(Don’t) Lose Yourself

Recently, I was visiting with a veteran teacher, someone that is an inspiration and a support system in my career. I asked how his new (not math) curriculum was going and if he’d started yet. He replied, a little defeated, “The material just seems so scripted. And gosh that makes me uncomfortable.  I mean, why do I sound like I’m reading from a script? I’m supposed to be an expert in the room.”

This got me thinking about my experiences with starting new curriculums. (I’ve had 5 new curriculum changes in my years of teaching.) First, I’d like to give the teacher a round of applause for feeling uncomfortable and not giving in to directly reading the curriculum as a script, for recognizing his discomfort in doing so.

Curriculum, quality curriculum, is so important. After teaching the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum by Illustrative Mathematics, I know curriculum with equity and access for ALL learners can change the world for teachers and students. But I’ve also seen these quality materials treated as a script, step-by-step, turn the page… Please don’t allow this for yourself or your learners. Don’t lose yourself as the rockstar teacher you are. Instead, prepare to learn like you’ve never learned before. Don’t lose your kids as a group of diverse learners, a unique collection of human beings. On the other hand, get them ready to learn like they have never learned before!

Why not lose yourself in planning for your diverse learners? In my case, I’ve enveloped myself in planning around the philosophy of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. This allows me to plan better for my students as I try to anticipate and monitor responses from my students and find the best ways to select, sequence, and connect these strategies and ideas during discussions. Math and Standards experts wrote the curriculum, and I believe I’m an expert in my classroom with my students, too. Talk about a dream team! Changing curriculum isn’t easy, but neither is trying to create your own cohesive tasks. Things take time. Embrace the extra time that would have been used for researching and creating content, and put it into planning for your diverse students.

Why not lose yourself in the moments when you’re working with your learners? How can you engage them with the provided tasks? How can you infuse your teacher flair to make memories in the classroom with your learners? How can your questioning, discussion points, and synthesis help students move along in their learning?

Why not lose yourself in making connections? Make connections to the real world! I’ll never forget when I read Brooke Powerstweet about showing actual footage of a hot dog eating contest aligned with a lesson on proportional reasoning. This sparked creativity in me to get my students more hooked and engaged. Allow your students to see you be a human and connect with them. Make connections across your content. Look for coherence. Be intentional.

Why not lose yourself in professional development? If you’re not getting content-specific professional development at school, go and find it! I wasn’t able to attend the official Illustrative Mathematics training, so I worked with my AEA and researched on my own. I read, participated in Zoom chats, and became an active part in math communities. How can you be an active part in your own professional learning? Buy or borrow books. Work with colleagues on a book study and hold each other accountable. Participate in Twitter chats. Lurk and/or engage in Twitter communities. Find a Facebook group. Keep learning!

Why not lose yourself in a growth mindset? Is education constantly changing? Absolutely! Don’t be a bystander. Get on board! Whether you’re a new educator, a veteran teacher, or a supporter of instruction, get ready to grow. It’s what we encourage our kids to do, and we should be the first in line!

Final note: Embrace your curriculum, especially when it’s quality and expert-authored. Find who you are as an educator, infuse those qualities into your teaching along with your personality, and be the best you can for the learners that look for a role model in you every day. Be intentional. And grow!

(A big thanks to the #OpenUpMath, #MTBoS, and #LearnwithIM communities of stellar teachers and coaches for the inspiration and thought-provoking discussions.)

2 thoughts on “(Don’t) Lose Yourself

  1. When teachers design curriculum, they often “over script” it. In addition, most were not trained as instructional designers to know how to blend cognitive science, age-appropriate pedagogy, and learning objectives. IMHO, teachers should focus on bringing to life existing (preferably open source) resources for students. Chew on the curriculum and think about how to support a learning path for a range of learners and create different forms of activities and assessments.

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