If you heard me use the word “colleague” in a conversation a few years ago, I would have been referencing the people I work with face-to-face.
If you heard me use that same word today, the people I’d be referring to would be much different. In addition to my face-to-face coworkers, I would be gushing about my incredible Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team members, and all the amazing educators I interact with in the #MTBoS (MathTwitterBlogosphere). While the majority of these interactions are solely online, I have had the extreme pleasure of learning and growing with my Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team — both online and in person — over the course of this school year.
Our journey together began in September through a collaborative project between Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced, and Teaching Channel. Having always used illustrative tasks in my classroom, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to collaborate on the mathematics and student learning of the tasks with professionals of diverse educational occupations. The team consisted of the varying perspectives of a county math supervisor, district math specialist, college professor, and classroom teachers, all the while supported by the mathematicians and content specialists from Illustrative Mathematics and Smarter Balanced. Each team member brought interesting and insightful perspectives that challenged my thinking during every conversation we had.
Through numerous video chats and shared online docs, the team first collaborated on the development of an instructional task around the CCSS fraction progression. We used the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions for developing a lesson plan for task implementation in two fifth grade classrooms. I taught the lesson, filmed it, then uploaded it to Teaching Channel Teams for the group to watch and leave feedback.
For anyone who has ever been observed by their colleagues, you understand how intimidating this can be. However, it was amazing to feel so safe and comfortable with a group of colleagues I had, at this point, only met online. I am convinced it was our common vision and passion for the teaching and learning of mathematics that created a very special bond between all of us.
Looking closely at student work and listening to the classroom conversations, we collaborated on revising the lesson for Teaching Channel’s filming of Alicia Farmer’s classroom the following week. The revised lesson was filmed with Alicia’s class and afterwards, Alicia, Jennie (Alicia’s district math specialist), and I had the opportunity to sit and reflect on the lesson and the collaborative experience as a whole. Our work did not stop there, however. We used these learning experiences to create and deliver professional development on the fraction learning progression and the thoughtful lesson planning of tasks.
Being departmentalized in fifth grade, I use a lot of “I” when talking about the teaching in my classroom. However, through this work, that “I” has often been replaced by “We.” I wasn’t the only one curious about what the fraction standards looked and sounded like around particular tasks; we were all curious. I wasn’t the only one looking at an Illustrative Mathematics task and anticipating student strategies; we anticipated together. I wasn’t the only one analyzing student conversations and working on the next moves; we were doing all of this together. It was in fact the “we” that created an indescribably powerful collaborative learning experience, not only for myself, but for my students as well.
I’m excited to say that our work together did not end here. Members of our Elementary Team have continued to work with Illustrative Mathematics throughout the remainder of the school year. We are currently working together to develop and deliver professional development on fraction instruction with teachers from two school districts in New York City. This work has us continuing to meet online and, even better, we have the opportunity to work together, in person, to deliver the professional development!
Perhaps the most unique piece of this experience is my stance as a learner in this work. Our team plans, discusses, revisits, and revises our plans with the learning of the teachers as our focus. However, ironically, I feel as if I am the learner. In every facet of this experience I have learned more about the content I teach, and the importance of collaboration with passionate math educators. I am proud to call all of the wonderful people involved in this work my colleagues.
Kristin is a Nationally Board certified, fifth grade math teacher at Richard A. Shields Elementary School in the Cape Henlopen School District in Lewes, Delaware.