How Might Our Beliefs Impact Our Identity as Mathematics Educators? Part 2

  • How Might Our Beliefs Impact Our Identity as Mathematics Educators? Part 2

    By Megan Holmstrom and Ryan Grady, posted June 19, 2017 —

    As you considered the three focusing questions that help clarify identity, what resonated with you most? How might those identities influence collective professional growth?

    NCTM’s Guiding Principles for School Mathematics states that—

    professionalism [exists] in an excellent mathematics program, [when] educators hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for the mathematical success of every student and for their personal and collective professional growth toward effective teaching and learning of mathematics. (NCTM 2014, p. 5)

    As groups develop capacity around mathematics teaching and learning, we find that a focus on collective professional growth is fundamental. Several entry-level learning opportunities for groups allow for that shared learning and professional growth to take place.

    NCTM has provided a highly effective structure to help groups and individual teachers clarify their identity so that they can move forward in adapting and changing form. As we explore these shifts with teams, one of our favorite tools to use is the Teaching and Learning Beliefs Survey. The survey asks participants the level to which they agree or disagree with statements about the teaching and learning of mathematics.

    Participants begin by individually rating their agreement with the different beliefs, followed by a small-group discussion during which they compare their individual ratings, looking for agreements and disagreements. This is often where the magic happens. We ask the small groups to consider those “hinge” words or statements that provoke questions or caused their beliefs to sway. Teachers have to think critically about what they actually believe and put into practice.

    Once the small groups have had a chance to compare and discuss, the whole group comes back together to identify its collective beliefs; this gives the group a better understanding of its identity. This process is especially useful for well-established groups (e.g., a group of K–grade 6 classroom teachers), as it often confirms the group’s perception of its identity and causes some realizations about where the group is misaligned. We often hear such statements as “I didn’t realize how far apart we are on the role of procedures versus concepts” and “We are a lot closer than I thought.” The end result is team identity and a commitment to what mathematics teaching and learning is and is not.

    This process is particularly important for multiple divisions to explore together, lifting the voices of the elementary school teacher as well as the middle and high school math teacher. Once teams identify what mathematics teaching and learning is and is not, team members can delve into the focused work of teaching and learning (from the Guiding Principles for School Mathematics in Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, pp. 7–57). We shift from the Beliefs survey to group learning about a text-rendering  experience. In the past, we have used a variety of articles from NCTM to support the collective professional growth. A favorite article is 13 Rules That Expire because it engages a group of Pre-K–grade 12 teachers in rich discussion around Common Core content as well as those essential teaching and learning practices (CCSSI 2010). The protocol we use supports teams in collaboratively constructing meaning, clarifying, and expanding their thinking about a text (or document). Again, these conversations are where the magic happens, those hinge spaces and opportunities to engage in cognitive conflict.

    As we think about ways to develop and support collective professional growth, a quote from Michael Fullan comes to mind: “All the good work in schools is just tinkering unless we clarify our identities as collaborators and inquirers.”

    Are we just “tinkering,” or are we moving forward as a group of collaborators who want to improve the entire system? If we want the latter, we must know who we are—we must know our identity—to perturb the system and make shifts in teaching and learning. The foundation of this identity is our beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning.

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    Megan Holmstrom and Ryan Grady have worked together over the past ten years in a variety of roles, ultimately evolving into their independent consulting company MathSpeak Global. Holmstrom is currently a teaching and learning coach in pre-K–grade 8 mathematics at the American School of Dubai (ASD). She spent eleven of her nineteen years in education in the classroom, teaching at a variety of grade levels, before moving into curriculum and instruction and coaching. Previous to ASD, Holmstrom was an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she worked with public schools to develop teacher leaders in elementary mathematics. She has also participated on an instructional materials adoption panel (2005) as well as a teachers mathematics advisory panel (2009–2010). Grady is currently the Dean of Instruction at Pilgrim School in Los Angeles, where he has worked extensively in developing a coherent K–grade 12 mathematics program grounded in the principles of active learning and student-involved assessment. He has spent more than ten years in the classroom teaching mathematics, ranging from sixth-grade math to undergraduate-level calculus as well as graduate-level Methods of Teaching at Loyola Marymount University. Grady was also adjunct faculty in the Center for Math and Science Teaching, working with Los Angeles-area Catholic schools to improve their instruction in math and science.