Episode 205: Five Math PD Pitfalls To Avoid in 2022-2023 – Part 1
In this first part of a two part series Jon & Kyle discuss break down math PD pitfalls we should all avoid so that we can support, encourage, and build engaged educators who want to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in students.
In this first part we’ll unpack how to avoid the Do As I Say Not As I Do PD sessions, how to avoid the PD Trap, and how to stop force feeding professional development.
- How to avoid the “Do As I Say, Not As I Do PD Sessions”
- Which PD traps to avoid.
- How to stop force feeding math professional development.
- Why math professional development one-offs won’t cut it.
- How to overcome a common math professional development paradox.
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Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are from makemathmoments.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 your teacher moves. Welcome everyone to another episode of the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. Today, Jon, we're pretty excited to dig into a couple pitfalls that we're going to avoid and actually, as we record this, I think we might stretch this over a couple episodes. So we're going to unpack a couple of-
Jon Orr: So two-parter.
Kyle Pearce: ... them here tonight. Yes, a two part episode. I'm super excited to dive in and Jon, what's motivating us here? What's our motivation for why we want to highlight some of these PD pitfalls to avoid in this new school year?
Jon Orr: And over the next two episodes, we're going to talk about five math PD pitfalls that you can avoid so that you can spark engagement and fuel sense-making in your fellow educators so that they can go off and spark curiosity and fuel sense-making in their students. We all have sat through PD sessions as educators that we loved and we've also sat through PD sessions that we were like, man, that could have been an email. And today we want to talk about five PD pitfalls to avoid as a math professional leader or math professional facilitator, but we're wanting to avoid them so that we can create an ecosystem, a feeling of your educators going in those places that you're like, I loved that. We want to create that great professional development experience that you remember from some of the ones you've been to. We want to do that as much as possible. So we got some five that we're going to avoid for this year.
Kyle Pearce: I love it, Jon. And for those who might be thinking to themselves, maybe I'm in a classroom role right now, do know that you are listening to a math professional development podcast and that tells me something about you, the educator. It says that not only are you motivated to try to do great things in your classroom but ultimately, at some point down the road, maybe sooner than you think, you might be in a position where you are tapped on the shoulder to help others learn some of the things that you're learning through this PD here.
So giving this is almost like a tool for you into the future and also maybe it gives you a bit of perspective as well the next time you are in a PD session, where you are, quote, unquote, "the student" as to try to highlight when it's resonating with you, what's going well in this session and then when it's not resonating, maybe it's because some of these PD pitfalls are taking place. Now, we don't want you to get upset with the facilitator or make them feel bad about themself but it might be helpful if you know someone who's facilitating in a role like that. It could be an opportunity for you to provide a little bit of guidance, a little bit of mentorship along the way through some conversation. So lots and lots for all of us to learn here and to hopefully make this process more beneficial for all educators.
Jon Orr: And I was just going to add to that, Kyle, many of us classroom teachers who don't find themselves in those roles or maybe we won't find ourselves in those roles but we often find ourselves in one-on-one coaching roles. It might be a new teacher coming into the building where you are interacting with them and you're going to be talking to them about some professional development or you're helping them through something, these tips not only work in large settings but also will work in one-on-one small group settings as well. So we might find ourselves benefiting from these when we have interactions with our peers.
Kyle Pearce: I love it, I love it. Yeah, definitely. And basically, I think maybe by starting our first one here, Jon, we'll be able to give people some context. So if you are, let's say, a grade level leader or just someone who's looked upon in your school to lead some of the learning or to try to get others on board, you know who you are out there, every building has these people, these can be helpful tips for you to help shift some learning as well. So let's start with our first one. This is one where, I don't want to name it yet, I don't want to give it away yet because it might be too obvious but I'm going to tell you a bit of a story, it wasn't so long ago that I was actually in a session, I was actually co-facilitating. There were multiple facilitators and it was supposed to really be a learning session where there was a lot of dialogue.
And it started off right, it started off very well run. People were turning and talking, there was a lot of conversation. You could sense that there was an energy in the room building and then all of a sudden, it was a bang, a snap, someone snapped their fingers and then all of a sudden, it went from this discussion format to the facilitator telling everyone what to do. So they were up there and the next thing you know, it was firing through slides, talking at the group and then almost forgetting all about all these intentional prompts that we had discussed.
Was it time? Were we running out of time and we were rushing? Maybe that's a possibility. Was it nerves? Sometimes nerves make you talk faster and feel this need to get what you need to say out and then sit back down. I'm not sure what it was but it was like, all of a sudden, this shift happened and we went from this great conversation to a lecture and that's our first thing that we're trying to suggest that we do not do, do not fall for the, do as I say, not as I do PD session because that's exactly what happened here.
It was not intended to be that way but ultimately, at the end of the day, it became a sage on the stage situation and it was like, we've got to get through all of these ideas so that you got what you need to go on and be the best teacher ever. It's almost like, let's get it all done, we only get to see each other so often, so we're going to tell you all of these ideas and then you're going to go do it somehow. And we just know that, that actually isn't how learning happens for kids and especially isn't how it works for adults, where you're just being spoken to or spoken at and there's very little, we'll say learning residue that sticks around when we approach it in that way.
Jon Orr: There's a little bit of hypocrisy happening when we do that. We think, okay, we'll just deliver this. We'll tell them how to do that, we'll show them exactly what it looks like and then we're going to ask them to give that a try. That's the type of lesson that we've been talking about avoiding in our students. Probably, if you're delivering that to teachers and you're asking them to teach in that particular way but not delivering it in that way, there's that hypocrisy right there. We want our students to feel the need for math. We want our students to go through that productive struggle so that they attach value to learning. Why are we not allowing our educators to also go through that same process? I know that there's lots of us that want to sit and get, our students would rather sit and get, right, Kyle? How many times have we had our students be like, just tell me how to do it, just tell me how to do it.
And we know it's better for them to feel the need for why this is works, attach value to this struggle that you've had and feel a relief when something has gone right and it now makes more sense. That's where we create memorable math moments. We have to do that with our educators too. We have to put them in situations where they're like, this isn't working, oh, this worked better, oh, I want to experience this. So when we run our professional development sessions, Kyle, we get people up, we get them doing the mathematics. Sometimes you can see it on their faces, they don't want to do it but then afterwards, you can see it, just like your students, they saw it that they had attached value, they understood how this was going to flow in their own rooms. So that whole do as I say, not as I do, not only is not great for the learning process but it's just yelling, hypocrisy, like don't do this. Don't do it this way, do it this way in your class but I'm going to tell you how to do it at the beginning.
Kyle Pearce: I know. It reminds me, it's that rushing to the algorithm approach to PD, where it's like, in your mind and I mean, part of it is like it's good planning, which is what causes us to rush to the algorithm, where like, I have an intention for my students to learn and it's this thing, so I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to make sure it gets out there and it's boom, it's right there. That intentionality is great but what's even better is when we craft that nice path for the learner to walk down. And the same is true for our educators, it might even be more important, more significant because when you're an adult and you've been teaching, assuming that teachers, these aren't brand new teachers that you're working with, they already have things that they feel work well for them or at least work well enough in their classroom.
So we really have to create and craft this reason for them to experience why we want that change to happen. So making sure that you think this through and don't just spend time on what you want that outcome to be. Once the outcome for educators, help them to understand, what's the problem that we're trying to fix? What isn't working so well in the math classroom? Not because of how they're teaching in particular but because maybe we're just missing something in general and that we want to consider, we to highlight it.
So we have to craft that journey for them through the PD experience so that they don't feel like it's just, again, like Jon you had mentioned, something that could have been written in an email. If all you're going to tell me is do this, this and this, and here's why, you could probably put it in an email, might not be super effective, who knows how well that's going to get implemented or understood but ultimately, at the end of the day, people start to tune us out when we're just talking at them. So definitely one thing we want to avoid when we move forward with PD.
Jon Orr: We are working with the district not long ago, this was an action, I think the district themselves... We actually practiced this with the districts we work with as well, getting them to see and feel in the need for things and while we did that with the district leaders that we were working with, they also reflected and was like, you know what? This might be a great activity to do with our teachers. And we were going through the magic wand wishlist, we did an episode on the podcast not too long ago about creating the magic wand wishlist in your classroom, if you're district leaders, having creating a magic wand wishlist for your educators. And so this district that we were working with and they were like, you know what? Why don't we have our teachers come up with the magic wand wishlist so they feel like they're creating the lesson goals or the learning goals for the year?
We often do this in class when we do our Notice and Wonder, Kyle, we make the kids feel like they're in control of where the steering of the lessons' going to go and it gives them more ownership in their learning. And this district was like, why don't we do that with the educators and get them to make that magic wand wishlist and then we know they're going to say these things? They had pre-planned all the things that they knew that they were going to say so that when they said them, they were like, okay, we'll take these, your magic wand wishlist and we'll make that our district wishlist for the current year. These are going to be our math professional learning goals for the year. But these leaders had already pre-organized that this was going to come out and these were going to be the goals anyway. But it gave these educators a sense of ownership and where their learning was going to go. So I thought that was really great at that district we were working with.
Kyle Pearce: I love it, I love it. And really too, if you listen to what we're saying here, you just articulated again, as see the parallels between teaching math students and actually working with district leads and facilitators to prepare because what you did, Jon, is through that conversation, you were helping them to anticipate, so some of what we do through the five practices when we're getting ready for a math lesson is trying to anticipate what students will do in a situation. And with those district leads, we were able to essentially anticipate what might educators say and that allows us to avoid just speaking at them. And this idea, Jon, really meshes nicely with the next trap that we hope people will avoid, the PD trap, we're talking about setting expectations that are completely unrealistic, where we set so many goals as a district or as a school or as a department or as a grade level team.
It doesn't matter what level in the hierarchy you are in, it's where we come in with all of these goals. So first of all, were the goals actually crafted by the group that's going to be trying to attain them and hit them? So in this case, we're saying we want to co-construct those and then we want to be realistic. And this particular pitfall is thinking that first, we're going to do this and then we're going to do that and then we're going to do that. And it's one thing to have that as maybe a long range plan. We want all of those things, of course. Tomorrow, I want all students to access all the math content. I would love that. But now we have to start thinking, okay, what is most important to us right now? And that might look and sound different and it might be different than what I want as the facilitator.
I might think I want this thing to happen but if the group of educators we're working with are really excited to do this work over here, think of how much effort you're going to get, how much commitment are you going to get from a team of educators when there's something that they're excited to do that's still important to do, it's still on your wishlist, it's still something that you think is important for a math class, so that's good, or if it's the thing that I really want everyone to do and I have to go through this whole process of trying to explain why it matters and help them have the epiphany, really is what it needs to be because I could tell you why it's important. But until you have that epiphany, until you have that aha moment, where you go, oh, that totally makes sense and I'm super excited to do that work.
That can take a little while when it's an idea that's generated by me, the facilitator, versus when it's an idea that the group has brought forward and we go, you know what? Can we commit to this? Is this something that we're all willing to put some effort towards? And the key is, how many things are there because the worst thing we could possibly do is say, let's focus on these 10 things and then after three months, we do a check-in and all of a sudden, it's like, how far are we on any of these? And everyone's feeling bad about themselves because they don't feel like there's any progress. So it's like, this pitfall we want to avoid is getting, I guess too... The word ambition's the wrong word because I want you to be ambitious but I don't want you to be unrealistic because that's going to lead you down a path to a dead end, to people feeling bad about themselves and maybe almost draining the energy and the excitement out of doing the work.
So this is something that we have to really be cautious of, district leaders, facilitators, admin, department chairs, we have to just be really cautious, we have to understand that one thing at a time, let's get some small winds under our belt and we can always increase the goal. We can always extend it. The work's never going to be done, so move at the right pace, at the speed of learning. And that's going to set us on a much better foot than say, putting all these ideas out there and doing them all poorly.
Jon Orr: You know what? I like that because I think when you say we want ambitious goals, it's almost like what we want is we want to create an overarching theme or an overarching mission statement for this year or this next three year initiative that we're going to make. I don't even want to use the word initiative because I know teachers are cringing right now but I mean, with this three year program or this three year goal that we're going to make but that's an overarching statement that we can follow, that everything we do from that goes towards that statement. So it's our learning goal in our classroom, it's like, we want to go here, by the end of this year, we're going to try to meet this goal but we have all these little sub things that can get there. And then what we don't want to do is over-say, I'm going to be hitting all of these sub goals before the end of the year because it's like, we might actually only cover a couple of those but we still on track to hit this one big goal, this ambitious goal.
We're moving towards that. So it's a spectrum of like, I want to be down here but where are we now? And it's okay that we're progressing this way but you're right, there are these initiatives that get set or these giant goals of like, we're going to do this and then we're going to make sure that we can do math docs and then we're going to make sure that we teach with the building thing in classroom and then we're going to make sure that we build in a Three-Act math task. So it's like we're going to throw all these things that I saw all over the internet and we're going to get that all done this year. And it's like, well, no, we've been doing this for a long time and it still takes a lot of time. So the other thing about these goals is, I liked how you said you want to listen to the educators and go where they go but also maybe be able to rephrase it to meet your big ambitious goal.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, exactly.
Jon Orr: Because it's the classroom, it's that whole questioning of the classroom is that our students... If we set the lesson and we're going to lecture at our students and we're going to go, today, we're going to learn about this and then we're going to do these three examples, that same style is, kids are answering questions in class that they didn't even want to know the answers to. They didn't even ask these questions. This is why we've spent so much time reframe what a lesson looks like so kids are asking the questions and then we help them with their answers. We want our educators to do the exact same thing. Let's ask these questions and let's figure out where we can go. And that's why that magic wand wishlist activity that we do with districts works so well because it frames where those educators want to go.
Kyle Pearce: At risk of potentially stretching this one pitfall too far, Jon, I think it's worth it.
Jon Orr: You got to keep going.
Kyle Pearce: As you were talking, I couldn't help but visualize, it's like we want ambitious goals but we want realistic goals as well. And I think humans, it's very easy for us to go ambitious or really, really small and almost this deficit mindset. And what I want you to think about whether you're in the classroom with students or whether we're working with educators, when you think of the big goal, I think it's almost like you want to go all the way to the other end and go, okay, so how far do you think we can get in the next two weeks?
How far do you think we can get in the first month? And from there, it allows you to ebb and flow between this long range view and this short term view because in order to get realistic on that long range, how much we can accomplish, there's a quote, I'm trying to think of who said it, so someone, help us out in the comments with this but it's almost like we vastly overestimate how much we can get done in a year and vastly underestimate where you can be done 10 years or something like that.
It's something along these lines where you look at and you go, okay, a year is a long time, so we might think we're going to do all of these things because a year feels so long. But the reality is that if in the next two weeks I can only make this tiny little thing and they're like, what about the two weeks after that? What about the month after that? As soon as you're at that point, if I go two weeks, two weeks, then a month, I'm already at a sixth of the way through the school year.
So that small little goal setting might allow you to get more realistic on what you should be looking for or looking to attain over the year because you don't want to set yourself up for a really poor feeling at the end. So think about that as you're doing your PD planning but also think about it with your students as well. If students are struggling and the curriculum's this big and you feel like students aren't as far as you'd like, we want to set big goals for them. But then I got to think, how far can I get them a week from now, two weeks from now? What does it look like a month from now? And that will help you inch towards what is a realistic expectation and then could I maybe bump it up a little bit? We want to push for more but we don't want it to be so far that you feel like everything you did was a failure. So hopefully, that helps you with that particular misstep that we do and we certainly don't want you falling for that particular pitfall.
Jon Orr: Kyle, I got a little fact-check here for you, while you were chatting, I googled that quote about-
Kyle Pearce: And I probably butchered the quote too by the way.
Jon Orr: No, it's fine. The quote basically is saying, we tend to overestimate what can be done in one year but we underestimate what's done in five or 10 years. And you were wondering who the author was and it looks like it's attributed to... Couple people have said the same idea but the most notably and most recently, Bill Gates.
Kyle Pearce: Ooh.
Jon Orr: And then Arthur C. Clarke, the author. Same kind of idea.
Kyle Pearce: I love it. Fantastic. That's a good one. And if we really think about it, you could apply the same logic to other timeframes that are relative to one another and it just makes you think a little bit different. So Jon, take us into the last pitfall we're going to talk about today but we do have a couple more to share in a future episode as well.
Jon Orr: So this next one, this last one we're going to be talking about here in this session, we'll have two more in the next session, but this one's about stop force feeding math professional development. And it's a good one because we were just talking about certain goals and having big ambitious goals and having mini goals. And when we're trying to help someone make change and that's what we're doing when we are helping our professional or helping our teachers with professional development is really we're in the business of making change. I think a lot of us feel that way when we're working with educators, is how do we make this change stick and how do we get them to convince that change is worth it? And you can reference lots of things with change, eating habits, smoking, exercise, professional development is one of those things.
And when you're working with people and you're trying to make that change, it often can feel like it's a losing battle. You're working with a teacher and it's like, where is this change? I'm trying to make this change, I'm trying to get them to see in their own way how this works because you know that force feeding is not going to be the way and that's what we want to say, we want to stop force feeding and we want to slowly nudge them along, this idea of nudge and there's actually a book called Nudge and it's about how to make the behavior that you want easy and then how to make the behavior you don't want hard. But how can we nudge the teachers to go down this pathway? And how do we breadcrumb them along by giving them little goals to meet and little goals for them to set?
And I think it ties some of the ideas we talked about earlier about having them set their own goals, having them pick something that's important to you so that you would work towards it. And then there's this mini little breadcrumb, then the next breadcrumb and then the next. So it's like, how as a facilitator can I craft this pathway for this educator and listen to what I'm hearing? We've learned so much, Kyle, about listening to the people that we work with while we here on the podcast, the districts we work with. We've learned so much about this, we gain so much more and when we listen to the educators and hear what struggles they're going through and then how we can breadcrumb them through it, so it feels like that they've crafted their own pathway.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, for sure. And something that resonates with me that you just said is, if you go back to other parts of life and making change and how hard it can be, I think one that's super clear, I think everyone on the planet knows that smoking is not a great idea, it's not good for you, there's no actual benefit. Well, maybe there's some benefit, some people like the way it makes them feel and that sort of thing. And it's like, they already know that, that's a change that would be beneficial and yet it's still incredibly difficult for people to put the wheels in motion to make the change. Maybe mindset might not be as obvious, that might be closer to what we deal with in education, where if you ever met someone that just has like, it just feels like a negative vibe to them, everything's a downer, that person, it might actually be harder for them to at least realize that there's a challenge or there's maybe something that could change, there's an improvement that can take place.
And until they know that, it's like they're not going to obviously think about changing. So in education, it's the same thing, we can try to force feed whatever initiative, whatever idea we want, if they don't see it as something in their classroom could be improved, again, we're not targeting the teacher and what they're doing is bad but just that maybe we're not accessing or all students aren't accessing the mathematics. If they're not seeing the value of the thing that you're trying to force feed, they're probably going to do the exact opposite. They're going to be like, no, I don't want that at all. So by breadcrumbing it along, using some of the strategies we've discussed earlier is creating an experience for them to have the epiphany to want to make the change.
The breadcrumbing allows this to be a little bit more bite-size, pun intended here because we're talking about breadcrumbs, but little tiny pieces that can go. And this can happen, we were talking about long-term versus short-term. It can happen in the same way and I'll start with short-term. If you're doing a PD session, you could be breadcrumbing along through your PD session, so you've intentionally crafted this path to lead them along, that's great but it doesn't have to stop there. We can actually bring this breadcrumbing idea into other aspects of our daily lives. And so that might mean, if I'm an administrator, it might mean sending a weekly email that highlights one little piece of the thing that we're working on. Notice I didn't say things because if I send you 15 things every week that we're working on towards those massive goals, that's just overwhelming.
But if it's like, hey, if math talk was something that we're trying to do a minimum of three times a week in our building, what's that one little breadcrumb I can offer you through that one engagement or when I see you in the hall or if I'm a district leader posting in the community chat area or touching base with some of the teachers that you work closely with? So just having these little tiny pieces just to keep the idea alive because something that can really happen quickly is, first of all, time flies. We get together, if it's a PD session, everyone feels great, everyone's like, yes, we're going to go and do this thing. We feel like it's attainable. But then the very next day, you're back in the thick of it again. Oh, man, I got to do the attendance, I forgot attendance day.
Oh, and then collecting money for this. All of these different things are going on in your head and in your life, it's really easy to forget about it. And if I let it go too long, if I'm not thinking about it on almost routined or routinely, then it's going to fall by the wayside and it's almost going to be like, the next time you come back together, it's like, oh, shoot, now look at us, now it's a month or two later and we haven't made any of those gains. And now that goal that we've set for ourself feels like it's even less likely to take place. So again, it's deflating. So let's not force feed it. I think that message has already been embedded in the previous pitfalls but by not force feeding it, what we are going to do is we are going to try to find ways that we can just breadcrumb this along.
And we're going to try to stretch that duration out beyond your session, beyond your day that you work with an educator or a group of educators and you want to stretch it so that this idea stays alive because if you are the facilitator, it was your idea to do this PD in the first place. Even if they did a wishlist and you went with their lead on that, the reality is you brought them together to do some learning. So in order to keep it going, we've got to do a little bit of that work to try to stretch it as far as we possibly can.
Jon Orr: All right. Great tips on the breadcrumb strategy there, Kyle. Let's just do a quick recap of the three pitfalls we were talking about here in this episode, on what to avoid this year to make them a more valuable, a more engaging, a more worthwhile PD experience for the teachers that you work with. And we'll go right back to the top. First one we talked about here was the, avoid the do as I say, not as I do PD sessions.
We've been in those sessions before where there's a little bit of hypocrisy, when we're being told to and how to do something and then asking us to not do that exact same format with our students. So we're going to avoid that, this year, we're going to try to avoid that as much as possible when we're working with teachers. The other one was the, avoid the PD trap, which is the unrealistic goal setting that we tend to do with our teachers, our districts and our district goals, with that they're unattainable and after we feel so down if we get to the end of the year and we didn't reach the goals we set.
And it's probably because we set unrealistic goals to begin with. And then the third one here, Kyle, is the stop force feeding math professional development. Let's do the breadcrumb strategy instead. All right. That's-
Kyle Pearce: I love it.
Jon Orr: ... three that we gave you here, we got two more but we are going to come back and we want to talk about two more PD pitfalls to avoid this year so that you're setting the stage for your educators to make math moments in the classroom.
Kyle Pearce: So Jon, we're going to continue these ideas in our continuation episode but until then, if you're looking for a way to bring some of this learning with you, first of all, we always advocate that you comment on our show notes page, head over to YouTube, hit subscribe, comment, let us know what you're thinking, maybe leave a rating and review. These are all ways where you can be reflective in the moment so that you have some of this learning stick for yourself. So when you head on over to makemathmoments.com/district, you're going to be able to grab a PDF that you can bring with you, print, fire it on the table in your district office if that's your role or maybe share with some different administrators across your district, if you're in that district lead position or maybe those math coaches you want to share with some of your other coaches that are leading PD sessions, heading over to makemathmoments.com/district where you can grab that PDF.
Also, we've got some cool videos that summarize some of these ideas in smaller chunks for you. So hopefully, you'll go over there and grab those before you head out for the day.
Jon Orr: Oh, yeah. So we're going to have that PDF and all the other show notes, links to the stuff that we talked about here. We also have some goodies over on the show notes page. We always have goodies on the show notes page for all of our episodes. If you haven't ever been to those show notes page, you get the links to things we talked about, some downloads for you, resources for you and your role in supporting you, so we create a lot of good stuff to put over there. So you can head to this show notes page at makemathmoments.com/episode205. That's makemathmoments.com/episode205.
Kyle Pearce: Jon, what's going to be over on that page is the giveaway for our upcoming summit, so if you want to get that giveaway, make sure you head over to /episode205 and you'll hop in, learn more about that summit and get all those goodies we talked about already. Lots of action items for you. Well, that's a lot here for today there, Jon, so 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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