Establishing a Culture of Learning …The First Hour

Every year, we as teachers work so hard to establish a safe, open place for our students to learn. My goal in moving out of the classroom year and into a math specialist role is to also establish this same culture among our staff. A culture where teachers talk about instruction, math problems, and student ideas, feel ownership in their lessons and the lessons of others, and can comfortably visit one another’s classrooms. It becomes a norm. It is not easy and definitely cannot be done alone. I am SO incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful principal, Jenny (@PrincipalNauman) and district supervisor (@EducatorKola) who support the vision and are always open to new ideas, a great ELA counterpart Erin (@EGannon5) who helps me focus and thinks about the important details I miss in my excitement about things, incredibly caring, motivated colleagues who always want to grow and learn, and all of the amazing educators in my face-to-face and online (#MTBoS) networks who I mention throughout this post.

Yesterday was Erin and my first opportunity to talk with teachers. We only had one hour to work with the full staff, so we had to truly prioritize and make the most of every minute! We decided it was most important to set the tone for the year and our work together with the teachers. We wanted to begin establishing a culture of learning. The best part was, we were not starting from scratch! Our staff is so wonderfully open to new ideas and really took Number Talks and ran with them over the past few years, however there is always room to grow and improve upon what we were already doing. PLCs are part of that room to grow. While they participated and did everything asked of them, teachers were not feeling that time was based on their individual needs as much as it should be. Being one of those teachers last year, I put myself in that group.

Establishing a Culture of Learning

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Instead of telling them what a learning culture could/should look and feel like, we wanted them to experience and reflect on it. What better way to do that than Talking Points? (shout out to Elizabeth @cheesemonkeysf) We designed the Talking Points to give teachers a range of ideas of how they could be used, whether around content specific statement or ones around mindset.

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I have never been in a PD where Talking Points are not a hit during the activity itself, but the reflection afterward is twice as valuable! We asked them how this activity would promote a culture of learning in a classroom. We tried to quickly list ideas as they responded so the list doesn’t truly capture the appreciation teachers had for students talking and listening to one another!


When talking to my colleague Faith (@Foizym) about our plan for the hour, I really stressed how I wanted to make my work with teachers valuable this year. I wanted them to want to talk math with me and want me in the classroom and not see me in any type of evaluative role, I wanted our work together to be about their needs in order to best meet the needs of their students. She suggested having them write goals for themselves and their students. So, we asked them to complete these questions to know what each of their goals were…

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We got amazing answers that really spoke to the thoughtfulness of our staff. I would love to post a few but I have to ask for some permissions first:)

Now we moved into how we were visualizing this culture permeating through our work together. Knowing we were introducing Learning Labs and Teacher Time Outs to them soon, we wanted to have them brainstorm words they associated with the word “Lab” and “Time Out” to set the stage. These slides did not have the words/ideas around it when they saw it, we put those up after they brainstormed.

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Now we described our shift from PLCs to “Learning Labs” and the use of Teacher Time Outs. If you have not heard of Math Lab or Teacher Time Outs, I will point you to Elham Kazemi (@ekazemi) and her University of Washington peeps who are doing AMAZING work with this. Here is her ShadowCon speech that gives a wonderful description. Elham has been so generous in thinking this through with me and has given me wonderful advice, much of which I will continue to need I am sure!

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I hope we captured it as she intended, but sadly at this point we were running out of time. There were many questions about the timely structure (that we honestly are still trying to hammer out) but overall everyone was really excited about this work! We received so many positive comments and offers to be the first to try out whatever we wanted to do!

I left completely excited about this work…even more excited than I was to start, if that is even possible! Once Erin and I work through the time constraints and the crazy schedules we know everyone keeps as teachers, I cannot wait to see the work that awaits all of us!


2 thoughts on “Establishing a Culture of Learning …The First Hour

  1. Pingback: Uncomfortably Perfect | Read, Reflect, Revise, Repeat

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