professional opportunities to learn more about current thinking regarding math education. We have a district wide K-2 Reflective Practice Group meeting monthly to discuss math, last summer we had a presenter from MMSA work with a group of colleagues to better understand the EMT assessment, we have a group going to ATOMIM, etc...discussions about math amongst our colleagues are becoming more commonplace than we ever remember!  

    The leadership move that we feel needs to be pursued is that of “catching the flak”. Our school has its fair share of teachers who use the “tried and true” method of teaching math, and parents who expect math class to reflect the math classes of their youth. It seems that many colleagues and parents do not see that those methods are not meeting the vast majority of student needs. A way of “catching the flak”, or at least de-railing it, would be to hold a Family Math Night for specific grade level spans.  The evening could start off with a quick overview of what a typical math class at their child’s grade level might look like, how and why math class looks different than math classes parents remember, followed by stations with an assortment of activities that engage parents and children in doing math. 

    Obstacles to change seem so plentiful. The ones we are trying to overcome are primarily professional isolation, lack of confidence and fear of change. Sharing articles and books on best practice, inviting presenters to address current best practice in math, actually “doing math” together at the start of professional meetings all attempt to address these obstacles and institute an atmosphere of collaboration and trust.Obstacles to change seem so plentiful. The ones we are trying to overcome are primarily professional isolation, lack of confidence and fear of change. Sharing articles and books on best practice, inviting presenters to address current best practice in math, actually “doing math” together at the start of professional meetings all attempt to address these obstacles and institute an atmosphere of collaboration and trust.
  • 19 Mar 2013 4:39 PM
    Reply # 1246773 on 1238947
    Gail Stetson
    Our district uses the Investigations program.  When we started out, we had quite a bit of training with regularly scheduled sessions to address program questions and concerns.  We even had professional development to help staff better develop our own constructivist approach to mathematics. We participated in a book study on the “Young Mathematicians at Work” (Fosnot/Dolk) series.  This was terrific work, doing, as Leinwand describes it, “engaging, concept-oriented, problem solving, problem driven mathematics.”
    Unfortunately, sustained support for the advocated changes did not last.  Over time, a newer version of Investigations was published.  This time, there was less focus on understanding the changes to the program.  With increasing demands for better math scores on high stakes assessments, support for the approach seems to have eroded.  We are required to spend time analyzing data as an avenue to improve student achievement as measured by the NECAP.  
    I feel like we are starting to move in a more meaningful direction.  We are looking at how the implementation of CCSS will affect our math instruction.  We are looking for the gaps in our current curriculum.  Investigations has published “snap-ins”  to align the program with the new standards.  We are feeling overwhelmed, but in our building, we have started mandatory peer observations with the goal of overcoming at least some of the obstacles of anxiety and isolation. We are implementing the math practices.  These leadership moves have the feel of moving in the right direction, back toward more authentic mathematics in meaningful contexts, with more transparency and collaboration.    

  • 19 Mar 2013 7:02 PM
    Reply # 1246986 on 1238947
    Amanda Dyer
    Teaching at the same school as Heather and Kim, I agree with them in regards to there being many obstacles. Professional isolation, fear of change, and lack of confidence are huge. I also would add insufficient time.
    Each content area requires the same scrutiny of theory, understanding, and practice. There is limited common time with grade level teachers and often common planning time is taken up with other tasks (PET meetings). Ample time is sometimes provided at the beginning of any change, but the follow through time, which should be a larger chunk of time, is often minimal or nonexistent.
    Being an only teacher at a grade level is often isolating, but sometimes even when there is more than one teacher at a grade level...it can be just as isolating. Teachers on the same grade level who are at different levels understandings can sometimes find themselves isolated as there are some teacher who enjoy and want to  gainfrom those who have a deeper understanding and level of teaching...others find that it threatening
    In all of the responses I was struck by the comment Wayne made: 'I'm just suggesting that the points made by nearly everyone this past week have been cited as critical by others for a long time'.  I agree, a long time.
  • 19 Mar 2013 10:06 PM
    Reply # 1247100 on 1238947
    Deleted user

    One of the areas that I’ve been thinking about as we move toward implementing the Common Core is how to increase teachers’ math content knowledge as they are examining their curriculum to determine what changes need to be made to meet the Math Practice and Content Standards. Teachers in elementary school have a wide variety of math backgrounds (as do our students), so providing tasks they can access with a variety of entry points is important.  The tasks need to be authentic for teachers, and should model the ways teachers need to work with students. I have done just a little of this type of PD with teachers.  Talking with the literacy specialist after the session, she noted how engaged the teachers were with doing the math.   She reminded me that many elementary teachers became much better writing teachers when they began to write more themselves. So it’s more than just learning about the CC Math Standards and Math Practices.  Elementary teachers need to become mathematicians.


    I feel our staff does a good job of treating each other with dignity and respect. 

    Grade level teams are also having conversations together about what they are already teaching that meets the CC Math Standards and Practices. They are also thinking about what needs to be taught more rigorously and what no longer needs to be taught at their grade level.  Since this is important work, we show that we value it by giving teachers time to work together on this during early release time.  


    An area for continued development is the transparency piece.  People are willing to share and plan with each other more than in the past, but it’s not yet part of the culture that teachers teach in front of each other and then reflect on the lesson. We are also beginning to have conversations about developing some common assessments that we use for formative assessments since our district doesn’t have that piece in place. This will all take time, but I feel we are moving in the right direction.

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