Math Coaches Make an Impact
Coaches provide support for teachers who have multiple demands through job embedded professional development. One key element essential to effective math instruction, that a math coach in particular provides, is supporting teacher knowledge of mathematics content. Math coaches are able to provide feedback, planning support, and work towards goals in a timely manner with knowledge and understanding that comes from being in the classroom and working with teachers.
Embedded Professional Development
Embedded professional development is not a one time offering, and the frequency and amount of time focused on professional development should be considered, as Robert Kaplinsky points out there is a benefit to continued follow-up provided by a math coach. “...[T]he primary goal of coaching is student learning, we are continually working toward teacher capacity building as an additional outcome of the coaching experience” (Sweeney & Harris, 2017, p. 138). Building on teachers strengths to enhance their instructional strategies, integrate pedagogy and practice, while building deeper conceptual understanding and connections happens when working with math coaches.
As relationships are built it allows for moving from surface conversations to impactful conversations, Joellen Killion refers to this as coaching heavy and coaching light. Relationships matter. “Trusting, respectful, and collegial relationships are a necessary component for all forms of coaching” (Sweeney & Harris, 2017, p. 6). Respectful relationships are a way to engage conversations that shift outcomes for learners and enhance equity in the classroom.
Elements of coaching include in-the-moment decision making to support responsive teaching and to meet the needs of all learners. Considering evidence in planning is necessary to establish goals, consider progress, and evaluate effectiveness of teaching as well as coaching. Notice and naming is one technique, from Diane Sweeney, that provides a focus on strengths and using data from the teaching, and students, to make decisions and collaboratively plan responsive teaching.
We are looking for student evidence that we can collect today and that will inform us about what our students need tomorrow. So instead of looking at spreadsheets from big formal tests, we look at things like student writing samples, math problems, exit slips, and response to reading. In this way, we can gain an understanding of where students are in relation to that day’s learning and plan for next steps in instruction moving forward. (Sweeney & Harris, 2017, p. 106).
Use of student evidence, in the form of work sorts, observations, and work samples is essential for planning and a way to incorporate formative assessments into the planning process. This rapid cycle of inquiry using data to inform instruction and set goals can be effective as a math coach works to support the MTSS process within a school to meet the needs of all students.
Support theory, practice, and beliefs
Coaching founded on respectful relationships can also engage in integrating theory, practice and beliefs into conversations. “There are too many variables - too many daily decisions that a teacher needs to make about students, instruction, and assessment. Coaches must address beliefs…Exploring beliefs deepens equitable practices; building equitable practices shifts beliefs” (Aguilar, 2020, p. 146). Attention to practices in mathematics, such as the All Learners Lesson structure, provide a structure to examine practices that will support all learners. Additionally, addressing beliefs and mindsets around learners related to mathematics, race, dis/ability, and other identities offers another way to consider equitable instruction for learners as beliefs and mindset are connected to instructional decisions. (Aguirre et. al, 2013; Boaler, 2016; Darling-Hammond & Oakes, 2019; Dweck, 2006; Loughran, 2006; Miller & Shifflet, 2016). Not only are mindsets and beliefs influential in establishing learning environments, reflection is also an essential aspect to consider these beliefs, to make changes, and for individual growth and learning. (Aguilar, 2020; Aguirre et. al, 2013; Darling-Hammond & Oakes, 2019; Dweck, 2006; Loughran, 2006; Miller & Shifflet, 2016). This reflection is an important aspect, for teachers and coaches alike, and is an essential part of the coaching process.
Deepening Math Content Knowledge
Reflecting on mindsets is one aspect, but reflecting on the content that is being taught and how it is connected to past and future learning of your students is another important aspect of coaching. Growing math teachers content knowledge and coherence of mathematical concepts as they develop over time and across the grades is another important role of a math coach. This is one criteria outlined in 9 Essential Coaching Actions from NCSM. Math knowledge of teachers is important as it impacts student learning (Lambert & Sugita, 2016). We honor the different needs of all learners and strive to provide equitable learning opportunities to them. In the same way, we need to honor the different needs of all teachers and provide them equitable opportunities to learn mathematical content and effective practices. Embedded mathematics coaching creates opportunities for targeted coaching to occur, benefiting both teachers and students.
Coaching benefits and needs
Collaboration, strong relationships and consistency are some strengths of working with a math coach. Additionally, the exploration of content and use of evidence from students supports teachers deepening not only their own knowledge but strengthening that of their students. Responsiveness, honest conversations, and reflection support coaches, educators and students development. Coaching is to empower educators, and systemic growth around equitable instructional practices.
There is evidence of successes in coaching, and impact on learners. However, just as collaboration is essential among teachers, administrators, and math coaches, it is also beneficial for math coaches to network and have their own professional development focused on coaching as well. All Learners Network provides learning opportunities for coaches in the form of an online community for members and through events. Offerings are regularly added to ALN and can be found on the events page, to find workshops and courses designed for coaching and to help support systems to provide mathematical instruction for all learners. What are ways math coaches are supporting your school and systems? How could math coaches and math leaders be incorporated to strengthen the impact of your system?
Aguilar, E., (2020). Coaching for equity: Conversations that change practice. Jossey-Bass
Aguirre, J. M., Mayfield-Ingram, K., & Martin, D. B. (2013). The impact of identity in K-8 mathematics learning and teaching: Rethinking equity-based practices. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.
Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students’ potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching. Jossey-Bass A Wiley Brand.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Oakes, J. (2019). Preparing teachers for deeper learning. Harvard Education Press.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success (1st ed). Random House.
Lambert, R., & Sugita, T. (2016). Increasing engagement of students with learning disabilities in mathematical problem-solving and discussion. Support for Learning, 31(4), 347–366. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9604.12142
Loughran, J. (2006). Developing a pedagogy of teacher education: Understanding teaching and learning about teaching. Routledge.
Miller, K., & Shifflet, R. (2016). How memories of school inform preservice teachers’ feared and desired selves as teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 53, 20–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2015.10.002
Sweeney, D., & Harris, L. (2017). Student-centered coaching the moves. Corwin.