Thursday, February 3, 2011

What Motivates Us?

As a Florida educator, my life's work has been dedicated toward providing children with a quality education in which to build a prosperous life full of options. As a classroom inclusion teacher, I worked tirelessly with each of my students, regardless of their exceptionally, socio- economic situation, or home life to reach their fullest potential. And, as a current Instructional Coach, I dedicate my time toward guiding professional growth and learning amongst our nearly 90 teachers to improve classroom practice and student achievement. My work and that of my colleagues matters. In fact, it may be the most important thing we ever do.

The fire that was ignited in me as a young teacher still burns strongly. I continue to think that anything can be changed and decisions in the best interest of students and teachers will prevail. Some are cynical, they have lost hope, but in the interest of my own two boys and the thousands of children that walk through our school doors each year, I simply can't and won't give up. Maybe, I'm acting like a cornered pitbull ready to fight, but I have hope for the future of public school education in Florida.

I don't move with a blindly optimistic attitude toward the future. I will admit that I'm fearful of poor decisions left in the hand of politicians which could cripple our profession. The writing appears to be on the wall with Senate Bill 6. Legislators without any classroom experience, never walking a mile in our shoes, will likely make a decision this year that will push the best, brightest, and most noble out of our profession. The bill erases teachers' pay on years of experience and advance degrees, and proposes to pay teachers based on their students' state test scores collected in just a few days of the 180 they are in attendance. Wanting to hold teachers fully accountable for their students learning, they overlook circumstances beyond our control.

Merit pay would rid the profession not of the poor teachers but of the exceptional ones. Some who serve our neediest learners, our learning disabled children, our non-English speaking students. Teachers who tutor on their own time, offer Tiered Interventions at every turn, buy classroom supplies when the schools can't afford to supply them, and spend hours upon hours on weeknights and weekends planning quality lessons. These are the teachers that will be most frustrated and dishonored.

For the past thirteen years, I've been serving at Chets Creek, and some of our most amazing teachers never receive the small portion of merit pay that is currently passed out. dayle timmons, a life-long Special Education teacher and 2004 Florida Teacher of the Year has never qualified for merit pay. The current merit pay system is broken and unfair. Senate Bill 6 will only escalate and intensify the problems. Educators see the glaring flaws; Senate Bill 6 may destroy the Florida teaching profession.

I work in a school with transcendent purpose and complete collegiality; We set out each and every day to change the world, one child at a time, having no doubt that we can and will achieve our goals. Embracing every child regardless of their circumstances is our moral calling, and we have the creative and innovative teachers, that with the right level of support, can reach them all. A learning organization led by a principal who implicitly trusts her teachers as professionals and gives them the autonomy needed to produce impressive qualitative and quantitative results. Just looking at our state test scores only marginally gives you a picture of who we are and what our teachers and children can achieve. Looking five years down the road, I wonder if this will be the same learning community utopia of today. It seems like our funds are drying up and our hands are being tied. Will a school like mine, full of passionate dedicated and exceptional teachers, be here for the unborn child of my principal? Or, instead will the best and brightest flee local private schools or other professions?

Politicians pass laws every year, they claim to base decisions on research. I'm wondering whether they would be supporting Senate Bill 6 if they watched this Daniel Pink video which highlights the conclusions of studies done by economists and psychologists who explain, "When the profit motive gets unmoored from the purpose motive, bad things happen." If you really want to make a change in an organization, pay people enough to take money off the table. When money is off the table that is when people can think about the work. The research shows that the best results are achieved by people who are motivated, and what they are motivated by are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Our Florida children deserve teachers who are motivated to improve student achievement by these motivations. Merit pay will not promote the collegiality our profession needs to make significant improvements.

This video is worth every minute and I hope you will leave me a comment with your thoughts or connections.

Developing Young Mathematicians

As an educator, my math classroom is significantly different from the one in which I was raised. I think many of our students’ parents feel the same way. In fact, during conferences, I’ve had several parents proclaim, “That’s not how I learned math.” To reassure them, I’ve explained my perspective as an educator and a parent. Many times, the explanation starts at the beginning-what they know to be true about their own math experiences.

Rewind twenty-five years to the math classrooms of my youth and most likely theirs; Situated neatly in rows, desks faced the front of the room. A math textbook lay open. On the left side of the page, there were step by step procedures for solving problems, and on the right page 25 or 30 practice problems with one or two word problems at the bottom. The teacher’s lesson began by working out the practice problem step by step while the students watched and memorized the procedures. Our task during class was to mimic perfectly the procedure and to work out the other practice problems independently. At the end of the period, we would pass our papers to the front of the room for the teacher to assess our progress.

I was a good math student, always able to follow the teacher’s directions and mimic the procedures. And, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t even need to read the word problems at the bottom of the page, I just needed to pull the numbers out of the paragraph and use the same procedure for solving.

Does this scene sound familiar? It’s the way most of today’s teachers and our students' parents were taught math. Fortunately, it’s not the way our children are learning. Instead, based on research like TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Studies), and teachers’ professional development through organizations like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, educators are learning to better prepare students to think mathematically.
Thirteen years ago, as a beginning teacher, I learned about this shift in math teaching and learning at a national conference. Phil Daro, a Senior Fellow of Mathematics, helped me understand the need for change as he explained the three-pronged math approach . A conversation that I’ve replicated with parents and colleagues throughout the years. He began by drawing a triangle on the board and printing the word SKILLS at the top. Then, continued by creating the mental image of the typical classroom of my youth. Teaching and learning, decades ago, was focused on skills as the top and sometimes only priority. All too often concepts and problem solving were omitted, creating a deficiency that students struggled to overcome as they moved on to more advanced mathematics.

To illustrate how to prevent a gap in mathematical knowledge, and create a well rounded math student, Daro drew another triangle rotated 180⁰ so concepts and problem solving were now on top. Daro explained that math is three-pronged and, “Teachers must teach for conceptual understanding, build problem-solving skills, and strengthen basic skills.” Urging educators to tip the triangle upside down and select curriculum tools with an emphasis on concepts and problem solving, and then embed skills was the way to improve math instruction he assured. The connection I made to his simple explanation was immediate; Classrooms of my youth were skill driven classrooms; I didn’t learn to understand or connect concepts, generalize my learning, or problem solve. I learned to imitate my teacher. In that moment, I vowed, as a math educator, to teach my students to think mathematically, and as a parent I committed to helping other parents understand the need for this shift.

To accomplish my goal in the classroom, I piloted a conceptually based math curriculum tool, implemented internationally benchmarked math standards along with my state standards, and embraced the three-pronged approach using a sixty minute Math Workshop format and a fifteen minute Interactive Math Skills Block. Confidently, I set forth to create a culture of student collaboration and dialogue. Growing competent and fluent young mathematicians, who understood concepts, could strategically and flexibly approach problems, were procedurally fluent, and could articulate and justify their answers captured my full attention. And, trust me when I say, teaching myself to learn in this fashion was exhausting; There were days when I was only minutes ahead of my students’ learning. However, in the end, I captured the most amazing rewards. I, with the assistance of a few colleagues, helped paved the way for my peers by creating a shift in our practice.
Now, over a decade later, this passion still consumes much of my time and provides me with just as much satisfaction. Currently, as a staff developer, I chair our Math Council to lead with our vision and mission in constant view and assist to grow math leadership capacity in others. At the same time, I embrace my role to get new math teachers started on the right path from the very beginning. I continue to share my story with anyone who will listen. After all, I have the unique pleasure of teaching children and teachers to think mathematically.