The Greater San Diego Math Council resurrected its annual conference. After a two year hiatus, Jason Slowbe, Sean Nank and their Council colleagues did miraculous work to bring GSDMC 2017 to life. This Glorious Day was worth all their efforts.
Opening Session (Four Bursts)
Rather than one keynote speaker, four presenters gave brief talks.
Robert made two strong points:
1) The #ObserveMe practice, which calls for teachers to invite others to observe them. The key here is that very specific feedback is called for from colleagues.
2) The need for teachers to gain new perspective. Robert shared the story of Febreze. It is a very effective product that initially had a tough time selling, because people were nose blind; in other words, they did not realize how badly their houses smelled. Similarly, teachers will not buy into professional development until they recognize the need for change. Therefore, we really need to do the work on changing teachers’ perspectives on the results of their practices.
Matt is well-known for his use of Music Cues to save on transition time in the classroom. In fact, he showed how as much as 21 hours of instruction time a year (a whole month of school!) can be saved with the use of these cues. In my own class, I personally use four of the cues that Matt offers in his Google folder.
Susie told the story of “Carol” and all the barriers to accessing rigorous math courses that she confronted as an Asian girl. Then she revealed that “Carol” was really herself and the experience she had growing up in the American school system. She called for more equity in access for all students, particularly in STEM courses. “Don’t let test scores, skin color, or adults low expectations to prevent students from taking rigorous math courses.”
Pierre drew our attention to the growing number of computer Science courses being offered on high school campuses. Pierre went on to also share how programming can be a terrific problem solving tool in math class. This was a good primer for the number of sessions at the conferences that dealt with programming in math classes.
These quick presentations set a terrific tone for the conference experience.
Brenda, Bethany and I each offered up a 10 minute introduction of our roles as math coaches and a particular point of emphasis for math coaches to focus on. The rest of the session was open to questions fielded by our facilitator, Sean Nank. The conversation was rich, and I learned a great deal from my panel colleagues.
Brenda is a TK, K-1 Coach in Escondido. Her biggest point was avoiding the badge of same… “If I work with a math coach, it means that I suck.” She instead insisted that math coaching training should be advertised as a resource for everyone.
Bethany is a Technology Coach for El Cajon. She did something interesting by surveying math coaches, prior to the conference, with the question: “What are some of the greatest challenges Math Coaches are assigned to tackle?” The number one response was differentiating professional development for teachers. So Bethany offered two terrific ideas. The first was a Badge System for online “Anywhere, Anytime” PD, much like the structure of online mastery courses for students. The other was the promotion of omnipresent communication of the math coaching program to teachers.
I am a Secondary Math Coach in Temecula. I declared that a math coach’s job is all about relationships as I shared out how many people I deal with to my south (teachers I serve), my east-west (coaching colleagues) and my north (administration). Because of this, the most important question to ask any of them is “How may I best serve you?”
I also offered three axioms that I believe all math coaches should base their work on. Each of them are quotes from famous researchers.
- Axiom #1, Dr. William Schmidt, University of Michigan: The greatest determining factor in the quality of the education that students receive is the decisions that the teachers make on a daily basis.
- Axiom #2, Dr. Kenneth Leithwood, University of Toronto: Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.
- Axiom #3, Dr. Maggie McGatha, University of Louisville: The meta-research shows that math coaches are effective. We see small bumps in years 1 & 2, and large spikes in years 3 & 4.
The second one seem to resonate with this crowd.
From the questions and conversation I learned that …
- …no two math coaching job descriptions are alike. Everyone’s daily routine was unique, but we all had a common goal… improve classroom math instruction.
- … most math coaches are tossed into the position with very little support and training. Everyone, including administrators, deem this job important, but seem to be figuring it out as they go along. It was awesome to discover that San Diego County offers math coaching training. This is an idea that should spread to other counties as well.
- … everyone is optimistic. Math coaches acknowledge that education has a long was to go in improving math instruction, but that we have all seen significant progress despite the challenges.
I loved presenting with Daniel. He is a Clothesline Math enthusiast who has developed some terrific ideas, particularly on systems of equations.
My favorite moment was during the Call to Action when Daniel challenged the teachers to use the Clothesline to enhance their own understanding of mathematics. So I surveyed the room by asking “How many of you today learned something about mathematics itself, not just the teaching of it?” Ninety percent of the room raised their hand!
21st Century Conference Ideas
I also want to give a quick shout-out to the GSDMC President, Jason Slowbe, and the rest of the Council for their willingness to experimentation with some new conference formats:
- Opening Session Burst: Instead of one keynote speaker, four presenters gave brief presentations within the same hour as the MC greeting.
- Genius Bars: Presenters were made available outside of their sessions for participants to meet and ask questions.
- Panel Sessions: 3-4 panelists share brief introductions and presentations (15 min), then the remaining hour was open to question by the audience.
- Working Lunches: People received their box lunch (part of the registration fee) and then were allowed to sit in the session rooms. Many of these rooms had exhibit presentations.
- Closing Session Reflection and Evaluations: Closing speaker. Randy Phillip (@rphilipp), asked us all to reflect on one idea that we would take back to our classrooms. After giving us time to ponder, he asked for volunteers to share out publicly. It was an excellent way to have participants reflect on their conference experience and increase the chances of us committing to improve our instructional practices.