Episode #166: How To Build Community In Your PLC – A Math Mentoring Moment

Jan 31, 2022 | Podcast | 0 comments



Today we speak with Garret Schneider, a middle school math teacher from Indiana. Like many of us, Garret is feeling a little bit like he’s a lone wolf as he continues to seek out ways to elevate his teaching practice while many colleagues continue independently on their own teaching journeys. 

In this Math Mentoring Moment Episode, we will dig into why this lone journey is getting Garret down and how he might be able to work towards developing a professional learning community where all members feel accepted and valued regardless of their teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach.

You’ll Learn

  • How can you build your own support network / PLC;
  • How to help your fellow teachers “get on board”; and, 
  • Why it’s a blessing when you find something new that works.


Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard [Book]: https://amzn.to/2B1vjXL

Join Us For A Math Mentoring Moment Episode: https://makemathmoments.com/mentor

The Make Math Moments Academy: https://makemathmoments.com/academy 

Proportional Reasoning Course: https://makemathmoments.com/proportions 

Problem Based Tasks: https://makemathmoments.com/tasks/

The Thinking Classroom: https://buildingthinkingclassrooms.com/podcasts/

Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Garrett Schneider: This year, I've completely crossed the threshold of being so different that I have no one to talk to. Does that make sense? So when you guys were working together and doing this new stuff, with your school's blessing of course, you were bouncing these ideas off each other. You were working great. And it seems like you guys have given me great information through your podcast. I'm going through other stuff to get great information. But even if I didn't-

Kyle Pearce: Today, we speak with Garrett Schneider, a middle school math teacher from Indiana. Like many of us, Garrett's feeling a little bit like he's a lone wolf as he continues to seek ways to elevate his own teaching practice while many colleagues continue to independently explore their own teaching journeys.

Jon Orr: In this Math Mentoring Moment episode, we will dig into why this lone journey is getting Garrett down and how he might be able to work towards developing professional learning community, where all members feel accepted and valued regardless of their teaching philosophy and their pedagogical approach.

Kyle Pearce: Math Moment Makers, this is another Math Mentoring Moment episode, where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker community, just like you, who's working through a problem of practice or a pebble in their shoe so that together, we can brainstorm some possible next steps and strategies to overcome them. Jon, are you ready to do this?

Jon Orr: Let's do it.

Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pierce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are two math teachers from makemathmoments.com who together-

Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide, we want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity-

Jon Orr: Fuel sense making-

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Math Moment Makers, we are so excited to have another Math Mentoring Moment episode. Garrett headed on over to makemathmoments.com/mentor a little earlier this year and submitted his problem of practice. And you know what? Today's the day we're bringing Garrett on to have an awesome conversation about something that I think Jon, both you and I have felt ourselves in our career. And I'm sure many people listening also have felt, or maybe are feeling right now in their own schools and professional learning communities.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And in this interview, you'll hear Kyle and I kind of commiserate with Garrett here that we both felt like lone wolfs in our own classrooms and our own schools as we were the first to make changes in our classroom.
So we kind of felt alone and Garrett does feel alone here. You'll hear him describe that. But by the end of this discussion, we come up with some really great suggestions. Garrett also comes up with some really great suggestions on his next steps to change the community he is building at his school. So stick around and you'll hear you're all about that. Kyle, let's get to it.

Kyle Pearce: All right, here we go. We'll see you on the other side.

Jon Orr: Hey there, Garrett. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. How are you doing today?

Garrett Schneider: I am doing pretty, pretty good. Really excited to be here and yeah. So in Indiana, it's a cool 10 degrees. So it's nice that winter's finally coming.

Kyle Pearce: It's true.

Jon Orr: Nice. I literally just got off the backyard ice rink. We're not that far from you. We're just across the border from Detroit. And I was out with my son and the neighbor's kids out on the ice rink and ran in here to get nice and warm. And we're really excited to learn a little bit more about you. Tell us a little bit about your backstory. You told us where you're coming from. Tell us where you are coming from, like from an educational standpoint. Tell us a little bit about your journey.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, I'd love to. So I kind of always knew I loved math. So I lived in Maine, I was born in Maine, raised in Maine. It's a state, most eastern contiguous state in the United States and they had something called a charter school or a magnet school there. So I spent my junior and senior year of high school, like six hours away, five minutes walking from Quebec in Limestone, Maine, tip of Maine. And just with a bunch of other kids that just loved math and science and it was pretty sweet. And at that time, I equated loving it to being really good at it. So I was like, "Oh, I've got to be good at math. I love it. No one else likes math." So that was like a weird thing that I realized later. But yeah, I went to college in Pennsylvania where I double majored in math and theater.
And then I was like, no, I don't want to be a math teacher. I want to write plays, because that's where the money is, right?

Kyle Pearce: It sounds like it.

Garrett Schneider: So I took a couple years off, did some theater stuff in Maine and then got a master's in playwriting in Ohio. And then when I graduated, I realized that nobody was hiring playwright. But luckily, I've been tutoring math on the side and I did, so they have, you've heard of Teach for America, right?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Garrett Schneider: So they have like offshoots of that with different areas around the country. And so they have New York teaching fellows or New Orleans teaching fellows, just kind focusing on a city. And I was like, "Well, I don't have a teaching certificate or anything." So this would kind of be perfect, because it's a summer program where they get you fully prepared to teach in a challenging environment.

Jon Orr: One summer.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, one summer. It turns out that's all you need, right?

Jon Orr: That's it, yeah.

Garrett Schneider: So I chose national teaching fellows. I worked at this. I like, so while you're doing your summer internship, I guess it's like an intensive eight hours a day for like five weeks. You also apply for jobs in the local inner city schools. And so I applied, I got a high school teaching job there, teaching math and I was like, "Okay, I'm ready. I've been to high school before and I like math." And that's all I really need and turns out I was wrong.

Kyle Pearce: How'd that go for you?

Garrett Schneider: It was a rough transition. And I always like to learn and be better and learn more. And other people said it better than me. I think Dan Meyer or somebody said that when I put more enthusiasm into it, when the enthusiasm isn't there, I come off as crazy. And so I would be really excited about this math stuff. And they'd be like, "What? We're not there Mr. Schneider." And I'm like, oh okay. And then all my teachers, fellow teachers who've been there a while were like, "No, classroom management before content. You got to not smile until Christmas. You got to be stern. You got to write kids up when they're doing this stuff." And I was like, "Man, I can't do that consistently. That's not my personality." And so I was like, it was a big struggle, but I learned a whole lot. I stayed there for six years.
And every year I was getting better. I was not only getting better with the class, but I was also getting better with different teaching strategies. And so I would learn, because I knew that the way that, you guys said it better than me, I knew the way that I taught was not the most effective way to teach. The way that I was taught was not the most effective way to teach. And I learned that the way I was taught was effective for me, because I mean I became a math teacher. I love math. It's like I'm biased. And so I'm guessing in my, like 120 kids that I would see each day, they wouldn't all be math teachers.

Kyle Pearce: Right, like how many of those kids would be a you, right?

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, right.

Kyle Pearce: And I think when we get into teaching, we think they're all like us or like at least half, right? You get into teaching, and you're like, well, I was in the academic class and they're all like that. And it's like, I remember math class way different than what I experienced as a teacher, because I just was, I did my work and I followed the instructions and I did what the teacher said about, wait a minute, there's all these other classes that maybe I wasn't in and that's completely different over there? Well, you think about going back and I don't know if it's just the combination of being younger, like our younger selves and maybe as we grow into, I would like to consider myself an adult now that you have all this experience and do we become more empathetic to actually see the world through other people's eyes?
You think about culturally responsive pedagogy is something that we're all trying to learn more about these days. And really you start to look at the world through the lens of someone else and you start to realize like, oh, I know the world as I know it. I really only have my own experience and there's so many others who have something very different going on there. And I'm wondering like, so you had gotten in, you were getting better. At what point did you, I guess, have this realization? Did you know right from the start or was it sort of after time where you started going like, okay, I got to, I'm going to have to like do something different here?

Garrett Schneider: Oh man, it was probably so we did quarters. I don't know if you do quarters up there so every nine weeks, their grades would close or maybe semester, I don't know, but it was nine weeks in. I was like, oh man, this isn't working. I'm talking louder and more excited. But my first period does not look like anyone else's first period. And my second period doesn't look or act like anybody else's second period. And I'd be okay with that if I was getting the same or better results from things. And so it was just not, wasn't a good look. And so I did trainings like in district trainings because they offered the PDs and I discovered Twitter and that was years ago.
So yeah. And then I kept on trying to research and figure it out. And it was, what made it hard is because when I was growing up, you had a textbook, you brought the textbook home, the first day, you'd wrap the textbook up. You'd cover the textbook. That was a homework assignment. And then you started from the beginning to the end. And so when I got there, I was like, "Great, what's my book? I'll teach from the book and then I will put my own spin to make it exciting for students." And they're like, "No, we don't use the book." And I'm like, "Oh cool. What do we use?" "Well, you know, we use standards." And I'm like, "Oh, do the standards tell me what and how and what examples to use?" And they're like, "No, but we will tell you when you have to teach them by." I'm like, "What? That's a learning curve."

Kyle Pearce: Oh yeah. I don't care who you are. You might think, I mean I remember, and I still feel this way, when you go to teach something, that's when you realize how much you don't know about something. And you start to go, whoa, I didn't realize that. So what did you do? Were you just Google? Was that even a thing back then? Or where did you find your resources?

Garrett Schneider: Well, oh man I don't even know. Oh, well I didn't have, I'm trying to remember. We had desktops, we didn't have laptops. And so I had an old desktop that I would use, but I would, luckily there was a textbook room and we had a scope and sequence. So it says hey, the first nine weeks you got to teach this, this and this and this standard. And I'm like, okay. And then, so I found a book and some people were kind of using books. The older teachers were using books on the side. And so I was like, okay yeah. And man, I always go, I hit equation to equation. I'd be like, "Hey, there is this equation. Here are these steps, write them down. Practice As I do, we do together, you do." And then I would just do that. And it might be homeworks because you're in high school and you're ready for that stuff. And homework grades were big. Test grades were big, no retakes, a deadline's a deadline, all this stuff that I like from my wheelhouse because I remember doing that and it kind of hit me when a lot of kids were failing because they weren't doing their work. And I'm like, what do I do with that? You know what I mean? And yeah-

Jon Orr: I was just going to say, what did you do? And if you did something different, because I think lots of people are on the edge of their seat going like, "Hey, I'd love to know what he did next on that one when kids don't do their work."

Kyle Pearce: Garrett's applying the curiosity path to the podcast. The anticipation is growing.

Jon Orr: Yeah, and then if you did do something like what would you say is like some of that turning point for you? What are some of the lessons? What are some of the first changes you made to make this change with your kids?

Garrett Schneider: Oh man. It was like when you guys talk about in your podcast, I think about my first year and I think about where I am now and it's like I want to write a letter to all my students my first few years and I want to be like, "Yo man, thank you for being there, and I'm sorry that I'm not who I am now back then." So yeah, I made all the mistakes, honestly like I doubled down. I was like, "Well you got to get this in. You're not going to this fun thing. You're going to stay in my room during lunch and finish this homework. You don't know how to do this? Well, I will work with you on it, but you got to get it done." And as a result, I had failed a bunch of kids and looking back now, that wasn't helpful for them because that reinforced to them that they weren't good at math, that they didn't know how to do it.
You know what I mean? And it wasn't good for me because once you do that F at their report card F, that cuts off. People earn whatever grade they get, but that's a big cutoff. And if you haven't built the relationship and the communication and exhausted everything and really gotten to know the student, what I learned is that that's not really an accurate judge. Maybe it's an accurate judge of the averages of the scores. They didn't do it, zero, whatever, but it's not a judge of what they know.

Kyle Pearce: Right, yeah. I want to hop in and just say, I think you're so accurately describing. It's like when you said, it's like that sure is the average of the scores they got, but that doesn't suggest that that's all they know about math. And that's a hard place and I'm sure there's people nodding out there. And then there's probably a lot of other people going like, but so what do I do? And I'm curious, we're putting off your math moment. Hopefully we will get there, but I don't want to cut this part off because I think it's a really powerful conversation we're having. I'm wondering, are you making changes or have you made changes in order to address some of those things? Or is this something that you're still grappling with? Because I'm sure a lot of people would really love to sort of get, I guess, another person's perspective on, so like what are you doing instead now in order to help more students?

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. And so it was a progression. And so what I changed and what I'm very happy with, what I changed is like a couple of things. One, I don't give homework anymore. The reason why is for a bunch of reasons, like one is that I don't control, I control what happens in my class. Even I'm not the absolute ruler of what happens in my class. But I have no control what happens after they leave. So a lot of my kids, maybe they'd go home and work, and when I taught high school, I do middle school now. But when I taught high school, they went off, maybe worked a job. Maybe their parents were working and they were taking care of their. Maybe they had other stuff that they had to do. And so I have no control over what happens outside of my room.
On top of that, you'd either have the kids that couldn't do it because they didn't have time, couldn't do it because they didn't understand it or just wouldn't do it. And then some, they're, "I got this, I used my notes, I got it." We could have probably covered them in class. We could have, I could have graded something they did in class in a controlled environment so I know. And so, yeah and also like, I got paid to be a math teacher, but their parents are not paid to be a math teacher. So if you have parents at home that are helping the kids, they want to help their kids. They want their kids do the best they possibly can. All parents want the best for their kids. But how many memes have you seen of like a kid crying because their parent is yelling because they don't understand the math.
It's like that Incredibles thing, like math is math. That isn't how I was taught.

Kyle Pearce: Right. And like you're doing it wrong.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. Nobody wants to, no kid wants to see their parent like freak out over a math problem. And no parent wants to hear their kids say, "Well, that's not how Mr. Schneider did it. So you can't help." That's not cool. And that takes, and so they'd come in the next day with dread. They'd spend hours on something. They wouldn't understand it. That's not a good position to be in. So yeah, I cut out the homework. I mainly did. I graded in-class work and that made me be a more succinct teacher. And then instead of teaching bell to bell, I'm saying, "Okay, we didn't really get to practice this. So do 20 questions at home or whatever." No, we just, if we didn't finish it in class, if I didn't make the time for them to practice this skill in class, that's on me. We'll do it the next day. We have time. If you want the time, you'll make the time. You'll always find time to do what you need to do, and I found that that was true. I stopped giving zeros. Lowest grade I gave was a 50 and that freaked a lot of people out. A lot of people hate that because they didn't do any.

Kyle Pearce: Now when you say a lot of people, are you meaning colleagues?

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, colleagues. Some parents don't like it either, but a lot of colleagues don't like it. It eventually became like a school policy and it's in the policy of the school that I work on now too. But it makes a lot of sense, because like if you average it together, zero 100, 100, that's still like 200 divided by three, 60 something. It's like you gave a 60 and a 70. That doesn't show what they know, because grade is 100% is not a reflection. You hear a lot of times, it's not a reflection of compliance. Grades are a reflection of what you know, and at 50, you know, same as zero.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, and you're dropping a lot of really good points and things for people to think about. And I think this is a good time kind of two things. First off, like here in Ontario, we've had a policy in place for a long time called a growing success document where we are not supposed to be evaluating students' learning skills in terms of like their final grade. So for example, if a student doesn't participate in class, that is not supposed to affect their grade, their numeric grade that they would receive and the same idea with zeros and those types of things. It's like if a student, there is this challenge and I want to make sure people at home don't get the wrong idea. It's not that we want just to promote more students doing nothing because there's no consequence. But the reality is is that if they're not doing the work, it sounds like a conversation that needs to happen between the teacher and the student and the parent and the guidance counselor.
And what else is going on there? Most students aren't just going to not do anything just for the fun of it. So I think it shows that you're looking at the students as humans and you're trying to figure out, "Hey, how do we figure this thing out?" I want to dig deeper on this, but before we do, I don't want this to be the first episode where we don't ask the guest for a math moment from their own experience. You've shared a lot from your current teaching experience. I'm wondering, let's kind of go way back and let's think about your experience. You shared a little bit about your own experience being, we'll call it the "math person", feeling like you were pretty good at it. You said you had kind of learned a few things later on about that. What would be the math moment that pops into your mind when you think all the way back to your own experience as a student?

Garrett Schneider: Oh man. It's not necessarily a positive one. Is that okay?

Kyle Pearce: Absolutely.

Jon Orr: Sure.

Kyle Pearce: Yep.

Garrett Schneider: Okay.

Kyle Pearce: Positive and negative are all accepted here.

Garrett Schneider: It was in high school. It was in the school that I went to, Northern Maine, shout out Maine School of Science and Math if anybody listens. But we had something called, we did semesters, but then we had something called a Maymester at the end. And that was in May. And that's like, it's great for high school kids, like two to three weeks, no classes. And you work on a project. And so some people went to Newfoundland to do like a camping trip. Some people did an art, like a poetry thing, all these things.

Kyle Pearce: That's cool, man.

Garrett Schneider: I knew, yeah right? I knew though that I was destined to do great in math, but where I was placed in the class structure didn't really put me as high as I wanted to be. And so I took pre-calc my junior year. And then there were two calculus classes my senior year. You could do calc, maybe three, but two that are important for me. One, they're both AP calc. One was AB, and one was BC. And so the delineation was either you did the first year and a half, essentially you'd take a different AP test and it would place you out of stuff in college. All I knew was that the BC one was harder. And since I like math, I should be able to do it. I should have that ability because I like it. Yeah, you probably see a hole in that logic. And so I spent my Maymester studying calculus on my own so that I could, with the teacher's permission, I was like, "Listen, I want to do calc BC next year." He's like, "You got it. Just master the first three chapters of this calculus book. And then you will do calc BC in the fall."
And I'm like, "Cool, no, problem." That was hard because that was way before Google and YouTube and all that stuff. So I had a textbook with examples. I had the student edition, not the teacher edition. And so I would be in a classroom working on it, be in my dorm because there's a dorm situation, working on it. And then I'd go to him. He was next door doing a math thing and I'd ask him questions if I was confused. So at the end of the two to three weeks, I finished what I could. I couldn't get all three chapters done, but I was like, "Hey, I finished it. I'm ready to take calc BC in the fall." And the teacher said, "Oh, I don't, that's not going to be a good fit for you. You asked too questions. You're not going to be ready for it." I was like-

Jon Orr: You asked questions because you couldn't do it on your own. Is that what he was implying?

Garrett Schneider: I think so, yeah.

Jon Orr: Now, like I'm really inquisitive about this. It was like, I need help here.

Kyle Pearce: Exactly, and didn't pick up on it as quickly as it's not the right fit for you, Garrett.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, exactly. And so I was crushed. And so I did calc AB. It didn't really matter when I went off to college, but it was like, it was one of the things that stuck with me and I kind of realized thinking about it, and I was, I think I realized that yeah, he said that, which is not the best thing to say, because we always want kids to ask questions and that kind of thing. But I think what he was saying is kind of what Jon had said is that's like, you're not making those jumps that you need to make to be successful with the way that I teach calc BC.

Jon Orr: You're not going to keep up.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. And then, but I realized that the way that I think that I thought math was until I got to college, was that it was equations. It was hey, like I used to have, I don't know if you guys, you probably see these old hard cover logarithm table books, that's like hundreds of pages long or whatever those are. I thought those were the coolest things that had numbers in them and the equations in the last page and for fun, I didn't know what any of those equations meant, but I took my TI83 graphing calculator and I would program it. I taught myself how to program so I could program in those equations, because I was like, this is what a mathematician is. And then I got to college and I did not see one equation past calculus in my whole bachelors in math. They were all like, "Hey, we think this does this. You got to prove that."

Kyle Pearce: Prove it. Yeah.

Garrett Schneider: And I was like, can I see an example done? And they're like, that's not how that works.

Jon Orr: This other thing over here, but that's not the same as that one.

Garrett Schneider: Exactly, yeah. And so I was learning like a fake math because the real math is about connections. And I thought math was just about black, white rules, equations, plugin, plug out. And no, it's not. And I think that's what he was saying. He's like, "Listen, you don't get these connections that you were never taught." You don't have, you may like the equations, which is cool. But under here is empty. There's nothing. And it took a while for me to realize that. And when I realized that was halfway through my teaching career so far, and that realization's only helped me be a better teacher because I don't attack the equations anymore. I don't attack the algorithms. I attack what's underneath. So then you can do tat.

Jon Orr: So what you're saying, like your math moment has influenced you and your teaching to teach thinking strategies instead of let's just look at math as a get done subject or here, we're just going to solve these problems and move on. It's actually a deeper philosophical subject that most people don't understand. And there are underlying truths and there are, there is so much beauty in some of the work that you have to do. It's like a lot of problem solving, but careful thinking that we do that we all kind of sometimes, not we all, but I mean a lot of us and especially us in our early years glance over those nuances in that regard that you think math is just, let's just teach these subjects by doing examples and then repeating those examples instead of actually focusing on the thinking.
It sounds like you are doing that now in your classroom. And I know that we've been chatting a lot about that and it took us years to make that realization as well. And it sounds like we've had a very similar journey, very similar past. I know Kyle's math moment sounds very similar to yours, as being told in that same kind of age grade that you're not, good at math or you're not the math student you thought you were. Garrett, I wonder if we could pivot now to something about your classroom that you are working on, like what's your current pebble in your shoe? What are you kind of working through currently that you'd like to chat with us about? And we can hash maybe some ideas out to walk away with for tomorrow.

Garrett Schneider: Great. So I try to, when I see something wrong with what I'm doing, I try to change that, like in teaching and stuff. And so I learn on, I try to be a spot, like oh, that sounds good. Your podcast has been great for that. The spiraling that you guys talk about, the three act tasks, your workshop on proportional thinking, all that great stuff. And so I take, I've been, so we have a scope and sequence in my current school, I teach middle school, sixth grade math and seventh grade honors. And we have a scope and sequence. We have a way that we teach the standards. And since that, my first year there, I was like, I think we could do things differently.
I think it might be effective if we did not do it like isolated chunks. We're going to do like arithmetic. And then we're going to do decimals and fractions. Then we're going to do combining terms then geometry. It's an isolation. And so I was like, I don't know if that's the best. And so I've been trying to incorporate thinking activities and thinking tasks in this framework. And I've always been slightly different than my colleagues, my other sixth grade math, but because of COVID last year, I was like, wait a second. It's a COVID year. This doesn't matter. I can do whatever I want, and I told that to my instructional coach and she's like, "No, that's not the case."

Jon Orr: That's now how that works. I don't think you think what you think that means.

Garrett Schneider: So I was like, oh yeah, wink. Okay, yeah. And so last year I took a lot more liberty with how I taught to the kids and what I introduced and when I introduced it. And then so much so that I wrote a proposal to do a completely separate thing this year. And so essentially I made my whole, I used the same standards, but I made my own curriculum that only I would follow this year based on thinking tasks, based on Lilia Dahl's work, vertical and permanent surfaces based heavily on spiraling. It's all spiraled. It's all under all this great stuff. And last year, I started crossing the threshold. This year, I've completely crossed the threshold of being so different that I'm completely, I have no one to talk to. Does that make sense? So when you guys were working together and doing this new stuff with your school's blessing, of course, you were like, we're bouncing these ideas off each other, you were working great. And it seems like you guys have given me great information through your podcast. I'm going through other stuff to get great information. But even if I wasn't pioneering this, even if I was just doing my normal thing, but putting my stuff in there, I'm the only one doing it.

Jon Orr: On an island. Well, I think you definitely feel like that, right? That's I think it's natural if you're definitely the only one doing it, let's say in your building or in your localized area. And I think that's natural and it's going to happen when you kind of branch off from the norm. And I think Kyle and I both would have felt that. We didn't teach in the same school. We don't even teach in the same school district. I know that I felt that way for a while as well. And still to some extent and you're right, that I get to message Kyle and we did a lot of that. And that's actually kind of how I think we got through some of it is that we found, Kyle we found each other through the internet. But I mean, even to this day, it's not like my math department at the school is completely revolutionized.
We're all doing the same thing. It's still like some lone wolfs happening with some slow transitions. And I know that Kyle felt like that when he was teaching at his school. So I think you're not alone in this kind of like lone wolf situation. And I think all these listeners out here, and this is one of the nice things about the podcast is that we get to bring people together like this. And I think, because we've heard from other listeners that this same idea that they think they're all by themselves and it definitely feels that way. And I think, I guess I'm wondering right now before we kind of keep going on that line, it's what have you done so far with your members of your department? It's like, is it a clean break? It's like, they're looking at you like the crazy one. And because I felt like that too. They're so portable. There's empty classes in the building, but somehow they put me in a portable. They skip you on the tours. It's like, we're going to go by.

Garrett Schneider: No, the whole, the situation itself, it's like a blessing. Anytime you learn something new and you can try to apply it and you have permission to apply it, it's a blessing because you get to experiment and you don't have to look over your shoulder and say, "Are they looking now? Can I do the real thing now?" So it's a blessing, but it's like I started this summer. I'm like, I got this. I outlined my first semester. And then I worked in my bubble. I had to attend all my math team meetings and they're like, "Hey, what are you doing? Schneider?" And I'm like, "Oh, I'm doing this." And they're like, "Oh okay, well here's what we're doing." And it's like I'm in a separate meeting in my bigger meeting. And all my crew is awesome. My PLC, my math team is great.
If I ask them a question, they'll tell me their thoughts, but it's like, they're focused on this, their pathway that they are setting up and they are maintaining and they are perfecting is like here and their trajectory is here. And then my trajectory is not. I would say goal is the same, kids learn math. We're cool with that. But the path we take there, we used to have a common language with it, but since I'm trying to apply these different things, we're losing our common language. And so it's like I'm there, they're not excluding me. I'm still welcome at everything. But it's like, they're like, "Well, why don't you just do this?" And I'm like, "Well, that's not what I'm trying to do."

Kyle Pearce: And it kind of sounds, it sounds like there's like a philosophical, maybe difference in terms of maybe the pedagogical approach or even the content, how the content's organized. I'm wondering, I think as humans, it's natural, like when it's natural to follow a crowd, to follow the herd. That makes you feel protected. It's sort of like a survival mechanism that we still have is. Hey, stick with the herd. It's kind of like we all stick together and we're all, so anytime you're out on your own, you definitely feel this maybe isolation. I'm wondering what specifically about the situation is sort of like what's getting at you? Is it that maybe the, I don't want to say the loneliness, like you're out there alone, but I guess from a professional standpoint, it might make you feel lonely and isolated. Is it because you feel strongly that some of the things that you're doing could be helpful in other classrooms and you want to be a support and you want to help or is it like, what about it is sort of getting to you about that situation? What's bothering you about the fact that that's the case?

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. Thank you for focusing me like that. My stuff isn't together enough to be like, listen, I'm the way, I could be helping you guys, but you're not following me. Instead, it's like I run out of steam. I spend the summer psyching myself up, coming up with stuff and then my tank is full and in the fall it goes, it's going okay. And then when issues come, I'm pulling new stuff out. I keep my journals and I'm doing that. And then I have a whole 18 weeks, then I have a week and then I'm running low. Ilike to use other people as like sounding boards to help me get energized, to rethink my ideas.

Kyle Pearce: Pump your tires is kind of what I'm hearing. It's like, and I can, I completely get it. And I think that's where Jon and I, having been at a very similar place at a similar time in different buildings, I think that's what sort of drew us together to kind of work together is because sounds to me like you're looking for that sounding board and you're sort of like, you're stuck inside your own head. Every decision you have to make, you're the only one making the decision. And you know that sometimes you're making the wrong one. Let's be honest, we're all human and it's nice to be able to throw it to somebody to get that, go all the way back when we were talking about that empathy thing, being able to see the world through somebody else's eyes.
It's like, when an idea comes up and in your own mind, it feels perfect, and sometimes I'll share that to say Jon, and he's like, "Oh, are you sure you want to do that? Because what about this?" And then I'm like, "Oh geez, I don't want to do that." It sounds to me like, it's almost like I'm wondering if there's a person, maybe it's a single person in that department that maybe you seek out and you seek out from the mentee side of things, almost like, because I know it can be really, I'm going to guess that this group of colleagues you have that are doing things in a way, they probably, whether it comes out or not, they probably feel a little bit maybe insecure about the fact that you are trying different things. So we'll call you like you're being progressive.
You're trying things. Even though you probably fall on your face here and there and maybe they know about that or maybe they don't, but I one wonder if there's an opportunity, if there's a person in that group that you feel close enough to where you could almost develop a relationship where you can get into these conversations where maybe you can provide them advice to help them get to where they want to get to. It might not be the same place. I think sometimes we feel like we have to be going in the exact same direction in order to support one another. But I wonder if it's like asking those questions about, "Hey, so if you're going in this route, what's your end goal? And have you thought about this or have you thought about that?" And then maybe seeking that same questioning from them about some of your work.
And I even wonder if that's possible with someone, would it maybe bring your department maybe closer together instead of feeling like you're all kind of going this way. Maybe everyone's kind of going in a slightly more angled direction towards one another. What are your thoughts on that? Is there any opportunity there? Or I guess I made an assumption, I'm sort of making the assumption that as a group, they're really nice people, but it's like, there's not a whole lot of conversation about planning, idea sharing, that sort of thing because it's kind of like, "Well we're doing this and you're doing that." Is that the case?

Garrett Schneider: Well, you are 100%, they are a great group of people and the conversations are mainly about, "Hey, this is what we're covering now. Here's what we're covering next."

Jon Orr: Right, spoke content.

Garrett Schneider: What's our test look like? It's very much like the structural part. But I think that what you're saying is a great idea in that, because whether no matter what, every teacher they have, they have a passion project in their classroom. They have something, the list of standards you need to teach, you have a list of things you need to teach, but they have passion things for those standards. They have different methods that they are cultivating, that other people aren't doing for these standards. And I think that we don't really talk about that. We talk about, "Hey, have you taught this yet? When are you going to teach it? When's the test?" But we don't talk about like, what's the thing, what's the little nugget that you're working on? What are you excited about in this thing? And how can we improve upon that? Let's reflect on that. I think that's really cool.

Jon Orr: Yeah, like maybe the PLC's group questions like could be modified instead of saying, what are we going to work on? Where are we, what does your test look like? What topic is next? Maybe the shift is small. Maybe a small section is what you've just said. Garrett is how, in your opinion, what's the best way to teach blank? What's a lesson that you are really like, then it might be like a pedagogical shift at some point in that group. And then all of a sudden, the group might morph to talk about more about teaching style and supporting each other on that end than just specific content.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, because you learn a lot about, even if they're not teaching your style, you learn a lot about this style that other teachers are choosing to teach and that can help inform you as opposed to saying, "Hey, I assign one through five. What do you assign?" There's nothing deeper there.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Garrett, I guess imagine you had this magic and we waved it over you right now. What would you want this answer to look like?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, solution.

Garrett Schneider: Oh man, I'd have to fall back on my black and white pre philosophical math brain. I would want perfect world black and white five steps, like with a right and a wrong option for each one, but that's not realistic. But I think that what you've given me so far is better than that magic wand checklist. It's a way to engage my team on a deeper level that could help fuel me as well.

Jon Orr: Yeah. I guess I was imagining if it's like that magic wand was like, you wanted to plop someone down next to you in the room beside you. And it was like, and they're going to teach similar to me. And I have like-

Garrett Schneider: Oh, that would be awesome, man, like from day one.

Jon Orr: That's super magic, right? Is that the magic? Think of anything like this is not realistic, but like if this could happen, all of a sudden there's another teacher in my building that I can bounce. I guess-

Kyle Pearce: Or what would it look like with this specific group of people? How do you see maybe this professional relationship evolving? What would you like to see from that to kind of move beyond this hey, I'm doing Pythagorean theorem next week and like that's the end of it?

Jon Orr: Yeah. And I guess I've been in this situation, like I outlined at the beginning, even though I could message Kyle, who lived farther away in my building, I was like you, but how I started that PLC shift was most teachers, if they're going to teach something new or something different, they don't want to have to do all the work to do it. And so when I was going to be, me and another teacher were going to teach the same section or not the same section, the same course, different sections. And I said, and I think it was going to be their first time doing it or it was going to be like, they hadn't done it in a while. And I said, "Hey, I've got this full course plan that I've been working on for a year or two or a semester or two. Would you mind like, hey, we could do it together."
And I've already planned out all the activities. I've got all this stuff ready to go and it's like, I could be handing you a day plan, but then we could chat about how those lessons run. And when that happened, this teacher in my building went with it and it was like, I'm so glad that that happened because that teacher is now my other person that I can chat with about what that lesson looks like, because it's now being like seven years later and they're doing a lot of the same things I'm doing.
That person is now the department head in my building. So it's like, it kind of like this relationship grew that way, but just with this laying the roadmap of them. And I think there's this book that we read, Kyle, Switch, which was how... The book is not a math book, but it's a book about how to get people to change or how to help people change.
Yeah, and in the book, he talks about three things that you have to do and there's, you have to think of an elephant, this giant elephant. And there's a rider on top of the elephant. And he says a person's emotions is like the elephant and their beliefs and some of their preconceived notions. It's like the elephant is hard to move. It's hard to... The elephant goes where it wants to go. But the rider is your conscience. This is like, you know this is the right move but the elephant does what it wants to do anyway. And so the rider has to try to direct the elephant and that's tough. And so this book is all using these three, these two things to help to decide on how to make change. And the third thing is clearing the path. So if you can clear a path, make it easy then, and you can direct and you can persuade the elephant to go the right way, then all three or the both of them go together down this nice path. And so when I look back on that situation I had a few years ago with this fellow teacher is one of the things I did from that book was I cleared the path.
I made it real easy for this teacher to be like, you know what? I don't have to do much planning and it's new or it's, I haven't done it in a while, but sure, let's do this and we'll see how it goes. And if you can clear the path for somebody, that can be like a gateway.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I think that's a great share. And then I also something that is just, I guess, another piece to kind of like when you think about, so that book philosophically is really helpful. So you might not have the same ability to clear the path like Jon did, because that was very situational, but maybe there's something else. Maybe there's another barrier there where there's another path that has something blocking at that you might be able to help. And one thing I'm wondering about, like you had mentioned a PLC group and you also mentioned earlier about an instructional coach of some type.
And I even wonder if maybe bringing that instructional coach into this conversation with you first, maybe sharing some of what, like you're after here, because I'm going to go ahead and guess that your instructional coach would probably not be against trying to get the math teachers moving beyond hey, next week is Pythagorean theorem and trying to get to maybe a little bit more depth in terms of the planning and the sharing. So maybe the instructional coach could be a help in that like almost a bit of a conduit to try to get the conversations maybe a little bit deeper than surface level without being a bull in a China shop and causing all kinds of chaos at the same time. But that's where a really good coaching move would be through questioning, through being really strategic in how they lead a conversation with a few of you in your PLC.
Maybe you can kind of get a little bit deeper. Maybe it might be just like a question about a concept and maybe a certain student who's struggling and it could start there to try to like everyone's offering ideas on how they might be able to help address that problem, given that concept or whatever it might be just to kind of get that conversation started. And you might realize that maybe that group is not as far off as maybe it seems. And almost like maybe I think sometimes people intentionally push themselves as far away so that they don't have to get into these hard conversations because it is kind of scary and it feels a little bit disarming when we start talking about our teaching practice. And in education, we can always shut our door and sort of do your own thing.
And then you go to the lunchroom and you talk about something completely different or we can slowly open that door and it's almost become a little more vulnerable and that can take a lot of time and it can take a lot of say, strategy and thinking how you can do it without being too fast. Because if you go too fast, it's too scary and might feel aggressive, let's say to some of the others, but we've said a lot there. So I want to flip it back to you and sort of get where your head's at and if you have any thoughts on what you might be doing moving forward to see if you can't sort of get a little closer with that group and become a little bit more of a deeper PLC.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. You said a lot of great stuff, both you guys did. I think that there are two takeaways, two big takeaways, a lot of little ones, but two big ones that I can kind of take away with me. One is kind of finding an ally and saying hey, or like using the PLC as the ally to ask those deeper questions, to just start being like, "Hey, what's the little thing? What's in between here? How are you teaching this? What's a problem that you're having with teaching this?" And to kind of talk about our philosophy, the philosophies and our tactics, and then maybe finding a teacher that would be like, "Hey, what's this, what's your side project? What's your side project you're working on for this? Let's talk about it." And to kind of have that conversation. And then the other thing was kind of like what Jon said about kind of clearing the path like you're right.
It is situational Kyle, but it's like, I think that you can, I think to other people, my path is like, you can't see it because it's in my Excel document that I keep my path in. And I think that if I can say, "Hey, yo, you're doing your thing and it's great. But can you take a look at this and tell me your thoughts? Can you take a look at this?" And just kind of just start a conversation by opening it up and then even just if explaining what I'm doing to somebody else helps refine what I'm doing. It's like it's the reflection. You got to be able to reflect. And so they all, I'm kind of middle for teaching experience. Some have less, some have much more, some have a little more. And so even though we're teaching in different methods, they have this wealth of experience that it could save me years by just sharing like, "Hey, here's what I got. I would love if we could just kind of talk about it and brainstorm about what your thoughts are and how I could do that better." So it's not making them go on a path, but it is clearing a path so that they can kind of just look at it and give me their thoughts.

Jon Orr: Right. That's some good next steps and some good big takeaways I think from this conversation. And we're glad we're kind of, you're getting some recommendations to move forward. Another thing that I think might help you in the meantime is Kyle and I also have the Make Math Moments Academy. And one aspect of the academy is that we get together every month with the academy members and we have a video chat like we're doing now. And we just chat about what is pebbles in people's shoes. And we talk about some lessons and we talk about brainstorming, whatever comes up.
Kyle and I sometimes share some new learning and we would love for you to join us monthly for those. So if you're up for it, we would love to send you complimentary access for the year for the academy and you can join in the courses if you want. But also we've got the assessment course that's in there. We have the spiraling course in there as well with some deep dives in conversations with other teachers that have done spiraling. But then the monthly calls I think might be right up your alley with kind of getting some sounding boards with other folks that are going through the same thing, because the academy has got 1,000 members in it who are all doing the same types of things. So it's a nice kind of community that has a nice sounding board.

Garrett Schneider: That would be amazing. Thank you.

Jon Orr: Awesome. Yeah, we would love to, we'd be honored for you to join us and so we'll send you and hook you up with a membership.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome, amazing. And yeah, I think that would be fantastic. Your voice would be a fantastic ad for those monthly Q&As. Who knows? Maybe you might bring this pebble and kind of update folks along the way and let them know where you are in that journey or it could be something different that comes up month to month. Things do change. Before we wrap things up, I'm wondering what would be your big takeaway from this call here today before we sign off for the night?

Garrett Schneider: Yes, my big takeaway and I guess like all takeaways, it's like kind of, it's a shift, it's a pivot to, but it's just to be willing to take you already to the first step of making the curriculum. It's like that step of opening it up and being like you didn't ask to look at this, I need you to look at this and being kind of vulnerable in that way and leveraging people's experience that just because they're doing things differently doesn't mean that they can't aid you and it will take some time to figure out how best to do that, but yeah.

Kyle Pearce: It kind of sounds like that approach kind of offers that mentee approach idea we had mentioned earlier as well, this you're kind of coming to them, seeking them for help where I think oftentimes we'll say people who are kind of teaching in a more, we use the word traditional. We kind of define that as very similar to how we were taught. And oftentimes I think people think that we're coming to sort of like change their minds and say, "Hey, go do it this way." But instead you're coming around and you're sort of coming to them for advice. And you're saying, "Hey, I respect your opinion. I respect your expertise. And I'd love to know, what do you think about this or that?" And I think if anything, it's going to at least get those conversations, getting a little bit deeper than the surface level, and hopefully it will over time develop into some really awesome conversations both ways.

Garrett Schneider: Yeah. Thank you all so much for this.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome.

Jon Orr: Yeah, thank you for joining us and having this chat. Would you be open to joining us again for next year and seeing how things are going?

Garrett Schneider: Yeah, I'd love to.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Fantastic, my friend. Well, listen, we will flip you some details for that complimentary access for those who are listening and are curious and want to dive in with Garrett, visit the makemathmoments.com/academy webpage, and get yourself in there for a 30 day stretch your legs. Have a look around and see if it's a good fit for you as well. Garrett, it's been nothing but a pleasure. We talked before hitting the record button about how we're going to try to keep it to 30 minutes. And once again, we were unsuccessful. Every single day we say this to people and I don't think we've ever made it.

Garrett Schneider: I don't think it's possible.

Jon Orr: No, you know what it means? It was a great conversation and I'm sure the Math Moment Maker community is feeling really good about all that you had shared here today and gave them some ideas on how maybe they might be able to deepen a professional relationship in their own building. So thanks, Garrett. And we will catch you real soon.

Garrett Schneider: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learn so much from every episode of the podcast, but in particular, one that we really like recording is these Math Mentoring Moment episodes. It's great to be able to hear members of the community, sharing some of these common pedagogical struggles or professional learning struggles like we heard today with Garrett and together, we get an opportunity to kind of think it through and whether it's happening for you right now, or maybe it's something that might come up in the future, hopefully you feel like you've walked away with some new learning.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And great way to help with that learning and to make it stick is you can write it down. You make a sketch note, maybe you can share with a partner or you could live tweet it. So you're making a declaration that you know about these things, or you are going to practice these things like a pledge, or you could share it with the Math Moment Maker community over on our Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K to 12, or hit us up on Twitter @makemathmoments on Twitter or Instagram as well. We will get back to you when you retweet us.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. And if you haven't yet make sure that you hit that subscribe button, whether you're listening on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts or Spotify, or maybe some of you are actually watching this on YouTube. Do us a huge favor, hit that subscribe button. You don't know how important it is for new educators to find this podcast and to find these resources. Hitting those subscribe and like buttons can be so helpful so that the algorithms out there actually know that more teachers should be listening and doing some learning with us. So make sure you hit that button now.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode, plus complete transcripts, head on over to our show notes page, makemathmoments.com/episode168. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode168.

Kyle Pearce: All right. My friends. Well, until next time, I'm Kyle Pierce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And high five for you.

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