- What are the three stages of leadership outlined in The PRIME Leadership Framework: Principles and Indicators for Mathematics Education Leaders?
- What defines a Coach?
- Why is mathematical knowledge vital for specialists?
- Why is pedagogical knowledge important for specialists?
- Why is building relationships so important for specialists?
- What are the main roles of a specialist in a coaching experience?
- How can specialists help teachers value the coaching experience?
- How can I find more time to meet with teachers and what strategies can I use to make the most of my time with teachers?
- How can I build rapport with a teacher at the beginning of a coaching relationship?
- How do I approach confidentiality about my work with a teacher?
- How do I address misconceptions or misunderstandings in a teacher's mathematical content knowledge?
- What are some of the strategies I can use as a coach when met with resistance by a classroom teacher?
- How can the specialist influence professional learning communities at the school level?
- How can I help make classrooms mathematically rich learning environments?
- What is the role of the administrator in the specialist-teacher relationship?
Question and answers
What are the three stages of leadership outlined in The PRIME Leadership Framework: Principles and Indicators for Mathematics Education Leaders?
The PRIME Leadership Framework: Principles and Indicators for Mathematics Education Leaders organizes leadership growth in three stages:
Stage 1: Making a difference in self - This is the "know and model" stage of leadership growth and development.
Stage 2: Making a difference in others - This is the "collaborate and implement" stage of leadership development.
Stage 3: Making a difference beyond the school - This is the "advocate and systematize" stage of leadership and development.
What defines a Coach?
A mathematics specialist or coach can be defined as an educator who works primarily with teachers in a job-embedded context, either as individuals or in teams, to support their professional practice with the aim of increasing student learning.
The specific roles and tasks of a coach can vary according to the coaching model a school or district chooses to use.
Why is mathematical knowledge vital for specialists?
Having an in-depth knowledge of mathematics is vital for any successful specialist. Procedural fluency is no longer enough to be mathematically proficient. Twenty-first century mathematics requires both conceptual and procedural knowledge. Mathematics concepts are like connecting blocks; concepts are linked to each other and understanding one is foundational to understanding others. Teachers should be supported to design mathematics instruction that emphasizes the interconnectedness of mathematics concepts, rather than present mathematics concepts in isolation. Mathematics specialists need to know developmental progressions of mathematical concepts and utilize them in their work with teachers.
Students need to learn and internalize the concepts and symbols that compose the language of mathematics so they can transfer and apply this knowledge to real world situations. For this to happen, teachers need to have strong, flexible mathematical knowledge so they can confidently ask probing questions, evaluate student conjectures, and guide discussions toward the development of sound mathematics for students. Teachers can benefit from the support of a specialist in developing the type of mathematical knowledge needed to achieve efficacy in their mathematics instruction.
Why is pedagogical knowledge important for specialists?
Pedagogical knowledge is fundamental to a successful mathematics coaching program. Pedagogical knowledge and mathematical knowledge go hand in hand in effective mathematics instruction. A teacher may begin with a strong in-depth knowledge of the content, but understanding how students learn, process and retain information is a career-long endeavor. Mathematics coaches must have a deep understanding of a variety of teaching and assessment practices, including differentiation and formative assessment, to support teachers in this journey.
A principal quality of an effective mathematics coach is a strong understanding of the connection between teaching and learning. In most coaching models, coaches are chosen because they are considered "master teachers" - they have a deep comprehension of the content and are able to teach in ways that reach all learners. The mathematics coach is able to help the teacher develop a mathematics program using a variety of effective teaching and assessment practices in which all students learn and value mathematics.
Why is building relationships so important for specialists?
Strong working relationships are the cornerstone of successful collaboration, including specialist-teacher partnerships. At the core of every effective and productive specialist-teacher partnership is a relationship of mutual respect and trust. Coaching is relationship dependent. If a coach cannot establish and maintain such a relationship, it will be almost impossible to effect change in instructional practice or student learning. Creating these relationships is a skill that takes time and commitment. Working with specialists often makes teachers feel vulnerable and can create anxiety. Specialists can use their interpersonal skills and knowledge of how to build relationships to alleviate these concerns and contribute to a successful coaching experience. Like any partnership, a strong foundation needs to be built in order to move forward together.
A positive and proactive approach by the specialist during the initial stages of the relationship is crucial to pre-empting or negotiating less than ideal circumstances surrounding the coaching experience. Coaching is a dynamic and challenging job which encompasses vital skills such as counseling, time management and leadership. Strong interpersonal skills, knowing how to "read" people, and the ability to get along with a variety of personalities are all critical and valuable qualities of an effective coach.
Although a coach is considered an "expert" or "master" teacher, they are equal, not superior, in the partnership. A strong coach matches a coaching style (such as directive, collaborative, or teacher-led) to the needs of the teacher being coached by placing the teacher at the core of the relationship. Regardless of the particular style, coaches need to remain cognisant of the teacher's role to have choice, make decisions, and have a voice.
What are the main roles of a specialist in a coaching experience?
Some of the roles of a specialist in a coaching experience are consulting, collaborating and coaching. In successful coaching relationships, these roles are balanced in a way that meets the needs of the teacher. Consulting refers to the specialist providing instructional recommendations, suitable resources, and mathematical background knowledge to teachers. When collaborating, the specialist and teacher are working together on strategies toward a common goal - exchanging information and ideas. Coaching refers to the point in the relationship where the specialist goes into the classroom to work alongside the teacher. Coaching may include activities such as co-teaching, collecting data about student learning, testing or implementing specific strategies, or recording data about certain teaching practices. These roles often blend together and cannot be thought of as distinct actions. The goal is to provide the optimum balance of support to meet the needs of the teacher in increasing student learning.
How can specialists help teachers value the coaching experience?
Teachers need to view the coaching experience as having a direct, positive impact on their students' learning. Teachers create successful student learning when they are confident with the content, use formative assessment appropriately, understand student learning and development, and plan and teach using proven strategies. A coach can assist teachers by being an empathetic listener, engaging in genuine dialogue, and working with the teacher in the classroom to foster student engagement and become more attuned to student thinking. The specialist can also confront challenges with compassion while assisting with specific ways to improve the classroom experience for students. When coaching helps teachers see the results of their efforts through student success and excitement about their learning, the teachers value the coaching experience!
How can I find more time to meet with teachers and what strategies can I use to make the most of my time with teachers?
It is important that coaches schedule timely meetings with teachers they are coaching and commit to honoring these times. Some standard opportunities to work together are during regular preparation periods, before or after school, or during a shared lunch. Additional options might include visiting while assisting the teacher with duty assignments (i.e. playground or cafeteria) or meeting during off-school hours for breakfast, dinner, or coffee. Technology tools may increase the ability to connect outside of school hours by utilizing video conferencing, email, instant message/chat, and phone calls. In special circumstances, it might be possible to hire substitutes to provide release time for teachers or coaches.
In some unusual situations, it may be necessary to take more far-reaching and significant action. If finding time to work with teachers is too difficult, re-evaluating the appropriateness of building schedules, teacher duties, or the coaching program itself may be needed.
To make the most of meeting times, a coach may ask the teacher to submit a draft lesson plan, formative assessment data, scans of student work, or questions and issues electronically so the coach may prepare in advance for the meeting. Conversely, coaches should provide teachers with advance information about the purpose and topics to be addressed during the meeting. It is important that the coach and the teacher stay focused by creating specific goals and timelines and by reviewing progress toward these goals often to ensure they are producing results.
How can I build rapport with a teacher at the beginning of a coaching relationship?
During every interaction with a teacher, it is essential that a coach invest in building and maintaining a productive and respectful working relationship with the classroom teacher. Coaches need to be considerate of and sensitive to their teachers' needs, goals, concerns, and fears. They need to be honest and open in their interactions with teachers. Though specialists are often chosen for this leadership role because they are considered successful teachers, it is important that teachers see their coach as their peer. Demonstrating competence does not mean demonstrating superiority. Spending time discovering what the teacher does well and building on these strengths benefits the specialist-teacher relationship. Showing respect and appreciation for the role of the classroom teacher in the lives of students is important. Acknowledging their work to others, asking them to share successes, and being encouraging of their contributions are some ways to show appreciation. It is also important that the coach maintain an objective manner in providing feedback or posing questions to help teachers be more reflective about their practice. A teacher can only trust a coach who demonstrates genuine interest, shows appreciation, maintains objectivity and confidentiality, and honors their commitments.
How do I approach confidentiality about my work with a teacher?
Trust is vital in maintaining a productive specialist-teacher relationship. There are points during the coaching process where maintaining this trust depends on keeping information confidential: private conversations with teachers and written records of meetings or observed events. There are both legal and ethical considerations when dealing with confidentiality.
Regarding legal issues, coaches must know and follow district policies regarding confidentiality to avoid unfortunate consequences. For instance, coaches may take notes during their sessions with teachers so they can reflect upon them later or keep track of what was accomplished and what actions need to follow. Since each district is different, it is important that the coach is aware of the requirements for maintaining and storing notes. The notes may belong to the district and be available to administrators or they may be the personal property of the coach or the teacher. It is important when making a written record to be cognizant of all potential audiences. In any case, the coach should write factual, observatory notes. If anything is to be shared, it is important that the teacher know what has been recorded.
Regarding ethical issues, sharing information about coaching situations with colleagues is not appropriate. Coaches should be circumspect regarding their discussions with others in or outside the school so they do not intentionally or unwittingly share confidential information about teachers.
How do I address misconceptions or misunderstandings in a teacher's mathematical content knowledge?
This is one of the most challenging things a coach may encounter. One strategy would be to probe teacher knowledge during the planning stage. Designing lessons and creating assessments together may be activities that reveal content gaps and allow the coach to address them before the lesson begins. If a content misconception appears during a lesson, addressing it can be more problematic. It could be useful early in the coaching experience to ask how the teacher would want the coach to handle a situation where the teacher makes an error in the mathematics. Regardless, there may be an opportunity to intervene during the lesson in a manner that does not embarrass the teacher. For instance, the teacher may ask for the coach's assistance or the coach may have a chance to briefly co-teach to shore up the lesson. If an opportunity does not arise within the classroom, then the coach will need to pose questions to address the issue during post-lesson reflection. This may be accomplished through a focus on student lack of understanding as demonstrated in student work where the coach and teacher analyze the task(s) together. There is no perfect way to deal with these issues, but a coach should be prepared for them to happen.
What are some of the strategies I can use as a coach when met with resistance by a classroom teacher?
The specialist needs to identify the root cause of a teacher's disinclination to accept a coaching experience. People generally avoid adopting something new for one of three reasons: they are unaware, unable or unwilling. First, don't assume a teacher is resistant when he or she may simply be reluctant.
Teachers who are unaware may not know what a coaching experience is all about or they may not know how to access the coach's time for their benefit. Coaches should meet with teachers to share information about the process of coaching, aspects of their job duties, and potential benefits of participating in a coaching experience. Teachers may be unable to engage in a coaching experience because they are nervous about the prospect of someone visiting their classrooms. It is important that a coach develop a reputation in the school as someone who actively works with students and helps teachers during the lesson. For more information see questions 2 and 4 above.
If a teacher is truly unwilling, or resistant, there is not much a coach can do directly to change the teacher's mind. It is possible to expend so much time and effort attempting to "convert" an unwilling teacher that the coach gives up too many opportunities to positively impact other teachers. The coach's efforts should instead focus on increasing engagement with other teachers to help coaching be viewed as a vital part of the culture of the school. Once critical mass begins to coalesce around the value of coaching experiences, peer pressure will come to bear on unwilling teachers.
How can the specialist influence professional learning communities at the school level?
A professional learning community has a shared goal for improving student learning through meaningful collaboration of the teachers. Specialists want PLCs to positively impact the effective teaching of mathematics. To this end, a specialist's responsibility is to support PLC leaders to: be prepared, facilitate effective meetings, and maintain focus on student learning. Specialists can work behind the scenes with PLC leaders to collect meaningful evidence and identify alternative solutions to problems that can lead to positive action in the classroom. When PLCs are focused on evidence of student learning, there is an increased likelihood that the mathematics program at the school level will be enhanced. A PLC leader can also benefit from learning questioning and facilitation strategies from the mathematics specialist.
How can I help make classrooms mathematically rich learning environments?
Specialists working with teachers to promote these rich environments must be familiar with the eight (8) Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice and keep their intent at the center of planning instruction. Mathematically rich environments require that students work on mathematically engaging tasks that provide multiple entry points, are challenging, and allow for the use of a variety of strategies. Problems that require discussion, thinking, reasoning, conjectures, and justification promote student learning. Specialists can help with the selection, adaptation or creation of mathematically rich and rigorous tasks and assist teachers to use the tasks in appropriate ways. Teachers and students should record conjectures and strategies to create artifacts for future reference and connection-making. Specialists should help teachers to create a safe and supportive learning environment for students that will encourage them to respect and value each other's contributions to the class thinking. Evidence of student learning of mathematics should also flow outside the classroom. This may include displaying student work, but could also include using mathematics to solve problems originating in the school, home, or community.
What is the role of the administrator in the specialist-teacher relationship?
Prior to beginning a coaching program, administrators must be involved in setting goals for the coaching program and defining the roles and expectations of coaches in their buildings. During initial meetings, the principal participates to ensure that all three parties - principal, coach and teacher - are all "on the same page." The principal and specialist will continuously analyze results to monitor progress and either reaffirm the roles and expectations for the specialist and the coaching process or make needed adjustments. The coach and principal will maintain regular communication.