Part 4: If You Had A Week (Math)

Okay, I think we're almost done with the "If you had a week of full-time teacher coaching, what would you do with it?" exercise. But I got 2 more gems and wanted to share them.

Steve Mook teaches at a large traditional urban high school, down the street from MATCH. Before that, he led a No Excuses style Jesuit tuition free middle school in central Massachusetts.

To me, what's interesting about his answer is the nuance. Like many teachers, he dreams of lessons which are different from him standing in the front. However, unlike many dreamy idealists who propose self-directed learning -- ignoring how frequently those types of lessons turn into chaos -- Steve is totally grounded in the gritty realities of how to make it work.


Interesting question. Given where I am as a teacher:

I would take every minute of that time for both of us to dream of activities tied to the curricula that could teach important concepts, that, because of time constraints and a mandated curriculum, I often just teach using whole-group instruction.

These activities would:

*Be hands-on and not just worksheet-based activities *Would find some real-world application to potentially abstract concepts

*Be inexpensive to create and wouldn't require tons of prep time to pull off *Would NOT be self-directed learning *Could be easily assessed to see if the students have learned the concept

(MG editorial note: I like those 3. Steve is a no B.S. type of guy. If a kid does a cool project, doesn't learn Aim, then Steve considers it total failure. He doesn't think kids will simply do these things on their own. And he doesn't want to spend hours cooking this up; it undercuts his ability to execute his bread-and-butter teaching).

If I had time left over from that week, I would take some time to produce the materials that would go along with the activities.

Of course, I would be pretty discerning about those activities - I don't want activities for the sake of activities - I want activities that I can use that will help teach the formula for a circle AND why it should be important for my students to learn (or in my case, AP Stats).

I do one where the kids build a "helicopter" from a paper template and then time 10 drops from each of 3 heights, we do a scatterplot, they find the linear regression line, I ask them to predict for other heights based on their line.

They know of course that as you go higher it will take more time, but the real valuable learning comes from the idea of the residual, the "error", since no two times are ever exactly the same. We do a formula for measuring residual; but what I am really trying to get at is the linear regression is just an estimate based on repeated trials, and not some hard and fast formula, and that predictions can be easily messed with by even one bad data point (helicopter drop).

We can do this one in 1 1/2 classes for them to really get. They learn several new equations and concepts and the kids enjoy it.

* *

Tim Fukawa-Connelly has multiple perspectives, which he explains. I love his fascination, which I share, with whether a coach can create STICKY change.

I.e., think about all the times you resolve to exercise, maybe do it for a little while, then fall back into sloth. Or maybe I'm just talking about myself.


I'm sort of wearing three different hats here:

1) (former) teacher 2) (former) department chair 3) mathematics education faculty at a university

In thinking about this answer, I've realized that the best I can give is, "it depends." I've decided to begin with some general principles of practice and then turn to what I would personally want/do, followed by some concluding comments...


I think a good week would begin with the metor and mentee watching some video of class. First, video of the mentee's class. Maybe hours of it, I'm really imagining it as a montage, but it doesn't have to be. The goal here would be to sensitize the mentor to what the mentee's teaching, students and classes are actually like.

It would also focus the mentee (from now on named Megan) on stepping back and taking a fresh look at her practice.

From there: some serious discussion on what each of the two parties think is best about Megan's practice, and then focus on actions and decisions that did not seem to produce good results, or, were at least curious/confusing.

Out of that conversation, the two can start working on collectively understanding what lead to those decisions. Often they're just a symptom for something else, some piece of practice that is insufficiently routinized, a piece of mathematics not fully understood, a lack of understanding of the students, or being maybe being overly routinized into non-ideal practices (check homework, present new material, 15-minutes of seat-work).

I don't think that Megan could have some sort of "work on this" time with a mentor teacher that was the same as my "work on this" time. For me, I think what I'm best at is looking at a piece of the state curriculum and thinking about how to present it and enact it in a way that's aligned with my principles of learning and teaching.

I think what I'm decent at is keeping students on-task, involved in meaningful ways, and bringing out mathematical ideas.

I think what I'm worst at is dealing with some of the normal, but, less frequent aspects of classroom organization. How do I deal with materials for students who missed class? How do I keep track of student behavior, both the positives and the negatives (we always call home about negative, we call home when 'bad' kids have had a good week, but never really call home when good kids are good, we should)? How do I reward students for good weeks?

I need routines that I can manage. But I have always been able to identify prospective routines... Just as with your problem #3, it's the fallback, I always fall back to my old practices and fail to sustain the new routines.

So, what I would want to work on with a mentor is designing systems for routinizing classroom practices that prevent fall-back.

I'm not sure what those are right now, but, well, maybe there's something about putting nails into classroom walls, creating in-class storage spaces, and putting students into roles and ... I would also want to work on something else, but I'm not sure what...

It seems like your mentor should be pushing you out of your comfort zone as a teacher.

That would mean working on aspects of your practice that you've not identified as problematic (even though it is). This one would be more about helping me problematize what I think is good about my work, to cause me to rethink it and continue to keep it in the forefront. [I'm back to a general principle for this practice].

Because you're never getting another week or any more time with your coach, it should be focused, insanely focused, you should hate each other by the end of the week...You should have had questions planted in your head that you're not even aware of. You should be starting to think differently about practice even though it won't be fully realized for 10 more years.


What an interesting concept -- hate each other by end of week. Reflexively, I thought -- uh oh. I don't want hate. But I know where he's going. The strong, strong culture in teacher coaching is to go gentle. This makes it harder to push. In the military, the culture is the opposite. Bark and push. Evidently many soldiers like their drill sergeants in the long run. But never in the short run.

Part of me figures the right place is the middle. But a problem with the middle -- it's confusing. If you're not braced for someone to push you, it is jarring.