I recently conducted mini problem solving workshops with my middle school students, that I also extended to grades four and five in my role as the school’s Math Coach.
The goal was to solve the same problem using several different strategies as learned and studied by grade. Big success, and the students loved every minute.
As the process opened up a meaningful avenue to gather the students’ learning, I, in the background was also learning.
Being able to be comfortable and open to go into another classroom and have support of the classroom teacher to “hijack” their class for a period or two is something that every teacher should be so fortunate to experience and put into regular practice. Building relationships with colleagues is the first and most integral step. Once positive relationships has been established, doors open. Feedback flows easily back and forth, co-teaching naturally occurs, and next steps and planning succeeds.
I always welcome teachers into my classroom. I love to hear their feedback for my growth and the growth and well-being of the students, but it can be sometimes “territorial” when you enter someone else’s space. Their routines, their methods, and mannerisms are different, the gentle space you build on, lies deeply within those cherished relationships you work so hard to build.
In this activity, I was so thrilled to have two welcoming and supportive teachers alongside me as I led this lesson and workshop with them. The things I learned, may seem trivial, but sometimes you need someone else to spot the obvious, especially when you have your own routines, methods, and mannerisms. So focusing on following models for the “Thinking Classroom” I came prepared with random groupings, with before hand teacher support. Why I chose groups of 3? I honestly don’t know. Was I thinking to limit the number of groups? Was I thinking of strengths within the groups? Feedback provided me that yes, groups of three usually are not the best. Odd groups lend themselves to an odd person out. Another piece of feedback was I talk way too much. I’m so concerned at times to set the students up for success that I give them too much information so that they won’t fail, that they will have all the tools they will need to succeed. This not only lends itself to long talks at the beginning (kids get tired, zone out, and become uninterested.) But I don’t want them to struggle. WAIT… I DO! I say it all the time. I want them to squirm I say, but I don’t always let them. I need to talk less, and let them work it out. With the arena in which we teach, with so many IEP’s and modifications, and accommodations to ensure each student’s growth, this is an area I need to focus on with a different perspective. It’s not a formal assessment, it’s a learning opportunity. It’s students being allowed and comfortable to “not know.” This skill is something that belongs in math. Math is not only numbers, especially in today’s world. I need to model more my struggles and how I approach them and work through them, and take time. We live in a world of instant gratification, that when solving problems of unknown material, we need to stop, breath, and work through it. Things I do, I think I do in my class…but need to model more.
When you work alongside a colleague and co-teach or co-plan, these new visions and ideas come out and flourish. Perhaps I may record myself a few times to critique myself (always the most harsh), perhaps I may also welcome open lessons to invite other teachers in for the sole purpose of feedback. I’m open, I’m vulnerable, and I’m willing to see what others do and find value within that process.
We all may be either frogs, fairies, or dragons… and we may not typically have the same ideas, but when we get together…we may squirm…but we will learn.