Episode 180: The Imperfect and Unfinished Teacher – An Interview With Chase Orton

May 9, 2022 | Podcast | 0 comments



In this episode of the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, we sit down with fellow Math Moment Maker, Chase Orton. Chase is a self-proclaimed “Imperfect and Unfinished Math Teacher” and today, we sit him down to talk about exactly what that means. 


The Imperfect and Unfinished Math Teacher is actually the title of Chase’s brand new book where he offers a vulnerable and courageous grassroots guide that leads K-12 math teachers through a journey to cultivate a more equitable, inclusive, and cohesive culture of professionalism for themselves. 


Stick around as this master storyteller opens the door to an opportunity for you to reclaim your professional growth with Sisu.

You’ll Learn

  • Why we need to view our teaching practice as “unfinished and imperfect”; 
  • What can you do to take ownership over your own professional development; 
  • How you can put yourself in a position to make the best out of your mathematics teaching career;
  • Why you need to think about “sisu” when you teach everyday; 
  • How we can support the enhancement of the professional identity of teachers;


Book: The Unfinished & Imperfect Math Teacher

Website: www.chaseorton.com          

Email: chase@undercovercalculus.com                     

Twitter: @mathgeek76

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!


Chase Orton: ... and how do we stay unfinished as human beings? How do we keep evolving who we are and keep the story going? Because to say that we're finished is to say that we have no more growth to make. And along with being unfinished is recognizing that we are imperfect, that there's always room to grow. We're all making mistakes, we're all missing opportunities to improve.

Kyle Pearce: In this require episode of the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, we sit down with fellow Math Moment Maker, Chase Orton. Chase is a self-proclaimed imperfect and unfinished math teacher. And today we get to sit down with him to talk about exactly what he means by that.

Jon Orr: The Imperfect and Unfinished Math Teacher is actually the title of Chase's brand new book, where he offers a vulnerable and courageous grassroots guide that leads K to 12 math teachers through a journey to cultivate a more equitable, inclusive, and cohesive culture of professionalism for themselves.

Kyle Pearce: Stick around as this master storyteller opens the door to an opportunity for you to reclaim your professional growth with what he calls a bit of sisu.

Jon Orr: Let's do this. Do it.

Kyle Pearce: Let's do it.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are from makingmathmoments.com and together...

Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem based math lessons that spark curiosity...

Jon Orr: Fuel sense making...

Kyle Pearce: And ignite those teacher moves. Today my friends, we're going to be talking about you and in particular, your professional growth and how you can reclaim your professional growth. Jon, I don't know about you, I had a blast having a chat here with Chase. We've known Chase for a long time and have been following him through his journey, usually from afar on Twitter and social media. But when we got a handle or a hand on his book, The Imperfect and Unfinished Teacher, we really couldn't put it down and really thought that he hit on some really key points, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah. Definitely. And it was such a refreshing book, and he's written it in such a unique way through stories of the teachers that he's worked with and consulted with and talked to, to talk about how we can reshape our own professional growth. He talks about some headwinds that come our way. I think it's really important that he recognized that we face great adversity in thinking about this. We've got the district telling us one way. Here's what we value, here's what we're going to measure, but that might not be what we measure. That might not be what we value in the classroom.
So he talks about those ideas and then gives you some guiding principles that you can use to think about how do I shape my professional development around these headwinds that are coming at me? Because we know we can't change that part of the system. And I really love about that part of the book is he recognizes that. He's like, "Look, there's going to be things that we can't actually move, but there are things we can do in our systems to get the professional development you need for yourself." And I think that's a really interesting perspective of the book is that it comes from a place of, this is for a teacher and this is for a teacher to help a group of teachers or maybe a department to craft their own plan that works for them.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. So stick around my friends, we're going to hop right in here with Chase. We know you're going to love the episode and we'll see you on the other side. Let's dive in.
Hey, hey there, Chase. Welcome to Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We are super stoked to have you. And I got to say, thanks for taking a little bit of time to pull over and chat with us here today. We'll talk a little bit more about why that might be a little later. Let us know where you coming to us from and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chase Orton: Hey, y'all. Super stoked to be here. Thank you for having me. I am currently coming at you from Venice Beach in Los Angeles. I lived here for 15 years and I'm back visiting some friends and super grateful to be here. Beautiful weather and great to chat with you all this evening.

Jon Orr: We are excited Chase and for lots of reasons, about the new book, about what's going on with you and all things teaching and professional development. Would you mind painting us a little bit of a picture for our listeners, give us a sense, like you've been living there or you, I think this is where this Kyle was talking about like you pulled over. It's like, I don't think you're currently living in Venice Beach. You did live there. Give us a little snapshot of why you would have to pull over and then also maybe feather in your current role in education and how you got there.

Chase Orton: Sure. I'm currently living on the road, living a nomad life. In November of 2020, I moved into a U-Haul box truck that I had converted into a tiny home. And there's a much longer story there, but I moved in there partly because with lockdown and the pandemic, my work really changed a lot and I have older parents and I wanted to be able to support them and spend some time with them as well. And this allowed me to save some money to focus on writing pretty much full time as much as possible and get the book done. And like I said, there's more to the story, but I don't want to derail everything else that we're talking about.
But yeah, I'm living a nomad life and I'm hoping that my next project is traveling to small towns in America and hearing their story, teaching together, just being in their classroom and really figuring out what's going on in small town America. I drive across this country and you drive by a school and you're like somebody teaches math there and how are they doing and what's the story there? And so I'm really kind of curious about that and just trying to position myself to be able to travel to small towns and live on the road and gather some stories. And maybe that comes up as the next book. I don't know. We'll see.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. That's fantastic. You've given us a bit of a snapshot there as to your current lifestyle, which I think is, by the way, super awesome. Kind of sounds like you're going for it. We only have one of these lives here and clearly you've been thinking about how you can live yours to the fullest, which is awesome. Let's roll back a little bit. Tell us a little bit about your teaching journey. You just wrote a book, we're going to dive into that shortly. Take us from when you started teaching and to where you are now. What's that look like and sound like for Chase?

Chase Orton: Sure. Yeah. My teaching story began really young actually. I was a military brat growing up and so I moved around a lot as a kid and I was an only child so I had a lot of time to reflect and it just gave me a lot a vantage, a lot of perspective on systems, in particular schools. Like there's more than one way to do schools just traveling around to all these different places. And I became really good at school. I figured it out and figured out the game of pleasing teachers and my interest in school really deepened when I got to high school. And starting my junior year, I went to a brand new high school. The district was splitting up and it was a public school and it was a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, which doesn't exist anymore. But to put it quickly, it was the first time in my education that I was treated as a producer of knowledge, not just simply a consumer of it.
It was the first time my 11th and 12th grade year of really having my voice elevated and realizing that mathematics in particular, but all things, that it is important to really understand that I'm the director of my own learner and the maker of my own meaning out of this. And so that was a really powerful moment because it made me realize that there's more than one way to do school. And when I got to college, that just got really, it got a lot deeper and started looking at there are ways to structure schools to be liberating and ways to structure schools that are really oppressive and the roles the schools play and the reproduction of social inequalities. And I was looking at all of that and I ended up majoring in English Lit and wanted to teach. And I couldn't find work as an English teacher, but I had tutored calculus in college and was able to use that experience to start teaching at the Forman School, a private school for kids with learning disabilities in Litchfield, Connecticut and it was a boarding school and I started there.
Then I spent a year at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center doing year of service through Public Allies, which is an AmeriCorps program. Taught great classes like math and the physics of mountain biking. That was a totally rad class that really was one of my high points. And then I spent five years teaching at Environmental Charter High School. I got my Clear teaching credential in California, made the switch to public school and taught there for five years and for reasons that I'll skip over for right now, but after 12 years of being in the classroom, I was ready for something else. And so for the past decade or so, I've been self-employed and working to make math class a more curious and inspired and joyful experience with both students and teachers. And a lot of that work is centered on lesson study.
And I've found that lesson study is that really that one type of PD that really works. It helps teachers build the relationships and the sense of belonging they have with each other and helps them see what they need to see to direct their own professional development. And so I put that idea, the idea of thinking around what I've learned with lesson study and put it into a book, because lesson study isn't always something that teachers can do for themselves. And so I wanted to write a book that allowed them to get the good things out of lesson study in a way that they had control over. And so it is a book for teachers to coordinate this professional development for themselves and also for leaders to use this as a book study to help work with some math teachers and help them feel more inspired and more capable and more joyful about the work that they're doing.

Jon Orr: Amazing. And your story is very unique in a sense and I feel like it's led you to this moment. It's led you to this moment to share this knowledge that you've gained through all these different unique experiences, unique schools, a unique perspective on education early on. I know I was a student who was not a producer. I was a follower and I was a follower for a long time and didn't really understand that was an actual possibility that we could be producers of our own mathematics.
And I think still, even through university, that wasn't an option or a thought. Even as my first 10 years of teaching, I still didn't think that way and it took a long time to develop, but such an interesting perspective for you. Now I know we're going to dive into the book. I do want to talk about lesson study. I want to talk about all of those book things for sure. But before we get into that, we got to get to the math moment. If our listeners are waiting for it, Chase, if you think back to math class or your past experience, I know you shared a little bit already of that past experience, but if we say math class, what pops into your mind as something that has stuck with you.

Chase Orton: Yeah. And I have to point to my junior year, I started that new high school and I had this teacher, Mr. Bosman, and I had him for both pre-calculus and AP calculus. And I talk about him quite a bit about my book, because I wouldn't be the teacher I am without being a student in his class for those two years. And there were a few things that I learned and they sound really pedantic, but it was the first time that I ever sat in groups in math class and the first time I ever shared my thinking with a classmate. And like I said, it was the first time that my thinking was valued. And it was really nerve-wracking for me at first. I was a really shy, awkward kid like a lot of teenagers are, but I didn't want to speak in class. The script of math class worked for me; sit in my assigned seat, learn how to do problems that my teacher solves for me and I take notes and I do all that.
And so it was a really kind of challenging time, but he was a really supportive and caring teacher. And I remember one day, he would also bring in tasks, and it was the first time that I ever worked on a math task for more than five minutes. And I remember him bringing in something about math and musical notes and the relationship that musical notes have and being really happy about that. And he really, when I got to calculus, man, it was so delicious. Calculus was so much fun and Bosman really focused on the conceptual understanding. It was the first time that I got the why behind the math that I had taken up to this point.
And it's a shame. It's a shame that we wait this long to get to calculus when conceptually calculus contains problems and solutions that elementary students can wonder about and reason through. And instead, we put it on this stupid pedestal and deny access to so many students. That's a little bit of a tangent. But if I hadn't had Bosman, imagine if I became a teacher and never sat in a math class where I talked to my classmates. I just would've probably set up rows and then desks and yeah, so I'm really grateful for his experience.

Kyle Pearce: He would've been like us. For a long time, right?

Jon Orr: Honestly, as you're sharing that there Chase, I was reflecting on, we've shared our math moments before. We've shared more than one. We have this opportunity through the podcast. But you're sharing explicitly about the idea of a task and the idea of working in groups. And if I ever had that experience as a student, I don't remember it, which may have meant one of two things. Maybe it was like, "Hey, I'm going to try groups one day." The teacher might have said that. And we go and mind you, I learned a ton, like there's... A lot of my math teachers, I love them. They brought a great character to the classroom and all of these things. They did the traditional math class very well. But when you shared that moment, I sort of had this wonder to myself, is that why it took me so long in the classroom, almost 10 years of spinning my wheels trying to just recreate that pretty traditional teacher centered classroom before I started making a shift.

Chase Orton: Yeah. And it's a shame that we spend so much of our careers, I feel like all of us at some point, five, 10 years coming in were like, "Why did I spend so much time doing that when I could have been doing this instead?" And our professional development doesn't position us to see what we need to see to change our minds. What do I mean by that? To recognize that there are things that we could be doing better in our classroom and how can we put ourselves in a position to see that and to see that sooner in our careers. Because like I said, we only get one shot at this career thing. We want to make most of the time that we have as teachers to really maximize our growth in our career. And so really looking about how we can do that because we do, we spin our wheels a lot as teachers. Teacher burnout is a real big issue right now. And I want teachers to feel efficacious, more joy, feel more capable about the work that they can do. That's really important and necessary right now.

Jon Orr: Totally. And let's dive into the book having said that. I know that we've got bunch of questions as we've kind of consumed the book in a very quick format just because I think it spoke to us as people who are in position of providing professional development or thinking about professional development and working with teachers in the area of professional development and also being practicing teachers right now thinking about our own professional development. I want to talk about your use of stories. I want to talk about lesson study. We want to talk about lots of stuff, but you got to talk about the title first. You've called it The Imperfect and Unfinished Math Teacher. Give us a little window into your choice of title. I think it's perfect.

Chase Orton: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, the title was its own journey and the story in it of itself. I was about four weeks away from my deadline, from my rough draft and I still hadn't figured out what the title was going to be and I was really frustrated and negative about it because people would be giving me-

Jon Orr: What did you pitch? What was your like, if you didn't have a title, what did you say to these people-

Kyle Pearce: You must have had a good elevator pitch, right?

Jon Orr: ... that says, "I'm writing a book, but it's about..." That's curious for me, like "I don't have a title."

Chase Orton: That is my flaw is being able to succinctly describe what I'm trying to talk about. I would describe it as a book to help teachers feel better about the work that they do and make math class work for more students. And so I remember I was having a chat with Sunil Singh. He had given me some time and some coaching and he suggested the title Unfinished, the word unfinished. And it was something he had been thinking about, about being unfinished and the importance of being a lifelong learner. And over the days, that word really sank in as an accurate way to really describe what this book is about and how do we stay unfinished as human beings? How do we keep evolving who we are and keep the story going? Because to say that we're finished is to say that we have no more growth to make.
And along with being unfinished is recognizing that we are imperfect, that there's always room to grow. We're all making mistakes, we're all missing opportunities to improve and that requires a lot of vulnerability for us as teachers because the work is so personal to us and an expression of our identity and our own story through this world. It requires a whole lot of vulnerability to recognize that we are imperfect, that there are ways that we could be doing more for our learners. So imperfect and unfinished is about creating the mindset and the culture we need is imperfect and unfinished human beings who want to get better at teaching math to our students.
And so much of our work talks about teaching and the craft without first building the relationships we need. We start talking about the teaching technique without the people that are really in the room and why we're there and why do we do the work that we do and what were our own experiences in math class and what culture and stories are we bringing and telling about ourselves into the room so that we can gain an appreciation. I really try to create some space all of the middle part of the book about providing time for teachers to really think about their professional identity and learn how to open up and to celebrate what we have in common and what makes this unique.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. That's awesome. And when I look at that title and I think about that title as well, even just the title alone makes an educator have to pause and reflect because I feel, and I always reference me and my experience, it's my lived experience is when I began teaching, I sort of had this expectation as though I was supposed to already have it all figured out. It's like this pressure you put on yourself. And I don't know what it is, if it's just human nature or whatever, or I'm just going to try to do it the way everybody did it before me. And if I could do that, then it's perfect, then everything's ready to go. And then only when you start to realize that like, "Wait a second, maybe all of us haven't figured this thing out yet" do you start to realize that, "Oh, maybe that perfect I was imagining is not so perfect after all." And really resonated with me.
I'm wondering, in the book you get into professional development, you've been a professional developer we'll call it or I'm going to call it more of like a mentor. And Jon and I do a lot of this work as well. And you reference how some of the, it's really systemic approaches to professional learning are damaged or damage might be a wrong word for it, but it's not effective. It's very top down. And then also too, even though maybe initially starting with research backed reasons for doing things, oftentimes they're only partially hitting on the research. It's like they take pieces of research and string them together. And then what happens from there? Why is this such a problem in, I know here in North America, but I'm going to guess it's probably happening all around the world, right?

Chase Orton: Sure. Yeah. So PD is underperforming. Steve inaudible said the best in an interview talking about that it's neither professional nor does it develop. And like you were saying, inaudible the action has talked about that PD is sometimes actually an obstacle to professional growth and Stigler and Hiebert talked about this and the teaching gap back 23, 25 years ago about schools are always reforming, but not always improving.
And the most discouraging aspect for teachers is that teachers have no pathway for getting better. And so why is that? Why does PD continue to fall short? And to answer this question, I want to be clear that I think the purpose of PD should be to enhance the professional identity of teachers. It should help teachers feel better about the work that they're doing and it should by aligning with their purpose, aligning with the reasons why they became teachers in the first place.
And so PD should nourish teachers. In addition to enhancing our identity, it should also foster our sense of agency. It should motivate us. It should empower us and activate us as professional learners who are capable of directing our own professional learning. It should help us flourish. And frankly, PD doesn't do either of those things. It doesn't nourish us. It doesn't help us flourish. And I've mentioned before, and this isn't anyone's fault. We just work in a top down system in math education that is designed to serve its own needs and it's there to standardize the teaching and learning and assessment of math education. And in this system, like we, the people, the people that are working hard in the system of math education face some really dehumanizing forces. And I think the first of which is we're incentivized to value test scores as the hallmark measure of our growth and our improvement.
It's all about test scores wherever you go when you talk to leadership about how are we growing. But this myopic focus on test scores is so unhealthy. It treats students as test scores that need to be raised. And that sucks for them and it also positions us of having to measure our worth by helping kids get right answers on tests. And that sucks for us. We didn't become teachers because we want to train test takers. We're nourished by more noble calls to action like helping our students find love and joy in this world and how to live a purposeful life. And test scores don't even also tell us how to get better, and so demoralized, and to sit through a PD, looking at testing data that doesn't tell me how I can get better at what I do.
And it doesn't tell me what needs to change about my math class and the ways that I'm doing it. And I think this culture of test scores does some terrible things for teaching. It reduces, I think, effective math teaching down to a checklist, like a recipe that anybody can follow. But equity, like making those math moments that you talk about, making those math moments happen, yeah, there are some ingredients that can happen, but it's a magical expression of spontaneity. It can't be contrived. That really needs to require some authentic personhood. And it just can't be found by just following a recipe. And I think that last major obstacle to PD is that we work in a system of silos. First, our professional learning is always siloed away from our professional practice. We never do PD in the classroom, in front of students, in front of each other.
And what we really need that because PD is a craft that we learn through each other. We really need to be watching each other perform our craft, but we don't have that culture. And so we hide in the silos of our own classroom and teach behind closed classroom doors. And teaching becomes really lonely. We don't have a culture where we can talk productively and openly about the unproductive results we see in our math class. And that's so much what my book is about, really helping us break out of the physical and emotional silos that divide us so that we can begin building a culture of belonging, trusting relationships, where we know that we're going to receive the grace we need at times is imperfect and unfinished teachers.

Jon Orr: Yeah, those stumbling blocks are definitely in front of us because I think we're all in districts that have some of those elements or pieces of those elements or even all of those headwinds as I think you call a lot of them in the book is that we've got a lot of headwind if we're going to own our own professional development. And I think you're right, I often think about the silo effect is that we're put in a room, we've got our students with us, but rarely do we have a co-teacher or a teacher that would cycle through or even a teacher just watch. And I've been lucky enough to go through a number of years of lesson study with my fellow department members or even members of other departments as we are across curricular in some of those meetings to go in and watch lessons on geography or lessons on other math classes.
And it was like you've described in the book, it's so eyeopening and empowering to see someone else teach math when the last time I probably before that saw someone else teach math was when I was a student teacher watching the person who I was paired with to learn how to teach math. And that would've been my only example of that.
You talk about beacons in the book too. So you talked about some headwinds, but you got to talk about some beacons for our listeners here. What are some of the beacons that we can use to think about how to shape our own professional development?

Chase Orton: Yeah, I would love to talk about the beacons. I want to mirror back a little bit, something that you had said, it's really asinine in our culture of professionalism that informal peer to peer observation of each other doing our craft isn't a normal thing. You think about all the other jobs that are out there, they're doing their job together in front of each other, and they've learned how to give each other feedback, and they've learned how to ask for feedback. And they've also just kind of learned tricks and strategies by watching other people and learning to adopt those. And it's such, I know it's a huge ask to ask teachers to try to spend whatever people free time they have in someone else's classroom, but it's really, really important because it can just help accelerate our own growth, help us see what we need to see.
Yeah, and so as we do this work, there's a lot to navigate. And so these beacons are these guiding principles to help us reclaim control over our professional growth. And the first one is that it's really taking ownership, that it comes from us, the human beings within the system. The system is never going to help us feel better or help us grow. And that really having this sense of professional nourishment and this idea of professional growth is really something that we can only bring about for ourselves. And we the teachers and we all the human beings that support teachers and the growth. So that's that first beacon, it's really got to come from us.
The second thing I ask, I invite us to do is to really measure what we value. It's not test scores? You ask teachers why they teachers they're like, "Oh yeah, it's test scores." It's that human data. There's that new book out called Street Data by Dugan and Safir, I think I'm getting those names, forgive me if I-

Kyle Pearce: It's in my backpack right now.

Chase Orton: Yeah, it's a great book. And so it gets that best street data. I call it human data. We want to see kids enjoy our math class, whatever data that is, talking, laughing, being active, out of their seats, energized, engaged. How do we get better at doing that? And so I really invite teachers to really start focusing on how do you get data that tells you the students are developing a positive math story, that they feel good about themselves mathematically, that they feel like they can get better at it and want to keep learning it. So the change comes from us, that's the first beacon. Second beacon, measure what we value.
The third thing, it' learning to really seek vantage. For a lot of us, it's just us standing at the front of the classroom teaching to students. And it's really hard to see our practice from that perspective. And it's really important to shift our advantage. inaudible and others have talked about this, just put the voice recorder on your phone and stick it in your pocket. Listen to it later when you're not under the stress of trying to navigate the legitimate trauma and the immature drama of 30 kids, and try to coordinate all that into a math lesson, that's a lot. And so try to seek vantage. There's ways to do it in your own classroom but the best way is just to sit next to some students in another math classroom and just watch students, just be with them and learn to see math classrooms from the student perspective.
What are they seeing? What are we valuing in front of them? What are they learning to value? And what story are they making for themselves? And the last thing, the last beacon is about teaching as a craft, we learn best through each other. We need relationships, especially relationships that we can help each other see what we need to see and what we can't see for ourselves to help us grow and get that feedback. And that requires a lot of trust. And so those are the beacons. It comes from us. Focus on what you value, learn to accelerate your growth by seeking vantage, shifting your perspective. And again, building these trusting relationships with your colleagues that really are like somebody said it once, I think Parker Palmer, like tenacious communities of support. That's what I need from my friends to help me grow is that tenacious community of love. And so those are those beacons and they kind of are the philosophical ideas to help teachers direct their own professional growth and take control over their professional development.

Jon Orr: Yeah, I think all of those are super important and absolutely necessary. And if I go back to what you talked about with using data, human data, data we value. And I think if I compare that to one of your headwinds, it's like, I think you even say it in the book, it's like we are incentivized to change our practice to what say how we're measured or how... I'm definitely butchering what you've said, but I guess the sense that I'm trying to bring up is that we might value laughter and smiling and when a kid says, "Is math class over already?" These are the things we all say is the compliments of a math class in a math lesson. And we value seeing that, hearing that, hearing discussion, all that stuff that we talk about here on the podcast already, but then you've got that headwind of the district going like, "Well, that's not what we're measuring. You might be measuring that, but we're not measuring that." What have you seen with some of the districts you work with, the teachers you work with and how they manage that disconnect?

Chase Orton: Yeah. The disconnect between-

Jon Orr: I think you said it's almost like teachers are forced to kind of value those measurements when that's not with their measurement, because they're kind of being fed from the top that, "Hey, you have to. You have to value in collecting that data."

Chase Orton: Yeah, it requires us to be subversive. Like I invite teachers to stop looking at standardized test data, stop doing test prep, certainly never at the expense of the math identity and the math stories being authored in the classroom. It requires teachers and leaders to really push back and being like, "We're not going to focus on these things. We're going to focus on what are ways that we can elevate student voice? What are ways that we can do better to share authority of what's going on in the math classroom? How can we value students and create more belonging in the classroom?" Like really looking at those framing the instructional techniques that they're pitching in professional development through that lens. How will doing number talks or how will doing, you just had an interview with Sarah about Ethel, explore first, fluency later.
That's a brilliant tool and a brilliant strategy and it doesn't need to be tied into test scores. A lot of times they're like, "Well, how is this going to raise test scores?" And it's not, but it's how is this going to make your students or put you in a position so that you can have students enjoy math class and be producers of their own mathematical knowledge and really share a lot of the load for the cognitive development and the participation. I know that I'm asking a lot, I'm asking teachers to really push back on and be subversive and non-cooperative toward a system of testing that just really destroys our love of teaching and our love of mathematics. It takes some guts.

Kyle Pearce: And I got to say too, Chase, sorry I think I cut you off there. I'm hearing you say that and it's like more and more I think we have to just be... Test scores can change if we change the things that matter. And I just think we're just so rushed, the rush to the algorithm we always talk in math class. It's like the rush to the test score as if it's like some easy fix that you just like, just tweak this one thing here and all of a sudden test scores are going to rise. Imagine if kids enjoyed math class, which is what you're speaking of. Imagine if the teacher in the classroom felt like the kids wanted to be there, or at least most students wanted to be there instead of very few students wanted to be there and they enjoyed their job again. And all of those things, I believe that those things will get the test score to go up anyway.
It will take time. But if you focus on those are the things we got to focus on. So even if you're a system person, when you're a superintendent, imagine a world where we walk into the math classroom and everyone's enjoying, yes, enjoying working on math problems and struggling and sharing and supporting one another. And guess what? That creates resiliency. It creates collaboration. It creates joy. It creates excitement. And as a result, test scores won't go down. If you're doing good mathematics, that's the thing. It can't be a fake thing over here, but I'm hearing you say like, "Let's do the real work." It's hard work, but that's the real work in my opinion.

Chase Orton: Yeah. I agree totally. I'm going to lose it here. You said something that I wanted to reply to so badly. Oh, right, yeah, test scores. Professional development, yeah. Testing has an important role. It definitely has an important role and a way of giving us some satellite data to really measure our systemic growth and how are we doing as a country or a district or a state. It just can't be the focus of professional development for teachers. And it probably doesn't even need to be teachers need to look at. So yeah, we just need to be spending time really focusing the other stuff. Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: For sure. That's awesome. And yeah, very well said. Because I think that's just, it's like, it can be helpful, but we're using the wrong data to inform professional development. We got to be clear on that. And yeah, I appreciate that viewpoint. Something that we were talking about, this is Jon and I were talking about this is we really liked how you wrote through story and it resonated with us being this is Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, we're all about, we believe in using context in math class and almost building a mathematical story. What's your viewpoint on that? Why was that your mode of authorship? What is that, penmanship? I'm not sure.

Jon Orr: I don't think so.

Chase Orton: That's a great place to start. I didn't like calling myself an author because it implies that I have authority that the reader does not. And stories are my way of really sharing authority with the reader and really valuing them for their lived experiences as well and elevating their voice. And I want to be a little bit clear, I know that storytelling in the math classroom as a pedagogic device is a useful tool. When I'm talking about story here in the book, I talk about stories are useful, it may be in the same way that stories provide a window. When we share a good story and we listen, we all get the right to make our own meaning from that story. So when we treat a story like a window and we look at what we see together and we share what we see, we can see what we have in common and what makes this unique.
You started off this interview by asking me to share my teaching story. And that elevates my voice, that allows me to feel valued for my lived experience. And that's something that I'm trying to do with the reader as well. So there's stories from the math classroom. Some of them are mine. Some of them are from the hundreds of teachers I've worked with over the years doing lesson study and the things that I've just seen and the dilemmas that we face as teachers and I don't present any answers. I just kind of put these stories forth and allow the reader to make their own meaning. Because I want teachers to use these stories and talk about them with their colleagues.
Talk about it in the break room. Talk about it at lunch. Talk about it in conversation over a beer at happy hour on a Friday. Just using those stories as a way to get to know each other a little bit more and really gain an appreciation for what we have in common and what makes us really unique as educators. That's why I use those stories and they're a really fun tool. They're really great to use in professional workshops with teachers and to really promote some conversation about what matters to us most as teachers and the passions that we bring to the work that we do.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Very true. Well said.

Jon Orr: There's a term you use often in the book and I think you pronounce it sisu and I think you define this term as facing and continuing force in insurmountable challenge. And I know that we're all doing that after definitely this last few years, but thinking about that and thinking about sisu, what can teachers do now to help take ownership in their own goals and help to work towards becoming this unfinished teacher, even in the face of this insurmountable challenge that we have to take on?

Chase Orton: Sure. Yeah. sisu is this Finnish word, it's a cultural word with no literal translation. You kind of got it too. Another way to describe it is fortitude, especially fortitude in the face of certain failure. And so teaching requires a lot of this because I really believe that we all have a vision of equity that we're striving for. There's an ideal vision where all of our students have what they need to be successful and where none of us are achieving it perfectly. There's so many obstacles that we face. There's so many needs that students bring into our classroom that we just can't possibly meet every time day in and day out. And so sisu is a little bit about like keep at it, you probably won't be successful with all your students, but keep at it, have hope, have faith, keep working hard and also give yourself some grace as a teacher.
It's not all your fault. You can't save every single child. You can't catch every single child up. And some students are going to be beyond your reach, your love and your grace that you can give them. And so sisu really, being soft on yourself is a human being, that equitable, brilliant math teaching is extremely rare. And we need to remember that. And so sisu is kind of there about how do we maintain that? And you're asking about some specifics, yeah, like one is to really focus on what you value as a teacher. Really focus on that human data that's going to give you hope and courage in the face of adversity, that even when may not be doing well on the tests that you have for them and their assessments, but they're enjoying class. And that I encourage you to continue to seek vantage.
If you're feeling stuck in a rut, shift your perspective. Don't keep doing the same thing. Your head, you can pound a head against the wall, but you're not going to knock that wall down with your head. So stop, look at the problem differently. And then the last piece is find a colleague. You are not alone. Teaching is so lonely. And so find a colleague or two or three. And in my book trying to develop communities beyond the site level because I know that there are some teachers that just feel alone on their staff for whatever reason. And so I really want students to, or not students, teachers to really find and build relationships and community with other people because that helps us keep that sisu going as well.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. And you really highlight, I think it's so important and it's so easy to get caught in this trap where you look at, we're going to say 30 kids, some people have 35 kids in their class, like who knows what that class number, it doesn't matter that a number of students, we tend to end up dwelling on those handful of students that you're trying so hard to reach and it isn't working and we forget about all the other successes that are happening there. And I think as humans and as educators, we don't want to forget about these couple students that we're struggling with. We don't want to write them off. It's not an either or, but having these discussions with educators, it's so easy in the classroom to lose so much energy, use so much energy in hitting your head against the wall, as you said.
And I think it's really important for us to think about that sphere of influence, that sphere of concern, never forget about that student, never stop trying for that student. But don't let that take all of the energy so that you have none left for everyone else in that classroom. And it can be such a hard thing to battle. So I want to thank you on behalf of the Math Moment Maker community, this has been a fantastic, fantastic conversation. The book is awesome. Thanks so much for sending us a couple copies so we could check it out. It was awesome. We really recommend people give that a read. And my friend, before we take off, let the Math Moment Maker community know where they can find out more information about Chase and your imperfect, unfinished teacher book.

Chase Orton: Sure. They can sign up on my website at chaseorton.com. And if they sign up for my newsletter, they'll get a free copy of my introduction. They can get a taste of what the book is about. They can also purchase the book there if they would like as well. I've also started a Facebook group called The Imperfect and Unfinished Math Teacher and any teacher is welcome to sign up for that. You don't need to buy the book. We're sharing our thinking and learning about different excerpts from the book and just having some discussion and dialogue there.
We're small right now, 16 members, but we're growing. People who sign up now will be one of the original members and just how awesome that is. So my website, chaseorton.com, Facebook, I'm on Twitter @mathgeek76, and I'm looking for all the help I can to help spread the word. And if there are leaders out there that are really looking for a way to boost, teach morale and raise and elevate teacher sense of efficacy, I would love to get an email and they can email me at chase@undercovercalculus.com. And I would love to hear from them.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff, Chase. Thanks so much for sharing that. We're going to put all of that in the show notes as always. Chase, I want to thanks so much for joining us here and in sharing your insights with the Math Moment Maker community. We appreciate you and the work that you're doing with teachers all around the world.

Chase Orton: Thank you so much. It's an honor and a privilege. I appreciate it.

Kyle Pearce: Cheers my friend. Get back on the road now.

Chase Orton: Will do.

Kyle Pearce: See you around. Well as always Math Moment Makers, I'm sure you are sitting there and needing to maybe pause, write some of this down, maybe use Siri or Alexa or whatever tool that you're using to use some voice to text to sort of jot down some of the pieces that Chase shared. I know for me there was a lot of big takeaways, like one right near the beginning of the episode, even just reflecting on my own experience as a math student in not realizing that wow, I actually didn't engage in collaborative problem solving at all from my memory and who knows, maybe I'm just not remembering it. And then later on having this sort of a bit of an epiphany around the idea that we need to constantly pause and look at the whole room, the whole situation, and we can't just dwell on the one thing that is maybe not working out so well for us in the classroom.
And when you are thinking about how to overcome some of those challenges, remember just doing the same thing over and over again, he didn't say this, but sort of what I interpreted was that's the definition of insanity, just trying to do it over and over again and nothing is changing. Pause, get that different vantage point and start looking at it from a different lens and having a partner for that, a colleague or a group of colleagues can be really helpful. Lots of big takeaways for me from this one. Jon, how about you? What was a takeaway for you?

Jon Orr: Yeah, so many and I even had more from the book than we could even chat about. We wanted to keep chatting because the book is full of great things that you could be using to help you craft a plan. But one that still sticks with me today is related to the title about this unfinished teacher and this imperfect teacher. Kyle, I currently been reading this other book called 4,000 Weeks, which is kind of this book about productivity and many of us seek, how do I make the most of my time? How do I maximize the time of my day? Some people have planners, some people schedule things and it's like, I got to get my day down to the nearest half an hour blocks. And there's so many courses out there or books that help you do that. But this book called 4,000 Weeks kind of talks about we only have 4,000 weeks alive.
And the premise that the book starts with reminded me so much of Chase's book because it basically says "You might be striving for this perfect productivity day, in it you have to first accept it's not going to happen. You are chasing a dream that you will never achieve. There is never going to be this perfect system you can capture that outlines and makes you be the most productive person."
First, if you can accept that, then you're going to be on your way to realizing what matters in the day and how to treat your day and structure your day so that it works for you. And I felt like that book, very similar to what Chase is talking about, obviously completely different things in a sense, but both of them accepting that we're not perfect and we're never going to get there so why don't we sit with that, and why don't we think about how we can use that to our advantage and steer our ship in a certain way. So that kind of hit home for me. The other thing that I'll point out now that we shared those things is something you should do right now is jump on over to Facebook because Chase shared at the end, he's got a Facebook group and he wants you to join him over there to keep talking about the book and talk about the podcast that he talked with us here.
So you can go over there. You can go to our Facebook group at Make Math Moments or go to Math Moment Makers K to 12 on Facebook, join in there and talk about what your big takeaways from this episode are. So there's lots of places that you could share. And I think another big thing that he talked about in the episode was don't do this alone. Grab somebody, find a partner. It doesn't have to be in the same school. It could be anywhere. And those places, social media can be a great place to grab someone. Hey, hey Kyle, that's how we met, right? We met through social media and we're on this journey together. So please do that and we'll see you soon.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. Friends, if you haven't hit the subscribe button, do that for us. If you're on Twitter watching this right now, hello, I'm waving at you on YouTube. Oh, did I say on Twitter? I meant on YouTube, on YouTube. But you could hit follow on YouTube. Who knows, maybe Elon Musk, I think he just took over Twitter. Maybe he is going to change how it all works. Who knows? But on YouTube, hit that subscribe button, hit the like button. Leave us a comment, say hello. And friends, you can find all show notes, links to resources, complete transcripts and all kinds of other goodies over on the website at makemathmoments.com/episode180. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode180.
From the show notes page, you can look up to the top of the screen, hit that tasks button and go check out some of the problem based units and tasks that are out there. And guess what? Grab a partner. Try some of them, do something different in your class and work on it together. That's that big message that I think Chase wants to share with us all. We can all be better. Don't beat yourself up over it. Have grace as he mentioned. And my friends, you are all fantastic for being here with us today and trying to push your practice forward. So good on you, Math Moment Makers. Until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us and high five for you.

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