Inspiration comes from unexpected places

Have I mentioned that for the last 15 years, I have been a math teacher?  I have lived and breathed mathematics education and it has led me to the beautiful world of leadership, where I am blessed to lead others.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend our district’s Literacy Conference.  You heard me right. LITERACY. It was AMAZING professional learning and inspiration.  I am not a reading or writing expert, yet as I sat in this conference, I soaked up so many ideas and strategies that will transfer perfectly to my work with teachers across curriculums.  This is proof, maybe even encouragement, that inspiration comes from the most unexpected places and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to learning within our own comfort zone.  

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Here are 4 reasons why we don’t need to look for subject specific PD all the time (Secondary teachers, take note and elementary teachers, come to math PD!)


  • Humanity comes first.  At the literacy conference, it was all about kids.  Students introduced the speakers, students shared their insight about reading and writing, students shared their technology knowledge with us, and students shared their writing and melodies.  In the words of Linda Sue Park, “You are arming our youth to save the world.  Readers, writers, and teachers coming together to help our youth.”  Educating our children is about saving the world.  Wowser. That was powerful.  And then @gcouros shared, “We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”  These powerful messages have so much to do with humanity and the impact we, as teachers, can have.
  • Learning is learning.  Yes, different content has different learning progressions and themes, but kids are kids.  This means that the way we learn is the same no matter what we are learning. Brain research supports this.  Motivation and engagement research supports this.  When we are thinking about the “best” ways to teach, we just need to focus on the desired outcome: learning & growth.  
  • Rigor crosses all curriculum. When we are working to stretch our students, we know that rigor is important.  When I read the definitions of rigor in Roberts’ DIY Literacy, it reminds me of the definitions that I see about mathematical rigor.  We achieve this through individualizing for students, through reflection, choice, and goal-setting among other things.
  • Learning is a result of engagement.  We know that learners grow the most when they are pushed to do most of the thinking.  Instructional models like workshop, PBL, and inquiry cross over to all content areas, because students are doing the thinking.  This was loud and clear at Dublin’s Literacy Conference.  We can engage students through ownership of learning.  We can conference with them to help guide learners.  We don’t need to tell them what they need to know.  We need to guide them to be curious so that they WANT to know.  How do you engage your students in an authentic way?


So, as I take my new (literacy) learning with me this week, I am calling it inspiration.  How can we push outside of our “worlds” to learn from the community, our students, our parents and experts from other areas to improve and move forward collectively?  How can we collaboratively improve teaching and learning?  We can do it.  It’s for our children.


Every child can become a mathematician

My father instilled a love of math in me at a young age through challenging math riddles, logic puzzles, games and conversations.  I remember him casually presenting ways to push my thinking, challenge my abilities and have fun with numbers, shapes and logic.  This laid the foundation of an early confidence in me that I could think critically, mathematically, and logically.  But more importantly, it instilled in my young self the norm that math can be entertaining….dare, I say, fun!  He did this effortlessly.  It wasn’t something he made me do;, it was something fun for us to do together.  I don’t know that he could predict the impact that this kind of family fun would have on his three daughters because it wasn’t forced…these fun family times just happened.  

It’s been 15 years since I entered the education world as a high school teacher.  My goal each day has been to bring enthusiasm to the math world through my work with students and teachers.  I have watched thousands of teenagers pass through high school.  Many arrive in 9th grade saying (nearly bragging) that “I can’t do math!”.  I have found that I must remind parents at Open House that, “No matter what, please never say to your child, ‘I hated math’, ‘I was never good at it’, ‘It’s not in our genes to be good at math’, or ‘Math doesn’t really matter. I never use it.’”  

I have yet to hear a student enter high school boasting, “I can’t read!” It’s just not educationally or socially acceptable. Yet, we allow and accept this sort of thinking in regards to math. Math educators are faced with fighting a battle against a society that has been brainwashed to believe that math is boring and only important for some people. But, we know now, that isn’t true.  We know that engaging in math, critical thinking, and logic strengthens the brain, is attainable for all and is an indicator for future success for all children.

Each day, I fight the good fight, encourage my learners to believe in their ability to grow as mathematicians…each and every one of them.  Math can be fun and it is all around us.  Each child can grow their brain mathematically.  We are not born good (or bad) at math.  With hard work, a growth mindset, and a desire to improve, we can all master mathematical thinking.

Why then, does our society continue to view math as something for an elite, small, specialized group?

Literacy education has it right.  

Here is what the literacy world has taught us:

  • Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2010
  • The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school. National Commission on Reading, 1985
  • A single, brief exposure to good reading material can result in a clear increase in enthusiasm for reading.  Ramos and Krashen, 1998; Cho and Krashen, 2002

Here are the messages I have heard about developing readers:

  • Remember that learning to read and to read very well are crucial to your child’s well-being.
  • Surround your child with all kinds of books and make what she’s reading a topic of dinnertime conversation. Listen to the way she talks about books to ensure that her comprehension continues to deepen.
  • Parents should read to their child in the womb.  
  • It may take hard work, but everyone can learn to read.
  • Make it a family affair.  Read together.  Make it fun.

I wonder what impact we can have on kids if we change our messaging about math.  Go home tonight and work through a fun math puzzle with your kids tonight.  Smile, laugh and enjoy it.


Maintaining a Laser Focus

It’s week two of school. This is the time of year when the hustle and bustle continues, relationships are building, enthusiasm in the classroom is at an all time high as we embark on a new school year.  Education offers us an opportunity each year to come with fresh ideas and a clean slate after a rejuvenating summer.  For me, in this 16th year of educating, I feel different.  After 15 years in classrooms as a math teacher and instructional coach, I have transitioned into a new role as an administrator for my district.  My perspective is changing, my view is broader, but my goal remains the same:  I must stay laser focused on student learning.

Education is a politically charged field.  If you are a student, a teacher, an administrator or a parent you’ve felt it.  Sometimes in the classroom, as we adjust to new mandates and  procedures that are placed upon us and our students the frustration we feel can distract from the ultimate goal.  Regardless of any distractions and regardless of our role in education, I know now, more than ever, that this frustration can be eliminated through keeping that laser focus on our students.  It’s not always easy.  In fact, some days it’s tempting to take the easy route – ignore new technology, not make that parent phone call I am dreading, not probe into the reason why a learner is struggling, allow myself to pulled into the many distractors like email, paperwork and such.  Nonetheless, today I ask you to pledge with me to keep the student at the center of our work.  Here is how I do this:

  • Frequent personal reflection. Educators rarely have time to eat or go to the restroom, let alone think.  I have learned that I prioritize my TIME around the things that matter and reflection is one of those.  Reflection can happen anywhere: at home, in the car, over my morning cup of coffee, at lunch.  But I have to make time for it.  During my daily reflection time, I think about the work I am engaging in and I probe into the WHY that drives my work.  Why is this work, lesson, initiative, or innovative idea good for students? If my answer isn’t clear here, it may be time to consider alternatives.  We want every choice in our classrooms to have a positive impact on student learning.
  • Gently challenge the thinking of colleagues and be open to them challenging your own thinking. I call this my think partner.  You need one who is willing to think with you.  You need one who will question you when you decide to take the easier route instead of the one that is best for kids.  In teaching, this was always someone on my teaching team.  In coaching, this was a coaching colleague.  As an administrator, I desire to be think partners with teachers and other administrators.  Ask the hard questions.  Offer the “what if” ideas.  Keep pushing to make sure that classroom practices lead to maximizing student learning and engagement.
  • Listen to students and watch for evidence of learning. Watch your students….they tell a story.  When they are in our classrooms, are the happy?  Are they curious?  Are they articulate in their thinking? Are they challenging each other and maybe even you?  Are they calm? Is the work they are producing an example of your intended learning?  When you ask a question or share feedback, does it lead to further learning?  We have impact in our roles in education.  Every move we make can impact students positively or negatively.
  • Be okay being wrong. It is okay to adjust your plan.  This is how I learn.  Furthermore, student learning demands that we adjust based on what our students need daily.  Throw out those month long lesson plans.  Have a vision and clear learning goals, but be flexible within those so that we can respond to our student needs in a flexible and fluid way.  There were times when I was much too rigid in my math classroom.  Our students will learn more if we respond to where they are and adjust our plan when students don’t respond in the way we anticipated.  In fact, modeling how to be wrong and adjust the plan is so great for our students & colleagues to see.  Engage students in the process.

My biggest hope in my new role in administration is that I can remain laser-focused on what really matters – our students.  Our students bring so much to our classrooms each day.  How are you keeping focused this year?