…may I have the PD 3 ways, please?

November was full of learning! For not just the students but for me as a student myself! It was almost like enjoying a delicacy at a restaurant in three different formats. I’ll have the scallops, three ways please…

I was ever so fortunate to join this year’s OAME Leadership Conference, which was held on November 1st this year in Toronto. Although I flew in and flew out, in a matter of 15 hours, my brain was full of excitement, knowledge, and a re-boosted charge for displaying and modelling mathematics leadership back at my school. Name dropping alert…just a wee bit here… with schmoozing and collaborating in talks with great math leaders such as; Nat Banting, Brian Aspinall, Jamie Mitchell, Em Del Sordo, Dr. Debbie Donsky, and even my friend Marian Small, I’ve never felt as excited and a part of a larger community than on that day.

Highlights from the day included:

Marian Small: Communication in today’s current political education climate should always be:

  • Focused
  • Polite
  • Clear
  • Focused 
  • Accurate

Discovery was promoted, and exploration was encouraged. “Show a little, have the kids mess around a lot”-Small, 2019

Bigger questions were asked:

  • Why does telling and memorization have to come before problem solving?
  • Cannot it not be true that in today’s educational institutions, that teachers take ownership of knowing (really thoroughly knowing) the content of what they teach?
  • This is a data driven society, so why go back to basics and pay less attention to data?
  • Does math satisfaction matter?
  • Are we really testing math anymore, through standardized testing? Or are we hindering student’s achievements with words, diction, and format struggles to authentic evaluative tasks?
  • Why are students not collaborating more for assessment, in a world devoted to new careers that require and seek positive collaboration skills?

Nat Banting. If you don’t know this name areadly, you should! (and spoiler…he’s gonna be BIG….REALLY BIG!)

With his humour and entertaining style, Nat took us though how “Going Back to Basics” should be challenged, and it’s not actually “going back to the basics” that is required, but more specifically, going back to a basic.

  • Going back to basics seems normal “and something we go back to all the time”
  • Which basics are we going back to?
  • Say goodbye to the nostalgia and make a better future, and not recreate an illusion of a better past.
  • Math education needs to get in touch with A basic (not the basics)

Take home point here: A healthy math economy is based on making decisions. Making mathematical decisions vs. Executing mathematical directions. In case you just missed that…

Making Mathematical Decisions vs. Executing Mathematical Directions

Nat Banting (2019)

Like…this is too cool right? One of those “a-ha” moments you have, where you’ve known something for so long, but it takes one person to say it, explain it, unpack it, so easily, where it all fits into place! Learning never to state the obvious, especially to students, for some (and most likely) it may not be obvious.

So many topics, moments, and insights that Nat shared and collaborated with us on, but the final take home moment, for me, from his session was: allow students the power of making decisions in math.

  • Awareness: I need to make a decision
  • Agency: I can make a productive decision
  • Analysis: Where does that decision leave me?
  • Authenticity: Don’t take away the student’s power that, “Yes, I CAN make a decision” here with my answer.

Which, now leads me to the final group session of the day, famous CodeBreaker creator, Brian Aspinall.

I’ve been following Brian for a while now. As someone who enjoys coding, mathematics, and computer science, I find his style of teaching and philosophy of learning invigorating.

Brian focuses upon the importance of failure. The importance of the process, and my favourite, the importance of the struggle. The uncomfortable “figuring it out” phase. An area that most computer scientists thrive on while writing code and creating algorithms.

Innovation comes from the process of failing

Aspinall (2019)

My #dontstealthestruggle hashtag had him giddy and full of sample stories to share, that hopefully will end up in a meaningful anecdotal post on students embracing their struggles.

Encouraging failure in a discipline that assesses itself on the quantity of correct answers is hard, if you really understand what that means. It’s really hard. As an educator, I’ve said this many times; I’ve changed the way I’m teaching math. I’m valuing process and growth over the product, but I’m blocked by the assessment demands from either the school, curriculum, or larger principles. Our assessments have not caught up…yet (I hope.) Unpacking this, how do you grade creativity in math? How do you display achievement in process? How do you give a numerical mark for an evaluation of progress […when the by-product of an activity can allow students to grasp higher level concepts authentically and naturally through doing and failure encouragement, better than learning the concepts at the prompted “grade” level. Aspinall 2019]

What a day!

So now on to my second “scallop” per se, : Our In-House Professional Development Day.

This November’s day of learning and growing with and alongside, my day-to-day colleagues, involved very meaningful and concrete learning opportunities that are pressing and important to our school.

We took a deeper dive into our school’s “strategy lines” that help, us as educators use and promote our school’s North Stars (i.e. Values).

posted with permission by artist and colleague; Melissa Thompson.

Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit with my middle school team to re-visit and go over some ALSUP (The Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems) practice, that connected to my summer book club reading on, Lost at School.

I find anytime, outside of the classroom, with my colleagues is incredibly valuable in so many ways to not just maintain a sense of comradery, but also to lift each other up, foster a culture of critique that is welcomed and appreciated, and in concert, all of this, makes us all better educators for it.

…and finally, my last and final morsel of deliciousness. Typically the most unique preparation, and in this case, my first experience at all. A Virtual Professional Development Summit. The Making Math Moments: Virtual Summit (Virtual PD) occurred on November 16th and 17th, and yes, as advertised, I enjoyed learning from and with math legends and gurus from around North America, from “the comfort of my own couch.” So if you don’t already, Kyle Pearce and Jon Orr, have teamed together and offer many, MANY, MANY, resources and supports for math teachers. (fun fact; I took my Math Specialist alongside Kyle Pearce at Queen’s!) and…as if I cannot promote this fun and outgoing duo enough, they hold and run a podcast called; Math PD for your Earbuds. Totally worth the promotional plug and time to listen!

So back to the virtual summit. Fabulous idea, and best of all. It was FREE! No registration fee, no flight to book, no time to take off work, lessons to plan, or food to expense for lunch. 100% FREE! They offered two full days of online conferences and sessions with over 25 math leaders! I attended six sessions from big name math “celebs”:

So as I have enjoyed all three wonderful ways of PD, I continue to look forward and seek opportunities to better my teaching, learn from others, and collaborate in many ways to enhance teaching and math learning for all.

As I sign off, on this post, I hope you also find excitement in your own professional development, and if anything, I have just provided you with a worthwhile list of “who’s who” to follow on twitter.


  1. Janet is right! Our kids are so lucky to have such a dedicated teacher leading them in and out of the classroom. You are amazing Mrs. Cleveland!


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