By Sonja Twedt, IM Certified® Facilitator, 6–12 Special Projects Course Assistant
Are you an instructional coach or teacher leader in a district that is adopting Illustrative Mathematics? If so, you’ve likely found yourself thinking about how to best support your teacher team during year one of their implementation work. In today’s blog, some lessons from the field will be offered around three leverage points that can be helpful in supporting teachers through their “first go” with the IM curriculum.
As teachers adopt a new curriculum there is always so much to learn and do, and we know our teachers, like all of us in education, have limited time in their day! While we would love for everyone to spend as much time in learning and reflecting as possible, we also know that for many teachers, simply staying on top of day-to-day planning is going to be a mountainous task in and of itself. This is especially true for those teachers who teach multiple subjects or preps.
As an instructional coach or teacher leader, one of the most powerful leverage points is to maintain focus on the “big picture” in year one of implementation. Know what your team wants year one of implementation to look like, sound like, and feel like…
- Where are you all starting from?
- Which parts of the program build on things you already know and do?
- Which parts of the program are completely new for your team?
- What are your important focal points for year one?
- How will you measure success?
Keep these questions at the forefront of your mind, and at the forefront of the work you do with both individual teachers and with teacher teams. Lift small and big successes through reflection around this vision. It is through your coaching conversations, effective questioning, facilitation of PLCs, and other collaborative work that you will be able to reinforce this “big picture.”
And as you do this, lean into the IM resources! When coaching there are so many times that a quick read of a unit narrative together, a quick search for an IM blog post, or simply a reference to IM’s lesson structure helps answer questions, allay concerns, or refocus work as teachers and teams work their way through year one.
Get on the Field
It is tremendously helpful to “get on the field” with your teachers, entering the collective classroom spaces and working together. Given the different roles that instructional coaches and teacher leaders are given within a building or district, this may be more possible for some coaches/leaders than others, but in any way that you can, try to prioritize it in year one.
How can you get into the classroom? Many coaches are involved in full instructional coaching cycles that provide the opportunities to be in the classroom with teachers often and experience the program from a teaching lens.
For those whose instructional coaching or leadership roles do not require or allow for coaching rounds, there are still small ways to carve out time in classrooms. Take five minutes each day to go into different classrooms and notice and name the good things that you are seeing; from fostering student discussion, to having a strong launch, to strong selecting and sequencing of student responses for a synthesis, and everything in between, teachers and students will appreciate hearing what is going well!
If your role allows you the time, teach in the classroom with a teacher on occasion, whether that means co-teaching a whole lesson or taking five to ten minutes to facilitate one element of a lesson. As a coach or teacher leader, walking in the teachers’ shoes and positioning yourself firmly as a learner with your teachers during year one of implementation builds trust and gives you an understanding of what teachers are experiencing, which will strengthen the conversations that you will be able to have together as you support them in the curriculum.
Support Classroom Community
Finally, if there is one thing that has the most potential to make Illustrative Mathematics “work” in year one, it is the building and sustaining of the classroom community. Students need to that they are part of a collaborative whole that is developing mathematical ideas together. These experiences are the base on which the important learning experiences in IM rest.
For everyone, but particularly for educators with little experience with problem-based instruction, there needs to be space to think about the moves it takes to build and sustain this nurturing mathematical community. Support teachers around building classroom community throughout the year. While many classrooms build community and community norms at the beginning of the year, the work does not end there. Like any community, a math learning community needs continual work to remain strong. Keep teachers talking about the moves they are making in their classrooms that continue to support their math communities, and bring them together to collectively problem solve at times in the year when it feels like those communities need support. As a leverage point, when this work is a priority in year one of implementation, you will likely see the biggest return on investment in teachers feeling positive and excited about what they see happening in their classrooms. That momentum can really help keep implementation of the program moving in the right direction, and teachers feeling positive about their classroom experiences.
The three big ideas I’ve described are just a few of the ways in which coaches can support teachers in successful implementation. As a coach or teacher leader, how might you use these ideas in future work? Knowing your context, what are some additional ways that you are thinking about that could support your teachers implementing IM? Thinking proactively about how you will support your teachers and be responsive to the needs they have will set you up to do some powerful, collaborative work together as you move forward with IM!
Sonja Twedt has spent the last twenty years in math education, as a teacher, interventionist, instructional coach, and professional development specialist. Sonja is passionate about helping empower math educators to create engaging, active, and equitable mathematical classroom communities where students believe in their mathematical abilities and are positioned to be the authors of their own learning.
Sonja lives outside of Madison, WI with her husband, two children, and their beagle buddy. In addition to being a certified facilitator and a 6–12 Special Projects Course Assistant for IM, Sonja also does consulting work for The Math Institute of Wisconsin and works part time as a STEM instructional coach in the Beloit, WI school district.