A LYS Campus Leader asked the following question:




Yesterday, I was working with some of the math teachers on my campus when I realized that they had completely dug in their heels on Frequent Small Group Purposeful Talk. It was the typical broken record of:


“I don’t have time to stop and talk.”


“I have too much to teach.”


“I have to get all the material taught by a certain date.”


“I won’t get my class back in control.”


To the team’s credit, most of the comments were between themselves and not directed towards me or campus administration.  I tried to explain that clarification, identification of errors, and student to student conversation could prevent problems later in the year, but they either weren’t listening or weren’t convinced.


I know you were a former math teacher, any other suggestions you can offer?

SC Response
Glad to help. But first you have to go visit a couple of math classrooms this week. And by a couple, I would suggest 15 random, pop-in visits.  Depending on what you observe will determine which set of suggestions you should use.


Scenario A: During the 15 pop-in visits, you observe 3 to 6 instances of something that resembles small group purposeful talk.


Suggestion Set A: What the math team is doing in the meeting is GRITCHING. You know, griping and b… Gritching is the lubricant that allows a person to deal with the friction of change. As a leader, recognize that gritching can be a good thing. It means your staff is trying to improve.


Changing instructional practice is not easy. The pressure your teachers feel, as they articulated in the meeting, is real.  Their gritching is how they are dealing with real operational constraints and real discomfort as they are adding new practices to their instructional routines.


  1. Give eyeball to eyeball encouragement and validation.


  1. Recognize that what they are doing isn’t easy and they are trying to improve and serve their students better.


Scenario B: During the 15 pop-in visits, you observe 0 to 3 instances of something that resembles small group purposeful talk.


Suggestion Set B: What the math team is doing is making excuses. They know they are not meeting expectations and they are creating and validating justifications for why the expectation that they attempt to use better instructional practices is unreasonable. Below are the things I would point out to the math teachers as I continued to coach them.


  1. If a student can’t verbalize the taught mathematical process… Does the student actually know and understand the process or is the student just engaged in the long series of “Daily Math Tricks.”
  2. When students talk to each other and work together during your math class, they backfill their understanding gaps faster than you can identify them.
  3. When students talk to each other, the students who get “it” then translate your “teacher talk” into “meaningful student information” for the students who don’t get “it.”
  4. If you, the teacher, are the sole source of math knowledge in your classroom, then the pace content delivery is reduced significantly.
  5. You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re math teachers. If we, of all people, can’t see the math that shows best instructional practice is significantly more effective than lesser instructional practice, then were in serious trouble. We’re better than this.


Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

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