Commitment Cards: A Strategy for Mathematics Coaches

In the realm of high school sports, few stories are as inspiring as that of Bob Ladouceur, the legendary football coach of the De La Salle Spartans. Coach Ladouceur’s innovative use of “commitment cards” was a cornerstone of his strategy, fostering a culture of accountability and excellence that led to an unprecedented 399 wins and 20 perfect seasons. This method not only transformed his football team but also offers a powerful blueprint for educational settings, particularly in mathematics instruction.


The Power of Commitment Cards

Each week, Coach Ladouceur would have his players write down their conditioning, practice, and game goals on simple 3×5 index cards. These goals, as Coach Lad stressed, needed to be “measurable and observable,” enabling both the team and the individuals to track progress and uphold their commitments. For example, a player might have written, “I will complete 100% of my tackles in the next game,” or “I will improve my 40-yard dash time by 0.2 seconds.” The accountability aspect was crucial; players would exchange cards and hold each other responsible for these commitments, discussing them openly if goals were not met.

This method proved incredibly effective, cultivating a sense of responsibility and collective improvement. It shifted focus from individual accolades to team success and personal growth, a philosophy that can profoundly impact educational practices.


Adapting Commitment Cards for Math Instruction

In math education, it can be challenging to help teachers sustainably shift their practices. During professional development (PD) sessions or one-on-one coaching, teachers may understand the new pedagogical approaches and intend to implement them. However, these changes may fail to materialize consistently and effectively in the classroom. Educators have myriad tasks each week, and often, implementing new strategies falls to the bottom of their priority list. While teachers need to feel confident in the math content they teach and believe that the new pedagogical methods will enhance their students’ understanding without disrupting lesson pacing, they also require accountability to ensure these changes are effectively executed.


Math coaches can draw direct inspiration from Coach Ladouceur’s playbook to support math teachers in their professional learning communities (PLCs). By integrating commitment cards into weekly PLC meetings, teachers can articulate and share their professional development goals, creating a supportive environment that encourages growth and accountability. Here’s how it can work:

  1. Dual Goals on Each Card: Each teacher writes two specific goals on their card — a “teacher-move goal” aimed at improving their instructional strategies, and a “math proficiency goal” focused on enhancing their own understanding of math concepts.
  2. Exchange and Accountability: Teachers exchange cards with a colleague who then becomes their accountability partner for the week, mirroring the peer-driven accountability that was central to De La Salle’s success.
  3. Review and Reflect: At the next PLC meeting, partners discuss the progress and challenges related to the goals on the cards, providing feedback and strategies for improvement.


The Broader Impact

Just as Coach Ladouceur emphasized the non-visual markers of success over trophies, math coaches and teachers can focus on the intrinsic rewards of learning and teaching mathematics. By making professional growth tangible through commitment cards, teachers are likely to find a renewed focus and energy in their teaching practices, leading to improved outcomes for all students.

Commitment cards are more than just a tool; they are a transformational strategy that can bring about substantial improvements in educational environments. By borrowing from the playbook of one of the most successful coaches in sports history, math coaches have the opportunity to lead their teachers toward a more accountable, committed, and effective teaching practice.


Focus Your Math Professional Development On What Matters


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Each Teacher Guide consists of:

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Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!