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Helping the Teachers Grow
Posted by Patricia Tedford on November 22, 2019 at 11:34 amAs a math coach I find that everyone wants what is best for their students, but some think directly teaching the algorithm is what is best. Ugh. I have used all the best materials and created tasks for the teachers to experience the joy and understanding that comes when they discover the math themselves rather than being taught the algorithm. I still have some teacher hold outs. Any ideas?
Becky Redling replied 2 years, 8 months ago 15 Members · 22 Replies 
22 Replies

I would love to hear responses, too. I am the head of the math department at a small private school and just finished observing all the math teachers. Most of them are using the “teach the algorithm” method. I would love to know how to inspire them to be excited about changing.
Can you share some of the practices you have used that worked for some teachers? Thanks

I’m bumping this to the top of the Water Cooler area so that more teachers can chime in. Kyle and I will revisit this topic to share our thoughts.


I’m new in the math coach role and have the same issues. I keep asking if I can come in to do a 3 Act lesson or a number talk and so far the teachers who believe the algorithm is the way to go haven’t taken me up on it. I’ve send out lots of ideas too. It’s frustrating.
I’m going to try to focus on small wins for now so I don’t get discouraged.

Hey @erinlittle , @jennykinter , and @patriciatedford have you listened to Episode 46 yet? https://makemathmoments.com/episode46 — Title: How do I spark a love of learning in my fellow educators. A Math Mentoring Moment

My experience so far is that it is a slow process. I am in my second year in my current school and I have taken teachers to NCTM and have some converting their thinking and teaching. I am going to celebrate the small steps and continue to help that spread! I will listen to that podcast on my way home tonight. Thanks, Jon!

I am heading up a math department meeting on January 27th and would like to lead them in a 3 act or low floorhigh ceiling kind of warmup to demonstrate how to do this in their classroom. Which one will be create the most excitement? I would love suggestions

<div>Here is a link to a visual I used with my teachers from the game prime climb. I handed it to all and asked them to write on stickies “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?” They had time to discuss their own discoveries which led to additional “Aha” moments. This was a lead in to discussing the math practices and which ones were put into place as they had that experience. It was successful and fun and didn’t take too long.
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Oh and a plug for the game too. My students love it! It reinforces factors and multiples.


This was going to be my post as well. Thanks for all of the great advice. I’m working my way through year 3 as a middle school math coach with the same struggles that many of you detail. Next year we will be in a curriculum review and many of my teachers are still unaware that they don’t have a good grasp of the standards and instructional shifts but I’m getting new ideas every time I visit here. Thanks!

I teach at a school where we only have two math teachers. I have students come to me all the time asking me for help from the other teacher. I will show them a different way to solve the problem. They go back to class and the other teacher gets upset. The one idea of math I love the most is that there are so many ways to solve a given problem. As humans we are all unique in our own way and we all have different ways of approaching a problem.
I know this does not answer your question, but I do know that some teachers just don’t like change. I joined here so I can get some “coaching” and ideas. I am always looking to improve my skills as a teacher and I am willing to trying.

I too am a teacher mentor and coach and find the most requests for help in math.
We are the first generation to be teaching math differently than the way that we learned it. Teachers, when pushed for time and resources, will always resort to doing it the way that they were taught – for the majority – that is the “algorithm way”. Change is never easy!
When I’ve had success getting teachers to be more open to a new way of teaching math, it is almost always occurred after “adopting” a classroom or teacher that was willing to be a risker. I would help that teacher plan and then I would model # talks, activities, or lessons and we’d debrief afterwards. Time and time again, the single most powerful factor in getting teachers to see the light, was when a student(s) who previously struggled started to find success. How difficult is it for a teacher to shut you down when their struggling students started to be more engaged, have more confidence, or was able to even put into words what had changed for them?
That’s my 2 cents.

@kristophertaft Great insights on this topic. I too think it’s all about little successes. Getting them that win can be addictive. Thanks for sharing.

Great points, @KristopherTaft
Are you able to get into the same classroom on a regular basis? What does that look like/sound like in your role?

Currently I’m only in a few upper elementary classrooms. First, we’ll coplan a lesson together and then we’ll coteach it together and then debrief afterwards. Or sometimes only one of us will teach and the other will observe. When the classroom teacher observes I will sometimes encourage them to just watch their kiddos and 100% of the time they learn something about their whole class or particular students – something helpful for them going forward.
I have to be relentless though as it can be ongoing battle. Teacher experience bumps in the road and sometimes I’m not available to plan or help them out and I’ll check in with them as soon as I’m avaliable and they’ll be back to their “old ways” ramming an algorithm down their throats before they are ready.



It sounds like we all share similar struggles. Since I’m in year 3 of my position as a math/science coach, I can finally see some shifts that have stuck and that’s encouraging. At our middle school, and in our district, we struggle to find time to plan and debrief with teachers. We started implementing “microcoaching” cycles last month in the hopes that teachers would see it as less of a committment (and it would lead to longer cycles) and so far it is going well. Our plan is to use this opportunity to continually “check in” and followup on progress in the hopes that any shifts made will stick. I’ve included links to the invite we sent to teachers and the form we are using to track our cycles. Microcoaching – Winter Blast and Meeting Notes

I am in a similar role in my first year. I have tried lots of things that have not worked:
1) I would love to come in and teach a lesson with you!
2) Try this in your classroom
Things I have found worked:
1) Take a survey after professional learning on what each teacher would like to learn. After a few weeks follow up personally with resources that are specific to their need.
2) If they have young children, tap into how children learn. They are VERY invested in their own child’s learning (as they should be). This can lead to using visuals in their own classroom. This also is a great relational connection!
Things I wonder about and would like to try to accomplish but don’t know how:
1) Getting administrators understanding best practices and participating in high quarlity math PD (even just faking it.) From what I have read, this is key.
2.) Helping parents understand the shift, so they don’t put pressure on teachers and admin to teach algorithms, but instead push for deep understanding.

I started leading my school division with number talks as I felt that supporting teachers with creating student dialogue was going to be a huge key to shifting mathematics instruction.

I’m not an official math coach, but I am the only math “specialist” in the building. My building is preK8th and I teach all of the middle school math classes. All other math classes are taught by “generalists” in K5. I want to support them in shifting their instruction which is currently gradual release. They will most likely going to have a new curriculum Fall 2021 which is problem based. Given the current situation, I was thinking about organizing a virtual book club to start a conversation. I was thinking about Mathematical Mindsets or Math Recess. Does anyone have any other suggestions that might be a better intro for the K5 teacher set?

What about starting your teachers off with subitizing or splat activities. These are great ways to start working with numbers and through using them maybe they would see the benefit of using such thinking.

I struggle quite a bit with folks just wanting to teach an algorithm. I do feel like this is a societal issue, since that is how so many generations were taught: follow the steps and get the answer. In my work with classrooms and with teachers, I have found two interesting concepts to help create a desire to change: 1. Have students experience success. No one can resist a student figuring math out! 2. Put teachers in a situation where they have to experience math from a student’s perspective again. For example, we have had teachers engage in learning a different base system, and they immediately see the difficulty that comes with that new base system and trying to perform computations. The response is usually overwhelming to teachers, but it drives home the need to have a deep understanding and that just knowing procedures is not enough.

Keep it simple. Show them that what they are doing right now can be “adjusted”, not thrown out. No one likes to be told what they are doing is wrong – even if that’s not what you say, that is what might be heard. Offer to come in and observe or be observed – this is toughest as many of us are very protective of our domain.

This was going to be my post as well. I have really enjoyed the input here. Thanks.