I spent my first year back in a high school as a math teacher and math coach.  I was excited to be back in the classroom but I imagined all kinds of possibilities as a math coach in the school.  As it turned out, it was a slow start – realizing that coaching comes about when teachers are ready to commit to examining their practice and taking risks.   This opportunity came to me in the second half of the school year with two dedicated applied level teachers.

This is our story – told in two formats.  The script is available below.  The story is told on “Voice” – my first time using this app.  It is simple to use, although it does not offer much flexibility or chances to be too creative with limited layouts and options.   I see it as a quick way to get your story out in a video format – perhaps a useful tool for students to tell their stories.

Check out this video I made: Our Math Coaching Journey

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On Adobe Voice

Our Math Coaching Journey (see Adobe Voice with images)

Craig Kielburger Secondary School, Milton, Ontario

Educators have long believed and enforced an ability-based view of intelligence – preventing our students from reaching their potential – not allowing them to think and to provide them with challenging experiences.   There seems to be a tendency for teachers and leaders to lack belief in students’ capabilities despite their mantra that “all students can learn”. In a similar vein, teachers are also seen in that same view – and roadblocks are created when developing teacher knowledge and skills.

With both of these in mind – the math content-coaching journey begins at Craig Kielburger SS – working towards a more effort-based belief in both professional learning and also in working with our learners in Grade 9 and 10 applied classrooms. The content-coaching is an effort-based process through which teachers learn to be more effective with their students. Our focus was on consistent strategies in the applied classroom, improving student achievement and differentiated instruction so that all students can engage in the learning actively especially those who are struggling with the math concepts.

Important Aspects of our coaching journey:

Open discussions

Just as we want to strive to have students talk about the math and create those important math talk communities – in our coaching project we focused on dialog and engaged in discourse around the core instructional issues. In our coaching sessions, we talked about dilemmas in the classroom, big ideas in our lessons that we want students to walk away with, teaching strategies that are consistent in the applied classrooms, ensuring students are learning the important mathematics and that they are also talking about their thinking and revealing what they understand about the math concepts we are focusing on.

We are respectful, honest and focused in our discussions.

Collaborative Learning Environments

As professionals, we learn though social interactions, just as our students do. Too often, teachers work in isolation – independently from one another, not realizing the impact that has on the department or even the whole school. In this project, we designed lessons collaboratively, aiming to meet student needs, gathering input from each other and working towards improving the instruction – all in a collaborative learning environment.

This is more than just an informal gathering or network in the math office. It goes beyond meeting in a common period or after school to coordinate lessons, tests, and activities or discuss administrative issues. Our coaching team centered on improving instruction and learning – using the “what if” and “I wonder” stance rather than the “I know” – and sometimes not even resolving disagreements!

In the classroom, we continue to demonstrate this model of lifelong learning to our students – often stopping to discuss publicly and explicitly our thoughts and processes, looking at student work together and talk about the choices we are making or the questions we want to ask.

Experiential learning opportunities

The co-teaching provides an experiential approach to improving practice. The coach and the two teachers focus on pedagogical content knowledge needed for a specific lesson goal in either the Grade 9 applied class or Grade 10 applied class or in some instances – both.

In our lesson planning and design – we do not advocate for any one particular method or resource. We discuss the possible tools and ideas – keeping an open mind and eventually settling on an appropriate design and the tools to be used. As a group of math teachers, we discuss the tools that can be used and we make instructional decisions that help us best discover what the students are thinking for the lesson we are planning – in other words – the tools we use in the classroom have to make sense for what we are trying to accomplish.

As the math coach, I am a co-learner and I also take an inquiry stance. My role is to work alongside the teachers, and questioning to elicit lesson goals, concerns, their beliefs, and their reflections. It is my hope that our journey helps us all become more knowledgeable about what works and has a positive impact on student learning and student thinking.

Co-Planning

In this process, the co-planning sessions are the most intense and take the most time for us. We can often meet more than once around a lesson and we keep an ongoing Google doc on the cloud so that we can continue to add our thinking right up to the day of the lesson.

As described by Lucy West – in Content-focused Coaching – “planning dialogs are considered the most important part of the process as they immerse the practitioner into robust habits of planning that eventually become internalized and over time result in “habits of planning” – which, in turn results in richer lessons.”

As the coach, I’ve ensured that the lessons will revolve around big ideas and that our lesson goals are clearly articulated. We make sure that the conversations focuses on student learning and instructional decisions that foster student understanding.

This is also the time where I can identify best the concerns and issues of the teachers and the learning theory that underpins their beliefs.

The shared lesson plan is the one that will be implemented in the classroom and decisions are made on how the co-teaching will take place.   There is a commitment from all on trying out the lesson as it has been designed together – and responsibility for the success of the lesson is shared.

Our questions include:

What is the topic that is being taught?

How will it be taught?

Why did you decide to teach it this way/

Who is in your class – is the design allowing all students to take part and be active learners?

 Discussion on lesson plan:

Big ideas and lesson goals

Lesson design – include structure, content, activities, pairs/group/whole/individual

Trajectory of lessons and prior knowledge of students

Collecting evidence of student thinking

Anticipating student solutions, problems, issues, misconceptions

Checking for understanding – consolidation

Co-teaching

Co-teaching allows the three of us to work together on a lesson in the classroom. Interventions are agreed upon by all of us – not seen as “correcting” a teacher – but supporting or adding to lesson. An example may be a teacher not noticing the relevance of something a student said or an answer that a student has given.

The coach can also help direct questioning to enhance student thinking – to probe deeper or to challenge further the students.

The coach can also help emphasize or bring out an important point or comment made by the teachers or students.

Debriefing

Some of our debriefing occurred during the lesson – which even allowed for adjustments to be made at that time. Debriefing also happens after the lesson. As mentioned above, we made more of an effort to spend the time with the co-planning – and debriefing was a shorter period of time to discuss the lesson through different lenses. We talk about our observations that we made, things that surprised us, how we could have changed it to improve accessibility for all students and what aspects of the design worked and how you would improve other aspects that may have not worked as well.   The next lesson or next few lessons are discussed so that follow-up on the ideas from this lesson will be built upon and students can make connections. If there is an exit pass or student work collected, these can be looked at and analyzed to see the range of understanding.

As a group, we feel that this coaching journey has provided a powerful strategy for improving our teaching and student learning while creating a collaborative learning environment that models for our student the type of learning we expect of them.

Acknowledgements

  1. Marian Small – co-planning session, input and feedback on lesson planning
  2. Resources that we used: Big Ideas from Dr. Small (Marian Small) , More Great Questions for Differentiating Mathematics (Marian Small, Amy Lin) , Agents of Change (Lucy West) , Coaching approaches and perspectives (Jim Knight) , TIPS4RM, Gap Closing (MathGAINS)
  3. Support from our principal – Donna Taylor, CKSS
  4. Funding from Stackpole International for resources and supply coverage
  5. Our students in Grade 9 and Grade 10 applied at CKSS – you make our day!