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Empowering K-12 educators, cultivating equity in mathematics

Empowering K-12 Educators, Cultivating Equity in Mathematics
Center kicks off with the largest mathematics leadership cadre in program’s history

Rural schoolteacher Laura Van Laeken recalls the wave of emotions she experienced when she attended the very first regional mathematics leadership cadre offered through the Warner School’s Center for Professional Development and Education Reform.

“I was nearly in tears because I was overwhelmed with how they were presenting the way that we should be teaching mathematics,” says Van Laeken, “because for years I was using a ‘sit and get’ model with my fifth-graders.”

Seven years later, the annual cadre remains, and many of the same educators, like Van Laeken, return each year.  And that old ‘sit and get’ model—a teacher-centered form of learning where the teacher stands in front of the classroom lecturing, hoping students are ‘getting’ something out of the lesson—is no longer the norm in Van Laeken’s classroom. It has since taken the shape of a more collaborative, learner-driven environment. 

“What brings me back every year is the collegiality and opportunity to be challenged as a professional on how I think about my own teaching,” notes Van Laeken, now an academic intervention services (AIS) math teacher at Midlakes Intermediate School.  “I have the unique opportunity of working with educators who are open to challenging themselves and their students. This experience has impacted me in both the ways that I teach my students and work with other teachers to provide rich math learning environments.”

The official launch of the Regional Mathematics Leadership Cadre in 2011 coincided with the New York State’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. The Center developed the Cadre, in partnership with Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES and under the leadership of the Center’s Executive Director Cindy Callard, also a professor at Warner, in response to needs in the community. It was formed initially to help educators prepare for and implement the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. Over the years, the professional working group of K-12 teachers, teacher leaders, math coaches, and administrators has provided hundreds of educators with opportunities to learn, share resources, and connect with other educators.

Participating in the Cadre has also helped guide Matt Catlin, an elementary math specialist at Livonia Central School District who has attended for six consecutive years now, in new directions on how to teach. And it has allowed him to take on a real leadership role in his district.

“It has changed, shaped, and molded my outlook on teaching math,” he says. “I always learn something new to take back, and I always leave with some nagging questions to ponder. As a teacher leader in my district, I work with administrators to help teachers with their understanding of content, best practices, and standards, and my thoughts are grounded in what I have learned in the Cadre.”

Like Catlin and Van Laeken, many returning educators enjoy seeing familiar faces from year to year, forming new relationships and building connections with people from other districts, and hearing what others are doing, both regionally and nationally, in the field of mathematics education.

The Center math team sees the Cadre as a vehicle to bridge research to practice and annually takes on a new theme with new resources and experiences.  This year’s professional learning experiences are focusing on access and equity in mathematics. The 2018-19 Cadre kicked off with a full-day session on November 8, and featured a discussion around ‘labels’ that get placed on students that was thought-provoking for Catlin.

“It’s a hard topic to tackle, as negative labels and comparative thinking weigh down and impact so many students,” he explains.  “Like everyone else, we’ve been wrestling with how to give all students a rich and varied experience in math, and meeting the range of instructional needs and levels. Finding the right balance between grade-level content while filling the gaps for students who have struggled with math is a major concern.”

According to Jennifer Kruger, associate director of mathematics education outreach, the topic of identity, access, and equity is a necessary and important topic for all educators.  “Our mission is to tackle this not only as a whole in education but to apply it directly to mathematics education,” she says. The Center team facilitating the Cadre includes: Kruger; Callard; Stephanie Martin, director of mathematics education outreach; and Melissa Staloff, associate director of mathematics education outreach.

With this year’s theme, the Cadre has attracted new and returning educators alike. And the response from cohort participants has been overwhelmingly positive.

This is Karen Wolgast’s first year as a Cadre member. Her district agreed to send her because of the focus on equity.

“It is so important to realize that math is so much more than numbers and how important the vocabulary is to student understanding,” says the Rush-Henrietta teacher who currently has six English language learners in her kindergarten class. “I hope to gain strategies to help scaffold my students’ learning as well as learn about rich mathematical tasks that have entry points for all learners.”
mathematics leadership cadre participantsThe timeliness and importance of this year’s theme bring together a larger-than-normal Cadre of 90 enthusiastic mathematics educators, from 20 different school districts, for multi-day professional learning experiences. During the 2018-19 school year, the Cadre will meet for a total of five full-day sessions at Victor Central School District, who is partnering to provide a central location to the broader region. These sessions allow participants time to read and use literature and research, with a focus on equity in mathematics, to inform their work; gain experiences as learners in mathematics; engage in cross-grade level, cross-district, and in-district collaborative conversations; and stay current on the latest information and trends in the field of mathematics education at the regional, state, and national levels.

“Our ultimate hope is that educators will go back and share what they learn in their own district communities,” explains Kruger.

As part of last year’s Cadre, participants were provided the opportunity to work with their districts to create an action plan to bring the information they learned back to share with the teachers and administrators in their district—an exercise that will likely be executed again by the current cohort of educators.   

Wolgast plans to share what she learns from the Cadre at a future faculty meeting or district-wide professional development gathering. Other Cadre participants are excited to share learning and experiences from the Cadre in the form of team/department meetings, professional development, book talks/clubs, digital notebooks like Microsoft OneNote, and teaching support in the classrooms of teachers who are interested in learning about putting into practice ideas from the Cadre.

“By participating in the math experiences during the Cadre, it has opened my eyes to so many of the shifts in mathematics education, and it has allowed me to bring those shifts back to the teachers that I work with in grades 7-12 to understand how students might approach problems differently as they are moving up through levels,” says Andrea Lynch, an instructional coach at Churchville Central School District who has participated in the Cadre for five years. “This is one of the most important professional development opportunities that I have a chance to participate in. I look forward to working with like-minded educators, from K-12 settings, learning from one another and learning together.”

The opportunity to work through different math tasks with other educators is a significant driving force behind Joseph Rugari’s decision to participate in the Cadre year after year.

“It challenges my thinking and stretches my creativity in how I think mathematically and how I facilitate instruction in my own classroom,” says Rugari, a math AIS specialist and a subject area leader for math at A.D. Oliver Middle School in Brockport. “My participation in the Cadre has impacted the ‘how’ of my instructional practices. For example, how do I make decisions when I’m planning; how am I going to allow for kids to experience math so that they all can have an entry point and we can have a rich discussion that builds off of their experiences; and how do I assess student learning, formatively and summatively? I’m constantly asking myself these questions and reflecting on my instructional practices due to the work that we accomplish together at the Cadre.”

As schools across New York State prepare for the Next Generation Learning Standards to be fully implemented in September 2020, with student testing beginning in spring 2021, the Cadre will continue to support teachers in preparing for and implementing those new statewide standards as well.

And returning educators, like Van Laeken and Catlin, have really been pushing for others in their district to sign up each year.  Seven years ago, Van Laeken was the only one from her district participating in the Cadre. Today, she’s one of six teachers from her district attending the Cadre.

Van Laeken adds, “I’ve been really lucky that my school has invested in this opportunity for me—and with me—and to be able to work with the Center staff leading the Cadre. They are such a wealth of knowledge and such a good support system. I rely so heavily on them and appreciate what they bring to the table.”