Blog Post

Sparking Math Teacher Creativity and Ownership of Instructional Decisions

By Cyndia Acker-Ramirez and Katie Laskasky

Teacher Practice Teams (TPTs) engage in collaborative inquiry to advance students’ sense of belonging and achievement in mathematics through professional learning routines that embrace teacher creativity and ownership of instructional decisions.

Imagine a thriving team of math teachers, impassioned about growing students’ belonging in their math classroom communities and empowered to take ownership of their instructional decisions. Not only is the team doing the work of understanding and relating to individual students, with regard to both learning mathematics and their growth as human beings, but the team also feels that its instructional decisions have purpose and that it has autonomy in moving students through math learning obstacles. Team members make complex instructional decisions shaped by the dynamic classroom environments in which they teach.

Wouldn’t it be great if a team of teachers could engage in professional learning that provided them with regular and specific feedback on how their actions are affecting their students? Wouldn’t it also be great if these learning experiences were embedded in the teachers’ school day, providing a process for quickly gathering evidence that they trust and can use to inform the complex decision-making that occurs in their classrooms on a daily basis? What if we centered teachers’ professional learning experiences around opportunities to creatively think about instruction and use curricular resources to grow the math classroom communities they are seeking?

Inquiry-driven Professional Learning

A team of math teachers, called a Teacher Practice Team, starts off with a schoolwide math-learning need or challenge. Through our inquiry-driven process, teachers and administrators contribute to the team’s vision for student success in mathematics, and then teachers decide how to adjust instructional decisions based on their knowledge, curriculum, classroom context, student evidence, and team feedback. In other words, teachers are driving their instructional decision-making by articulating their focus and needs before looking for or receiving new instructional strategies.

Inquiry-driven Professional Learning for Teacher Practice Teams

Teacher Practice Teams

Conceptualize the Ideal

Individually, teachers on the team suspend reality to imagine what their ideal math student at the end of the school year can do:

  • What does an ideal student do with a math task?
  • How does this student interact with peers?
  • What do the student’s reflections on learning look like?

Using the collective thinking of the team and research recommendations for active math learning, the team co-develops its vision for student success. These measurable indicators are written as classroom interactions within the instructional core: student to math task, student to student, and student to self. The creation of the team’s success indicators is not about consensus but about building on one another’s thinking and making the indicators stronger together. Although these indicators are co-constructed by the team, teachers can see their passion, interests, and contribution within the indicators.

Analyze Evidence to Focus Direction

Using the student success indicators, the team observes various levels of math classrooms and measures student interactions: student to math task, student to student, and student to self. The team uses qualitative and quantitative data to refine the language of the indicators for student active math learning. Then the team reflects on: What patterns are seen in the student interaction evidence.

Using the patterns in the student interaction evidence across classrooms, the team confirms its focus on these student interactions. Through the process of addressing the interactions, the team is working to create coherence of student experiences in which all students can learn mathematics and thrive in their math classroom communities.

Choose Solutions

Individually, teachers reflect on their own student interaction evidence from their math classrooms and decide on a focus. Teachers then look to the curriculum for resources or strategies that can be used to achieve the vision for math student success. They reflect on and make instructional decisions around:

  • What concepts and procedures will be taught for an upcoming math topic,
  • Which activity or resources from the curriculum can be used to achieve the vision for math student success, and
  • What student interaction evidence will teachers see and listen for from the class to know they are moving toward meeting the vision.

While their creativity may be sparked by the curricular resources and strategies, teachers’ instructional decision-making is informed by their passion for math learning, student interaction evidence, and the desire to grow student belonging in their math classroom communities.

Adjust Implementation

Within a week or two, individual teachers implement a tweak to their instruction while their team observes to gather student interaction evidence. Teachers analyze the student interaction evidence shared by the team and brainstorm an adjustment to their instruction. Knowing the dynamic classroom environment teachers are in, the team offers feedback for them to consider, and teachers make one last adjustment to get closer to their vision for math student success.

Impact on Math Student Learning

Through this inquiry-driven process, teacher teams drive their own instructional decisions, use their curriculum as a resource, and may seek additional support from experts to grow students’ belonging in math classroom communities and achieve their vision for student success in mathematics. Individual teachers are empowered to take ownership of their own professional learning as they voice, value, and act on diverse team perspectives to make adjustments to their instruction. This culture of ownership and instructional decision-making will have lasting effects on student learning in math classrooms.

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