MidSchoolMath 2018 National Conference: Reflections on Reflections

The Southwest flight had hit the runway at LAX, concluding the journey to and from Santa Fe. I kept an engaged stride en route to the payoff of a parking lot gamble: would my car still be in its original spot after I left it in an area marked "NO PARKING AFTER 2/28/18"? Additionally, I faced the potential of a shutdown on Interstate 5 due to snowfall.

I did not have to contemplate these potential hazards alone; a passenger with whom I had shared the flight back from Albuquerque with made the transition from the arrival gate immensely more manageable. The brief acquaintanceship on the flight featured a restaurant manager/consultant to whom I commented on a familiar necktie knot used in one of Southwest's courtesy posters: the Eldredge knot.

I had mentioned that I wore the knot for my sister's wedding and she was curious about how challenging it was to construct. We struck a chord instantly and immediately hit it off, sparking a two-hour conversation about origins, passions and choices. She told me her journey: small-town New Mexico seeking something more for herself and moves to Santa Monica with little else but ambition. Picks up acting roles, supplemented by bartending, and ends up excelling in both. She picks up roles and begins winning acclaim, while rising through the ranks and becoming a general manager. At present, she faces a choice: a pilot she had featured in was picked up by a network and the role would require a six-month commitment. Should she take the job, possibly the highest-profile of her career, or dedicate herself to her consulting and managing pathway?

I had considered a similar shift months earlier, as I contemplated returning to a school site from my district's curriculum department. Through much soul-searching, I recognized that a significant component that drove my successes in the classroom proved greatly absent in my specialist role: building relationships. Although I had picked up a tremendous deal in content knowledge and pedagogy, at very few points did I truly feel I was welcomed or perceived as a "math leader". Much of my time felt isolated in research and absorption of ideas, waiting on quiet phones as calls for support seldom came through.

At that moment, I searched for alternate leadership roles within the district and was thrilled to see one available as an Academic Coach at Walter Stiern Middle School. I had accepted the role with a caveat I wanted to communicate with my new principal: I had accepted an invite to present at the MidSchoolMath 2018 National Conference in Santa Fe, which would be my first at a national conference. She immediately approved, excited to see what I would bring back from the experience. In doing so, I found purpose with my attendance in the lens of supporting educators at my school site.

Ideas with Immediate payoffs

1. Parking Lot Coordinate Plane - By painting a labeled coordinate plane on your campus concrete/asphalt, concepts utilize deeper proxemics to communicate ideas and give an excuse to move learning outside of the four walls of the classroom. The structure allows for more kinesthetic interaction with coordinate plotting, integers, and transformations.

2. Investing in Teachers as Professionals - If we as teacher leaders are passionate about developing awareness of research and relevant best practices in the field, why shouldn't we make it as easy as possible to interact with those who proffer in consolidating this info? The idea is straightforward: use school funds to purchase memberships in teachers' content area professional organizations like NCTM or CMC. It's an idea that spreads easily to all subject areas at a middle school: the groups are out there.

3. Engaging Students in Data with Line Plots - One of my great heartaches in math education is the isolation of statistics and data standards until the end-of-the-year, after state assessments. These skills are often the most dynamic way for students to engage in number sense and analysis, leading to deeper concepts in major targets. As a result, students are left hung out to dry with these skills when they do appear, and data becomes one of the fastest-growing gaps grade-to-grade. Roderick Langston of Cobb County's Griffin Middle School (GA) presented a set of activities in student data collection involving post-it notes and focusing on numerical data. For example, instead of asking students "What is your favorite pizza topping?", ask students to write down their ideal toppings, then create a line plot using the number of toppings students each wrote. This draws focus away from debate over preferences and toward visual analysis of classroom trends, which can lead to conversations regarding histograms and box plots. This activity had immediate dividends as we applied it to our 7th grade team's plans for that week, as well as modeled it on Tuesday's episode of "Do The Math."

Long-term plans and visions

1. Who Needs Math Love? - Speaking with Kevin Simpson of KDSL Global was a near-religious experience, where an entire world of possibilities suddenly shifts into view. Simpson's path to international global support is predicated by the simple fact that educational agencies in demand for support exist all around the world. It's out there, it's developing, and it's untapped. How many groups in Asia, the Middle East, Oceania need support because of the gap in research and application? I've always held fast to the mantra of "Think Global, Act Local", but can imagine an update in the case of education...

2. "Act Local to Go Global" - A conversation with Heather Danforth-Clayton of the Helios School unlocked a possibility I'm ashamed I never considered: instead of bringing math support to local learners through business, consider the possibility of establishing a non-profit that brings in business and community support. (!!!) It ties in beautifully with the idea of establishing a network of leadership to meet an academic need in the area for the impending workplace.

3. Acknowledging successes in the face of conflict - A conversation with Josh Zagorski, a true Twitter thought partner, let me reflect on the collaborative structure in place in Bakersfield City School District. As Professional Learning Communities were established, the local teachers' union welcomed the practice but raised concerns around time and contract hours. The solution was the most valuable gift in any professional occupation: time. In order to make time for weekly grade-level PLC session, 4 school days per week were extended by 15 minutes so that teachers could collaborate for an hour during their contract time. It's something we take for granted now, but the countless revelations and lesson design breakthroughs have allowed us to have established expectations of student learning and peer feedback.

I had these incredible takeaways and interactions, following a fruitful first national presentation, and found both evident and improvised use for my connections and brainstorms. I'm now in a position to have a more immediate capacity to put best practices into meaningful use by being at a school site and, most selfishly, to make positive impacts on educators through visible change.

As the actress and I parted ways, we agreed to maintain contact and keep each other updated on the paths we diverged upon. We hugged (a first for a fellow airline passenger) and said farewell, but not before I HAD to pitch a final phrase of encouragement on her upcoming decision:

"Whatever you decide will be the right move."


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