Tag Archives: Professional Development

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.

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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!


My Questions Around Professional Development w/Video

When I read this blog post by Grace, and the comments that followed, I noticed some things…

1 -The wonderfully open, honest way in which Grace put herself out there and responded to each of the comments.

2 – The amount of incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

3 – The community desire to have more of these videos for us to have discussions around.

4 – I reflect and learn so much through these interactions.

*At this point of reading, If you do not already follow Grace’s blog, you must do that ASAP*

My noticings led me to these questions around the types of video we, as a math community, would like to have available for either individual or group professional learning experience:

1 – What time range do you prefer when watching an classroom video clip? Is it different in a professional developmet setting vs at home?

2 – Do you like an open Notice/Wonder format when watching/discussing a video or prefer having a “focus question” when watching/discussing?

3 – What focus questions would be most helpful for you to either think about or discuss after watching a video?

4 – What makes you want to comment on a video or blog after watching/reading?

5 – What makes you NOT comment on a video or blog after watching/reading?

If you have any thoughts, answers, or suggestions to any of these questions, I would love your thoughts here: Google Form

Thanks so much!


Number Routine PD: What Do I Know About…

My colleague Nancy and I facilitated a K-2 afternoon professional development session yesterday afternoon. The 2.5 hour session was with a wonderful group of teachers from across our state who we are fortunate to work with several times over the course of the school year. Our major focus over the course of this school year centers around connecting arithmetic to algebra based on a book by Virginia Bastable, et al, that I blogged about here: https://mathmindsblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/articulating-claims-in-math/ I thought blogging about this experience would be helpful for any of our teachers who could not attend and for any others who facilitate PD.

I find planning for professional development is much like planning for the classroom. Many of the same questions arise:

What content will be engaging and relevant? (especially being an afternoon session when everyone is winding down on a Friday)

What is the trajectory of the content?

Where are they? Where are they heading?

What questions or prompts will encourage conversation?

When are points for table conversation? Whole Group conversation?

How will be know where they are in terms of the content when they leave us?

How will we follow up?

After much planning, videoing, and organizing this was the flow of the afternoon:

We opened by getting into grade level groups to discuss the homework from last month, doing a group planned Number Talk with their students. They used this form to plan together and brought back recording sheets of their work to discuss these two questions:

ntp nt1With the number talk being planned by the group, I felt a sense of ownership over the results in the classroom and, really, who doesn’t like talking about all of the wonderful things our students say during a number talk?

We continued with a quick recap of last month’s session on the book, “Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra” to plant the seed for our routine of focus that day, What Do You Know About….?

 21 3Now into the really fun stuff! Working with a Kindergarten teacher in my school (@jennleachteach) who is also a part elementary pd group, we planned and videoed a math routine called “What Do You Know About 15?” in Jenn’s class.

We mixed the grade level PD groups up at this point so there was a range of K-2 teachers (and a few math coaches) in each group.  They got a blank planning sheet to brainstorm what they think the planning would look like for this routine in a Kindergarten classroom in January. It was great conversation, with the Kindergarten teachers being the experts at each table. I thought this was such an interesting dynamic since we often tend to pose a mathematical idea and ask what previous understandings K-2 need to build to get there, however, with this opportunity, it was starting in the opposite direction and really focusing on what Kindergartners know at this point of the school year.

4After they predicted what our planning sheet would look like, Nancy brought 6 teachers up to act as students in a fishbowl enactment of the Number Routine. The other teachers in the room were observers focusing on two particular aspects of the talk, what you notice about the teacher recording and what you notice the “students” noticing. Importance of recording was a previous topic in an earlier pd, so we wanted to be sure that resurfaced. Nancy did the routine with the teachers and  we came back as a group to discuss the observations of our focus questions. Our discussion also touched on the use of the talk moves she used to clarify and illustrate student thinking.

We then watched Jenn’s Kindergarten class do the same exact Number Routine, focusing now on the follow up piece of the planning sheet. What did they notice the students noticing? I wish I had permissions from everyone because Jen did a beautiful job in facilitating the talk and her students said some amazing things. We also took a look at the planning sheet that Jenn, Nancy and I had done for this routine. Here is the planning sheet and anchor chart that arose from the talk:



As a group we discussed what they noticed the students noticing that could lead to future “claims” in their classroom. Teachers noticed such things as, “We can count by fives to get to 15” “It is three fives” (of course I am thinking about groups of and multiplication right there!) “A teen number is a group of ten and some more” “Looking at equality with related equations” and “The 1 means one ten”

Jenn then gave students “random” journal entries to see how students were thinking about the numbers after the talk. To differentiate, we decided to give students 12, 19, or 21 depending on where we thought their entry level was into this thinking. After students completed the journals they chatted with someone who had a different number, to talk about their ideas.” Here are the student samples our PD group looked at and discussed:

Photo Jan 08, 5 35 21 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 18 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 15 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 12 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 08 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 05 PM Photo Jan 08, 5 35 03 PMWe ended with Virginia’s conclusion slide about Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra and our homework for the group:

6 7We also gave an Exit sheet to help us in future planning. We got some very useful information as to where the teachers feel they are. I am very excited to hear about everyone’s journey back in their classrooms next month!

Photo Jan 10, 8 53 02 AM Photo Jan 10, 8 52 41 AM Photo Jan 10, 8 52 29 AM-Kristin


On Tuesday, I received a book entitled “Accelerating Learning for All Students” in which all of the teachers in the district will receive professional development in the upcoming week. I cannot speak to the ELA piece of the material, however the math examples made me cringe. I quickly got out my post-its and started reading…pink for positives, yellows for yuck.

IMG_3608I think various points of the book were positive as far as the focus on teacher planning and opening up tasks to be accessible to all learners, they even have Carol Dweck’s Mindset mentioned, however the pathways they explain to achieve this accessibility completely frustrated me. To me, it feels completely at odds with all of the great math work we have been doing in our district/state. I am sure so many of you can relate to the type of aggravation that builds from being so passionate about learning. This week, I have been very aggravated.

Thank goodness for Twitter.

From this point on, I cannot take credit for this blog post…I had some incredible help…

It all started when Frank threw out this tweet yesterday afternoon:f1Wow, was he reading the same book I was, with mnemonics and other “tricks” to help students “learn” multiplication? I responded with a pic from my book, along the same lines:

IMG_3587Of course the ever obvious question…

f6Which was quickly followed by…


f20Then Dan offers this suggestion….

f5And now, for your entertainment, a few of the worst mnemonics and memorization tactics for multiplication (feel free to add any others in the comments:)…


f14f10 (Thanks David for the hashtag inspiration)



What could make this even better….

f2So as not to disappoint….

f12But the good news is kiddos…..

f4And mirroring my own thoughts after reading all of these…


f25I would love to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to this conversation, I needed the laugh. Because, while we all know how absurd this is in the math classroom, it sadly leaks its way in with district/state initiatives. Those leaks are most frustrating for me when they are avoidable. I am SO fortunate to be surrounded by such passionate and knowledgeable math educators I can run to for support, opinions, advice, research, and, in this case, a much needed laugh!

Thank you!


To PD or Not PD..That Is the Question

The past two years as Math Specialist, I was in a position in which I was continually planning and attending Professional Development on a regular basis. I am a learner, so I frequently got frustrated and a bit upset when teachers complained about attending the PD. I would hear such things as, “I need time to grade my papers” or “Sub plans are such a pain to write.” How could they not love these learning experiences as much as me?

Fast forward to this year, I am back into the classroom, and I completely feel their frustrations. I have papers that need to be graded, I despise sub plans, and most importantly, l have lesson plans that I need time to think about & dig deeper into. Time, as always, is a high commodity. So, as I was in my classroom Thursday evening, writing sub plans (or more accurately procrastinating by finding anything in my classroom that needed to be done BESIDES writing the plans) I found myself thinking that it would be so much easier to not attend the PD (it was by choice I was going) and just stay in the classroom on Friday. No sub plans, and I would have my planning time to get the paper grading and lesson planning done.

This was it, this is the point where teachers (me included) need to step out of their immediate surroundings, look at the bigger picture, and ask themselves the following questions….

1. How can I continue to improve student learning in my classroom if I don’t dig deeper into my content area(s)?

2. How can I grow as an educator alone?

3. How can reflecting on my own teaching with others improve my classroom experiences?

4. How can what I know about teaching help others in my network?

5. There is always SO much more to learn. Not a question, I know, but it is my driving force as an educator.

And….How great is it to have breakfast and lunch made for me and I can use the bathroom anytime I want 🙂

Needless to say, I always try to attend professional development when offered the opportunity and after leaving my PD on Friday I just found myself smiling. I love talking to others with the same passion for mathematics and teaching as myself. I learn so much and just flat out have fun while talking about impactful issues in education. We all want what is best for our students and staff and work together to make great things happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am picky when choosing my PD. It must be relevant. I have sat in a mandatory PD or two (hundred) that have not been what I needed, but I try to find at least one thing I can take away. Even through the bad experiences, I grow. If a presenter is not engaging, I think about what I can do when I facilitate to be engaging. If the content is confusing, I think about how I can clarify things when I facilitate a professional development. I don’t let one bad experience kill all professional development opportunities for me. They are independent variables, like a die. One roll does not impact the next. One bad professional development does not impact the next one.

In the end, I owe it to my students to go. If I am learning more, they will be learning more.

Happy Saturday,