How Might Our Beliefs Impact Our Identity as Mathematics Educators? Part 1

  • How Might Our Beliefs Impact Our Identity as Mathematics Educators? Part 1

    By Megan Holmstrom and Ryan Grady, posted June 5, 2017 —

    Have you ever heard the allegory about the ham—the Ham Story, for short? There are numerous ways of telling it, but this is generally how it goes:

    A daughter was watching her mother cook a holiday meal, and she saw her cut the ends off the holiday ham before putting it in the oven to bake. The daughter asks her mom why.

    The mother thinks for a minute and says, “I think it soaks up the juices better, but I’m not really sure. I learned from my mother. You should go ask her.”

    The daughter went to ask her grandmother, who replied, “Gee, I’m not sure. Maybe it cooks more evenly. I learned from my mother. You should go ask her.”

    So, the daughter goes to her great-grandmother, sitting in the rocking chair, and asks her, “Why do we cut the ends off the ham before we bake it? Does it help the ham soak up the juices, or does it cook more evenly?”

    The great-grandmother laughed, and replied. “Oh no, dear. I never had a pan big enough, so I always had to cut off the ends to fit the ham in the oven.”

    We think frequently about what practices happen on a daily basis in our classrooms simply because they have been passed along by previous teachers, school cultural norms, or societal pressure. Do we continue to “cut off the ends of the ham” long after the reason to do so has expired?

    One of the most effective professional learning opportunities that we have participated in is the Adaptive Schools training, which uses three focusing questions to help teachers or schools clarify their identity while changing form to meet the needs of the current reality (e.g., be adaptive):

    1. Who are we?
    2. Why are we doing this?
    3. Why are doing this this way?

    We have provided professional development for teachers across pre-K–grade 12 in mathematics teaching and learning, and we have found that asking these questions is a crucial place to begin the work with any group of teachers. Whether with a conference of educators from different schools, a well-established department, or grade-level groups, understanding identity is fundamental.

    Robert B. Dilts writes the following about identity:

    The level of identity relates to our sense of who we are. It is our perception of our identity that organizes our beliefs, capabilities and behaviors into a single system. Our sense of identity also relates to our perception of ourselves in relation to the larger systems of which we are a part, determining our sense of “role,” “purpose” and “mission.”

    As you think about the teaching and learning teams you are a part of, consider these three questions:

    1. Who are we?
    2. Why are we doing this?
    3. Why are doing this this way?

    Join us again as we dive deeper into mathematics teaching and learning beliefs. We will explore extensions to team development and shared learning, to include an example of text rendering math rules that expire.


    2017_06_05_Holstrom_Grady_AuPic12017_06_05_Holstrom_Grady_AuPic2Megan 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. 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. 

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