Episode 30: The Most Effective PD You’re Not Doing
Join us on Episode 30 of the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast as we welcome Gabrielle Mejia and Jedidiah Butler as we take a deep dive into the Most Effective PD You’re Not Doing: Lesson Study. Sure, many of us have had an opportunity through a district-led initiative or grant to possibly engage in this type of learning, but was it a “one-and-done” experience that is no longer happening in your building?
Listen in as Gabrielle and Jed share what Lesson Study means to them, why they think it is worthwhile to do AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE, and they debunk some common myths and challenges one might encounter as you look to build this highly impactful professional learning structure into your department, school, or district.
- What lesson study is all about and why you need to start it at your school.
- Benefits for teachers, students, and administrators
- How to organize a lesson study and make it actionable.
- Common challenges around lesson study and how to avoid them.
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Kyle Pearce: Well, in an ideal world, and when you look at traditional lesson study from Japan and such, it is constant, all the time, every day, every week. But in a reality where we’re still trying to develop it, Gabby had said earlier there’s the pre, there’s the teaching, and then there’s the post with the reflection. And we’ve kind of shrunk down our teaching day and our reflection into one day, and then we just have to do our pre far enough ahead of time that you can plan the lesson and hone it a little bit, and that’s working okay for us.
Kyle Pearce: I don’t know, Gabby, if you want to say, in your experience, what’s seemed to be effective in term of quantity and the timing of the lesson studies?
Gabrielle Mejia: I would say in an ideal world, you could have at least one day a month, and in that one day, the very first planning cycle you’re going to have to meet is your planning time, unless-
Jon Orr: You’re listening to episode 30 of the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast as we welcome Gabrielle Mejia and Jedidiah Butler as we take a deep dive into the most PD you’re not doing: Lesson study. Sure, many of us have had the opportunity through a district-led initiative or maybe a grant to possibly engage in this type of learning, but was it a one and done experience that’s no longer happening in your building? Listen in as Gabrielle and Jed share what lesson study means to them, while they think it is worthwhile to do as often as possible, and they debunk some common myths and challenges one might encounter as you look to build this highly impactful professional learning structure into your department, school or district.
Jon Orr: Are you ready to rock, Kyle?
Jon Orr: DJ, play that sweet, sweet song.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr. We are two math teachers who together…
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement…
Jon Orr: Fuel learning…
Kyle Pearce: And ignite teacher action. Jon, are you ready for episode number 30?
Jon Orr: Yeah. Can you believe this? 30. I am shocked to read 30, or to say episode 30, I can’t even believe it. It’s awesome. This has been a great-
Kyle Pearce: And time is flying.
Jon Orr: Has been a great journey so far, but I can’t wait to share this conversation with Jed and Gabby, with you, and the rest of the Math Moment Maker community. Before we get to our discussion with Gabby and Jed, we want to let you know that the Making Math Moments Academy, you home for ongoing support in implementing problem-based lessons, amping up your pedagogical moves, and stretching your math content knowledge, is now open and has been open, and Making Math Moments community is waiting to welcome you in. You can decide if the academy is right for you over at make math moments dot com forward slash academy. That’s make math moments dot com forward slash academy.
Kyle Pearce: Well, let’s go, gangbusters on lesson study with Gabrielle and Jed.
Jon Orr: Hey there, Jed and Gabby. Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter Podcast. We are super pumped that you are joining us. How are you guys doing today?
Jedidiah Butler: Fantastic.
Gabrielle Mejia: We’re doing great. Thanks for having us.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. That’s amazing. Since we have two of you on the show today, let’s take some turns. Gabby, can you tell our audience a little about yourself and maybe a little about your teaching role?
Gabrielle Mejia: Sure. I am a wife and a mother of two little girls, four and eight, and currently a high school math teacher. Just a little bit about my teaching background, I started off in elementary school as an elementary school teacher, went to middle school, high school, taught online, and I work with teachers through our local university who are becoming math teachers, and like I said, currently a high school math teacher.
Jon Orr: Cool. You have taught all levels. You know what? I don’t know if I have come across a teacher that has taught elementary, middle school, all that, even online. You must have the skill set of the teaching ninja.
Jon Orr: Awesome. Jed, how about you? Can you fill us in on your role? A little bit of a background for you. I know that we’ve met a number of times, but how about our listeners? They probably would love to know more about Jed. Go for it.
Jedidiah Butler: Awesome. I began teaching in middle school, actually, and then over my first five years of teaching, and then I shifted to high school my second year teaching math classes. And I had wound up teaching, over my first five years, everything from eighth grade pre-algebra, all the way up through AP calculus BC, minus AP stats. So in a very short period of time, I got to see a lot of different courses, and that helped me a lot in working with other teachers, working better for my own students.
Jedidiah Butler: And then I shifted districts trying to get closer to home, and I was only in that district for one year and then I started being a teacher specialist. So I was a math specialist for the district for about a year and a half, but that was at a district office, and I really, really missed being back at a school site. So position opened up for a technology specialist, a Teacher On Special Assignment, with technology.
Jedidiah Butler: That was at a school site, though, and so I took that, and now I’m at Heritage High School along with Gabby, and my title is Instructional Technology TOSA, but my passion from the classroom is math. So I always love trying to work with math teachers, and that has a lot to do with what Gabby and I worked on.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. That word TOSA, I was hoping you were going to use it. The acronym TOSA, for us sitting here in Ontario, for a while I would see people, especially in California it seems to be a thing, I’m sure there’s some other states that have that same acronym, but that Teacher On Special Assignment, which is a pretty cool role. And it sounds like you’ve had a lot of different experiences. I really like the idea that you started with middle school and kind of worked your way up, not suggesting that you had to go that way, but did you feel like you kind of followed some students, or maybe not even just the students, but almost the content, and maybe felt like you could almost see it developing as you went?
Jedidiah Butler: Yeah. There’s some of that. I honestly really struggled with the high energy of middle schoolers. Just the hormones going crazy. That was a big challenge for me, and getting into the high school, I realized it’s not that the energy is not there, it’s just a different kind of energy, and I connected with that a lot better with the students.
Jedidiah Butler: I was growing each year, and it was just kind of weird when you get your teaching assignment. Here’s the classes you’re teaching next year. It’s like, oh, look, something new, again, and I just kind of embraced it. It was tough, but I learned a lot from it, and I’m sure Gabby would say the same thing. Doing multiple experiences is challenging, but you learn so much.
Gabrielle Mejia: Yeah. Just starting off in the elementary school setting, it always served such a vital role to how I taught math at the middle school and high school level. Just having a background in foundational mathematics.
Jon Orr: And Jed, you had mentioned the energy. I think sometimes the reverse, that I love the energy level of middle schoolers compared to high schoolers. My high schoolers, I don’t know about you guys, but my high schoolers are half asleep half the time. It’s like, “You want me to do work?”
Kyle Pearce: You need more energy.
Jon Orr: So whereas I still feel like grades six and seven, when I ask a question, kids are just shooting their hands up, like still, “Pick me. Pick me. Pick me.” The energy level is pretty crazy.
Kyle Pearce: I was in a grade four, five class today and had a blast out at a public school in my district, Herald Public School, and I’m in this four, five class, and it’s like I’m doing a notice and wonder, and I’ve never, in the secondary setting, had to shut down a notice and wonder, where we need to start moving along. They’re just so eager, and I love it. And I do it very gracefully, of course. I don’t want to make them not want to be curious, but it’s like taking candy from a baby with those students. They’re just ready to rock.
Kyle Pearce: So, I’m wondering, Gabby, why don’t you start us off. Something we like to ask guests when they come to the show is to describe a memorable math moment from your past. So really, it’s kind of in your mind. When you think about math class for you, for yourself, what comes to mind? This could be a moment when you were a student or a teacher. Do you mind sharing?
Gabrielle Mejia: Sure. It actually happened recently, during when Jed was co-teaching with me in my high school math class. It was in an algebra support class, and I remember Jed had shared a video titled, “Two is Greater than four,” and it was about listening to students and what they’re saying, and responding to their ideas, versus listening for an answer.
Gabrielle Mejia: And during this particular lesson, students were trying to determine if their value for X was a solution for an inequality. And they were struggling, and I was struggling, and there were teachers in the room, and we were all kind of co-teaching and watching, and sometimes nerves are high when you know that, of course, when you’re being observed, and I was complicating things, and usually that’s what I do when I start to get nervous.
Gabrielle Mejia: A student was struggling with his particular X value, and Jed stood up and he told the student to put his value, which I think was four, over the inequality, which I think it was X is less than two. And the student did, and Jed just simply asked him true or false, and the student responded and he finally… It was so simple. He just asked true or false and the student understood, and the student looked at me and later on he said, “Mr. Butler explains things so simply.”
Gabrielle Mejia: I was like, okay, forgive me, I’m still learning and trying, but that moment was memorable for me because I always want to teach conceptually, but when I get stuck as a teacher, I revert back to procedures. So it was a good lesson for me just to take a deep breath and listen to what the student is struggling with, and try to respond by, I don’t know how to put it really, but just keeping it simple and responding with a question, or going back to the concept versus I was trying to think ahead into the procedures of how they’re going to have to solve their homework problems. And that was a memorable moment for me because he made it so simple and the student understood.
Kyle Pearce: Wow, yeah. No, I have two big takeaways from that conversation there, or that share out there, Gabby, and one is this idea of staying curious. There’s a book called The Coaching Habit and Jon and I have actually mentioned it on the podcast a couple times before, and a quote I love is this idea of staying curious just a little longer and holding off on action and advice giving just a little bit longer. So it’s not that we never get there, but just to kind of stay a little curious.
Kyle Pearce: And also, the other big piece, and what today’s episode is going to be about is this idea of lesson study, and I feel like you’ve already given us a nugget as to the why lesson study is such a great idea. So thank you for sharing.
Jon Orr: Jed, we’ll flip the same question over to you. What would be your most memorable math moment from you history as a math student I guess, or like Gabby, could have been as a teacher. Shoot it our way, would you?
Jedidiah Butler: I love math and I have a lot of great memories. It’s hard to kind of pick one, so I’m trying to think of one that’s relevant for stuff we’re doing today, and I remember, probably about year five in teaching, I got a student teacher. So I was going to help train a teacher in how to teach math in particular, and it was neat to share ideas, to talk about lessons, to help plan things and collaborate, but then when she started taking over more of the class, and I started to just watch her teach, I all of a sudden started to accelerate my own learning as a professional, and it was mind boggling to me.
Jedidiah Butler: Why was I not learning like this before? Why could I not see these details? And also just in some conceptual mathematics, a lot of stuff that I have made notes on online with transformational geometry and making more sense of formulas through transformations, a lot of it came from a very specific day with that student teacher and trying to understand segments that intersect circles in different ways. And I thought, “Oh, wait, we could do something with this.”
Jedidiah Butler: So then I took a break while she was teaching and I started working at my desk for a minute to figure something out, and it was just so impacting that we don’t slow down, stop, and think about what we’re doing and use that reflection to help improve ourselves and each other. And it’s always been something that sticks with me.
Jon Orr: I really appreciate that both of your memories were about collaboration and building off each other and learning from other teachers, and I think we don’t do that enough. There’s not a lot of opportunity sometimes to do that, and I’m so glad that we’re talking about lesson study today and you guys have kind of brought that to the forefront even with your memories.
Jon Orr: So let’s talk about your presentation from the NCTM 2019 Conference in San Diego. Kyle, you want to ask the next little thing here?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Well, I just wanted to mention, I had the opportunity, just so people listening, I had the opportunity actually hear this presentation live at NCTM in San Diego just a few short weeks ago, and it was awesome to hear this and see it in person, and by hearing it in person as well, you had some great music clips between different parts that often connected with some of the tips that you were giving folks. And we really were excited to bring you onto the podcast.
Jon Orr: Yeah. I’ve mentioned it here on the podcast in particular. My school uses lesson study… Each semester we start a new kind of round of lesson study, and I’ve highly recommended, Jed, I know that we talked a little bit about it while we were just chatting in the hotel about lesson study, which kind of sparked why we wanted to have this particular episode. You’re passionate about it, Gabby’s passionate about it. I’m passionate about it, so is Kyle.
Jon Orr: So why don’t we start with what is it? What is lesson study? You guys are the experts on this, and we’re all learning, but we want to learn from you, and also all the listeners, I’m sure, want to learn from it. So can you just fill us in on what is it for people who are like, what’s going on here?
Jedidiah Butler: I love how you say that. I love how you call us experts, because when Gabby first mentioned it to me, I was like oh, I’ve heard those words. What is it? And then we kind of all…
Jon Orr: Learning journey, right?
Kyle Pearce: That’s a good start. [crosstalk 00:15:34]
Jedidiah Butler: I think it would be good for Gabby to share how she first utilized lesson study before she came to our district, and then maybe after that, I’ll share a little bit about how we kind of developed it at our school site and kind of defined it for ourselves. So Gabby, why don’t you share how you first started with it?
Gabrielle Mejia: Sure. So to answer your question, Jon and Kyle, lesson study originates from Japan. It’s a model of teachers leading instruction and studying lessons, but they’re targeting a specific area for students to develop, and there’s three parts to that cycle. It’s planning the lesson. The second part is observing and teaching the lesson together. And then the third part would be to reflect on the demo lessons and then, again, start planning for the next cycle.
Gabrielle Mejia: I first was introduced to lesson study as a middle school teacher. I was teaching in, that particular school had received a grant to partake in lesson study, so we were trained in formal lesson study where we would plan the same lesson, and on a particular day, the first person would teach. We would debrief, make changes to the next lesson, and by third period, the second person was teaching with those changes being made, and we did that for three years.
Gabrielle Mejia: My first experience was first as a participant, and then when I served as an instructional coach, I facilitated lesson study. Not as formally because they were teaching different lessons, but groups of middle school teachers, ELA, science, I’m sorry, ELA and math, they would decide on a particular goal. For example, we want students to be able to use academic vocabulary. And even though their lessons were based on different grade level standards, we were targeting that goal of students’ speaking and listening.
Gabrielle Mejia: Most recently with Jed and at our high school, Heritage High School, we’ve been picking a common goal and designing lessons that are focused on those goals. And most recently, it was helping students to speak about their mathematical thinking and write about their mathematical thinking. So we were planning separate lessons based on a common goal, watching each other teach on a particular day, and debriefing after those lessons were taught.
Jon Orr: Curious question, just because we do it at our school too. How are you guys choosing the common goal amongst yourselves for what you focus on? Is that something that you all have just kind of, let’s try this, or we want to improve here, or is there any sort of data behind that?
Jedidiah Butler: That’s really good as a question. I was going to say Gabby usually holds an interest meeting, and in that interest meeting we kind of field some potential goals, but as we’ve been doing it more, we’ve noticed that we need to structure those goals really well. Not only for the planning and the observing, but also for the documentation process, because if we really truly want to look at something and study it and grow in it, we need to be able to say what it is, and it’s hard to do that.
Jedidiah Butler: There are some things out there that help kind of predefine some goals. The TRU, Teaching for Robust Understanding, framework has like five dimensions that are really good places to start. And if you talk to universities that run lesson plans up and down California, they will often refer to that framework as where they choose to focus their goals. And I think Gabby was going to say something. I might have cut her off.
Gabrielle Mejia: Yeah, no. I was just going to add that, to answer the question, that we chose that goal because we had two particular school goals. They were site-wide goals, and one of them was based on students being able to write across the content, so we wanted to support that site-wide role by selecting a focus area which was helping students to write about their math.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. Here we call our school improvement plans where you have some site-wide goals where you’re really trying to ensure that all students can achieve certain ideas, or certain skills, or concepts, and obviously literacy being one of them. Communication being a huge part of that, that sounds really logical, right, to kind of start with you school plan and see what you build from there.
Jedidiah Butler: Kyle, as you were saying that and Gabby mentioning her thing, that actually addressed… I know we’re going to address some of the challenges that we anticipated and how do we overcome them? But this was a big one was lining up with your school goals and maybe district goals too, is find out what your superiors have already kind of said they want you to work on, and see how you can just line up with that with your own lessons.
Jedidiah Butler: I’m not saying just copy whatever they do, but make sure you’re aligned with it. And that helps with getting support from your administration. If you say, “Look, you wanted me to work on this goal. Here is something we’re actively doing to work on that goal, and we’re documenting it and we’re growing in it. We’re not just saying that we’re doing it. We’re actually doing it.”
Jedidiah Butler: It’s really helpful, then, to have that conversation and say, “Can you help support us financially and time wise with maybe covering some subs for classrooms, or a little bit of time for planning?”
Kyle Pearce: That makes a ton of sense to me as well, and something I like with starting there, I mean everything you’ve said makes a whole lot of sense, is that having clarity across a school is so important because if everyone is going for different goals, then it’s very difficult to find that cohesion, to get that school alignment that everyone’s hoping to achieve.
Kyle Pearce: And then the other big thing, too, that I’m hearing from this, is even the goal that you’ve set, it’s large enough where I think you can get more specific through starting there and then realizing that in order to do this, I’ll need to do that, and then you start focusing on that. And in order to do that, I’ve got to do this other thing. And you start to kind of going down this rabbit hole, and you start to learn more about what it is that we need to be doing as teachers in order to have the best chance at reaching our students.
Jon Orr: I’m a little bit more curious on sometimes the setup here. For example, is this, for you guys, I know for me and my experience on lesson study, is we’ve had grants from say, our government or our districts, saying you got this chunk of money that will cover your release time, and you guys can plan together, and go observe each other. Then debrief, the cycle that you kind of mentioned. Is that how you guys are set up, you’re getting grant money for this for release time, or are there tips that people can do if they don’t have the grant money? What does it look like for you guys?
Jedidiah Butler: So we don’t have grant money.
Jon Orr: So you’re meeting after school, at lunches, that kind of stuff?
Jedidiah Butler: No. Lunches, yeah. So most schools in our area at least, will have some type of collaboration time. Some people might call it PLC time or open collaboration, and then of course, lunches, and we are very efficient, I think, with our meeting times. We’ll usually have maybe a casual interest meeting to open up who’s in and how are the groups getting pieces together. And then there will be maybe one collaboration day where you’re planning the lesson with followup and things like that, and one day where we are released for the teaching, and we’ll do the debrief on that same day.
Jedidiah Butler: So we only get one day of substitute teacher coverage, and one day beforehand using our collaboration time.
Jon Orr: Gotcha. That’s pretty awesome that you guys are that dedicated and buying into this kind of process.
Kyle Pearce: I think it’s great to hear that you do have PLC time. You’re also using some of that lunch time, and for those listening, I think it’s important for you to think every school is different. Every district is different. So if I’m there and I’m going, maybe I do or I don’t have collaboration time, someone who’s sitting there and thinking what are some of the maybe examples, or your thinking or beliefs, around the benefits of why we should be doing lesson study?
Kyle Pearce: So why should our listeners seriously consider trying to build lesson study into their practice regardless of whether they have access to, let’s say, collaboration time or PLC time. Why do you think this would be something that’s valuable for people to seriously consider making happen someway, somehow?
Gabrielle Mejia: I want to just give a little background. So when I participated in lesson study as a teacher, we were given a ton of money from the grants. So we were given pull out days to plan, multiple pull out days to plan, multiple days to observe each other, and this happened for three years. So I was very fortunate to experience that type of generosity from our principal and the local university to be able to facilitate that.
Gabrielle Mejia: And then as a coach we were given, I want to say, about five days out of the year. And then now, at Heritage, like Jed said, we were planning during our lunches, our PLC time, planned. I can say, speaking from a teacher participant and as a coach, and back to a teacher now, that lesson study, and this is my opinion, is the single most effective catalyst for change. When I say change, I’m referring to improvement in a teacher’s self-efficacy and their pedagogy, and also opportunities for students to experience mathematics or ant subject.
Gabrielle Mejia: I believe in lesson study wholeheartedly. At Heritage, it was born out of frustration. We were at a pull out day for Algebra 1 and we were sitting around a table, all math teachers from all of the different secondary schools. We were looking at our scores, and it’s like the same thing every time. It’s like this gray cloud settles over. We’re disappointed. We reflect on how hard we taught. What could we have done better? And I was feeling so unsatisfied with the same story every single year. Not just at Heritage High School but at all the previous districts I had been to.
Gabrielle Mejia: This is nothing new, and I was just so frustrated of the same conversation. What did we do well? What could we do better? And I just went around the table and I was like, “Are you guys willing to work together, because we need to work together.” And I asked every person individually at that table if they would be willing to try lesson study, not knowing if they had heard about it, just assuming from the name they could kind of figure out what it was.
Gabrielle Mejia: After that, there was a particular teacher who I worked closely with, and when I sent out the email to rally up the troops and see if anyone was in… No, I told her, I said, “Holly, you know it might just be me and you at this meeting.” She was like, “That’s okay. We only need two. So if that’s what happens, we can still do this.”
Gabrielle Mejia: So we called the interest meeting and several teachers showed up. From there, we just started planning, really. We went over what it was, who’s interested, what we want to focus on. But we met, for that very first round last year, we met so many mornings, so many lunches, during our period. We were desperate to do something just to get out of that old and crusty way of dealing with the disappointments of teaching. We know we need each other.
Jon Orr: I experienced the same things that you said, and it’s made such a difference in my department. Makes me wonder. Jed, what are your thoughts on this? What do you think is the actual reason behind… Is it just getting together and discussing that causes so much goodness and change and learning? What is it about just putting us together, do you think, makes this happen?
Jedidiah Butler: To me, it’s active learning. When you talk about effective methods for teaching students, and we dig on how ineffective lecturing is when we just talk to each other during collaboration, that’s the same thing. You’re just saying words and you’re not actually doing. You’re not acting it out together. You’re not role playing. You’re not trying to see what works and what doesn’t. And when you do lesson study, you’re seeing it in action.
Jedidiah Butler: Sometimes with ours, we even have the observers be more interactive, and depending on how you define your lesson study, that’s okay, or should it be, whatever. It’s a much more active experience. The teachers that are watching it happen, they’re not only seeing what preparation went into some kind of instruction. They’re seeing what moves the teacher uses on the fly to adjust. They’re seeing how the students receive it, how they respond. They’re seeing the whole picture. And when you get that experience, you learn so much better and you can take away so much more. It’s just active learning for teachers.
Kyle Pearce: That makes so much sense to me. Oftentimes, I’ve heard this said before. I don’t recall where it is from, but this idea of oftentimes in a professional learning community or collaboration time, or even sometimes at PD sessions, it’ll be trying to drive this taking good conversations to a learning conversation. And even at that, a learning conversation that doesn’t have the learners in the room, leaves out so much of the detail, and those details are what makes a lesson work or flop, right?
Kyle Pearce: What happens when a student says this? What happens when I run into this scenario where I thought I fully understood this concept, and then a student brings up a strategy that appears to work and I have no idea where it came from. It sounds to me like what you’re saying is putting it in action and then sort of multiplying the number of observers or the number of teachers in the room to try to unpack that as it’s happening, is so much more helpful, right?
Kyle Pearce: If I’m at the front and things aren’t going so well, I don’t have really the bandwidth in my mind to think of what’s going on. I’m just trying to get out of the situation, whereas those observers, they could be sitting there and kind of watching what the kids are doing as it’s happening, and so on and so forth.
Jedidiah Butler: I was going to say. This also ties into another motivational issue that Gabby and I would often encounter, that anyone encounters, because when you’re watching another teacher teach, almost at the top of everyone’s mind is, so is this official? Is this evaluative? Are you going to judge me? So from the beginning, we have to tell teachers, you’re going in this with a selfish motivation. You want to take things away from this experience that you can use in your classroom. So don’t think about giving the teacher feedback for your sake. Think about coming in as a learner and taking away for your own sake.
Jedidiah Butler: And that’s a big deal, and just having that, we get so many nuggets for each person, and they’re not even the same nuggets. What Gabby took away from a lesson is not what I took away, and what I took away is not what she took away.
Jon Orr: I think on the flip side of that is the teacher who is delivering the lesson, and I know from working with teachers in this, is that I think initially, when you bring up the idea to teachers that you’re going to do this process where we’re going to co-plan, and then one of us will go and we’ll all watch, I feel like there’s, maybe you’ve had this experience too, the teachers are going to be like, “I don’t really want to teach in front of my colleagues.” We’re always like, me, kids, me, kids, wait, there’s an adult in the room? That’s nervous. I’m now too nervous. What do you say to those people? What do you say to the teachers when you’re trying to convince them, hey, this is going to be okay, and this is going to be a good experience.
Gabrielle Mejia: Yeah, I want to validate what you’re saying, Jon and Kyle, what you said earlier, and Jed, active learning requires vulnerability, and the teacher is, to a degree, exposing themselves to other teachers in their practice, and it can be daunting. And there have always, at every first meeting, there are always teachers who say, “I’m interested but I don’t want to present,” and that’s okay. We’re always really good about making that okay and saying okay, we have something to learn from everyone, but you also have something to offer, so keep it in the back of your mind as you observe teachers what you also have to share.
Gabrielle Mejia: That vulnerability piece is so important to me because, I think I said it at NCTM, but the relationships amongst teachers is critical, and because our teaching day is so full of teaching and not collaborating, those times to connect are very limited. And so we were meeting during any break there or any opportunity that we had, but for a brand new teacher, for example, this year we added two brand new teachers to our team, who, when I asked them to join, agreed to join. And that was the big risk for them, because they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, but I’m experienced enough to know that I just don’t care if I flip or flop. I want to grow.
Gabrielle Mejia: But for them, I was so grateful for their willingness to just jump in and dive in to the opportunity to collaborate. And now, even though it’s been less than a year, even though lesson study is kind of on pause right now, we have developed a relationship from that lesson study experience, so we just pop into each other’s classrooms real quick. Okay, this is how I’m teaching it. How are you teaching it? Our board will be covered in ten minutes in talking about best practices, and I know that that would not be taking place had we not had the opportunity to bond through lesson study.
Kyle Pearce: You know, first of all, you had mentioned it earlier, getting vulnerable is so important. And it kind of ties in with this idea, and you mentioned it in your math moment at the beginning, Gabby, about this recent experience and you’re being observed, and you felt like you sort of got stuck at a point in the lesson, and what I’m feeling you say here is that really, we have to be okay with those challenges, with those failures.
Kyle Pearce: So to me, right now, you’re doing such a great job for all of our listeners with debunking these myths or these perceived barriers to why a lesson study might be too hard for me to try at my school, or in my district, or with my colleagues. What about teachers who are listening and thinking I love my colleagues, but some of them are just pretty content with what they do? What do you have to say about that? How could we maybe overcome that particular challenge?
Jedidiah Butler: I’ll answer that a little bit because Gabby and I have gone back and forth on this a lot, and she mentioned earlier how we have a conversation that everybody has something to take and everybody has something to give, and even if you have a teacher who is maybe more dry in their instruction, or a little more kind of old fashioned, there’s still things that they do well, and it’s trying to find how they do those things well.
Jedidiah Butler: Every teacher does do things well in their classroom, and a lot of times we don’t know what they are unless we go in and watch, and you’d be surprised. Doesn’t matter which room it is. Even if it’s just glorifying how awesome it was that they took attendance. That’s still part of teaching, and that’s still part of the classroom, and you’ll still take away that nugget, and it’ll impact you in a way that you can go and improve your classroom teaching back in your own room.
Jedidiah Butler: So there’s always something. It doesn’t matter their style, their background, their approach. They have something to offer. You just have to open your eyes, and we just, as a group, have to be able to embrace that.
Jon Orr: Let’s talk about the issue of time of… Not only just time of how do we plan all this, because I think we’ve addressed that. You guys are meeting on your lunches and your PLC times. What about the idea of time… How often do we have to do the lesson study?
Kyle Pearce: And how much are you meeting before you, let’s say, go into a class? Is it the same day? Is it the day before? Are there optimal schedules? And obviously, sometimes you have to deal with what you have, but do you have sort of something that’s kind of your sweet spot of how this would look and sound in terms of framing out a specific lesson, and then maybe even on a larger scale, like in your cycles.
Jedidiah Butler: In an ideal world, and when you look at traditional lesson study from Japan and such, it is constant, all the time, every day, every week. But in a reality where we’re still trying to develop it, Gabby had said earlier there’s a pre, there’s the teaching, and then there’s the post with the reflection. And we’ve kind of shrunk down our teaching day and our reflection into one day, and then we just have to do our pre far enough ahead of time that you can plan the lesson and hone it a little bit. And that’s working okay for us.
Jedidiah Butler: I don’t know, Gabby, if you want to say what’s, in your experience, what’s seemed to be effective in term of quantity and the timing of the lesson studies?
Gabrielle Mejia: I would say in an ideal world, you could have at least one day a month, and in that one day, the very first planning cycle, you’re going to have to meet during your planning time unless you’re given a separate day. Once that first planning session is done and you have your day where your subs are paid for, if you can observe, reflect, and then get the planning done for the next session, and just kind of meet at least once or twice in between that session and the next month, then that would be ideal. So I would say ideally, one day per month.
Jedidiah Butler: And I’ll add too, because Gabby was saying how much it made a difference with her team and the relationships they have, they only met one time last fall, and that’s it, and they still have lasting impacts. So the biggest message we had in our session at NCTM is you don’t have to wait until you have a final draft plan of your lesson study to do anything. You need a rough draft plan, you need to have something scheduled for pre, during, and post. Once you have that, just go. Just do it. Work together and watch each other teach.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I love that, and I think it’s so true for pretty much everything in life, right? Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Just go and get started. And in our district, we’re really trying to push people getting into their classrooms, and not necessarily in a formalized way, but obviously as formal as they feel comfortable. And in particular, our administrators, we have what we call Administrator Learning Teams in Greater Essex, and administrators get together with a team of colleagues, a team of principals, or if it’s a vice principal group, they’ll get together with their vice principal group.
Kyle Pearce: And what some teams have done is now, they’re actually going in and the administrators are going in to essentially co-plan, co-teach, and co-debrief with a teacher on their staff. We really do this buy in. We know that the administrator is so important when it comes to improving mathematical pedagogy, content knowledge, and just overall instruction in a building, in our elementary schools, anywhere from K through 8, we have administrators going in. And I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with a couple of these groups, and I’ll tell you, just from like you said. That one experience, the amount of trust that you see, and it’s not that these people haven’t trusted each other. It’s just they’ve never trusted each other in this way before, right?
Kyle Pearce: To go in, totally, it’s hitting all these points that you’ve mentioned. The idea of getting vulnerable, going in. Some of these administrators haven’t actually taught a math lesson, for some of them, it could’ve been like a decade ago when they were in the classroom teaching the math class, and they’re essentially saying to their colleagues as well as to their teachers, “I’m going in,” and I’m going to say rusty, and I’m not saying rusty because it’s not good. Just because they haven’t done it in so long, they haven’t actually greased the wheels in so long, and they’re saying, “We’re going to be okay with failure. There’s going to be times where this isn’t going to work out as well as we had hoped or thought in our minds.”
Kyle Pearce: And we’re seeing more and more of our ALT groups sort of taking the plunge. And all it takes is one person in that group to say, “I’m going to be the one to do it,” and it’s like, as soon as one does it and everyone sees, they’re like, “I can do that.” And then they’re all of a sudden all in and now they’re planning the next one.
Kyle Pearce: So it’s really exciting to see, and I just love how everything that you’ve laid out for us in this episode is really sort of echoing my own experience in being kind of the passive observer. I’m there for some of the planning, but I really try to let it be organic and just support when called upon, but essentially just watch it happen, and it’s really, really awesome to see.
Jedidiah Butler: I love how you said, “I can do that.” That’s so significant of all the people I’ve seen experience this. They look at it and they say, “I can do that.”
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. And it can look and sound different. That’s the beautiful part.
Jon Orr: I want to add to what Gabby said. We’ve been doing lesson study in my school for about four to five years now, and when we started lesson study, we were all unsure how that was going to go. We got vulnerable. We supported each other. But because of that, that math department that we were individuals before, but now we were a team. And when we did it, we also had the administrator on all of those planning sessions. And in Ontario right now, there is, the funding that we’re getting is from a program which is encouraging all of the administrators to be parts of these teams.
Jon Orr: So it was great to have the administrator help plans these lessons and observe these lessons, and like Kyle said, even teach some of these lessons. So the biggest benefit for us, in my department, is that we become so much closer and know what each of us are really strong at. And like you said, Jed, that when you go in and see, you pull something different every time you see a lesson, and how often do we ever get to do that? We never really get to do it, and I think we need to more.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. Break down those barriers. And another piece too that I’ve noticed, especially when it comes to this sort of activity, or even just different types of projects being involved, and a lot of times, you notice the greatest effects after the fact. So you learn a ton through the process and in the reflection, but then a year or two later, you kind of look back and you think, “Wow. I’m doing things much more differently than I was, say, a year or two ago.” And you start to kind of think back and follow the path, and you think all the roads sort of lead to these experiences where we kind of step outside our comfort zone a little bit.
Kyle Pearce: So I think that’s really significant. I hope people at home are listening and thinking, “You know what? I’m going to try to get this started with…” and all it takes, really, is one to start. It’s nice to have a nice group, but hey, just tap a colleague and say let’s do this together, and that group can definitely grow.
Kyle Pearce: So what I want to do at this point, because we’re coming to the end of our episode, we want to give you an opportunity to maybe share any resources or anything, places people can go to learn more about lesson study, but not just lesson study. Maybe a little bit more about Jed and Gabby. Where can they learn more about you and maybe be able to reach out to you and tap you for maybe to dive into some more specifics around your experiences with lesson study.
Gabrielle Mejia: Sure. So I’m available. Anyone can get in touch with me via Twitter. My handle is at Ladner Mejia. That’s L- A- D- N- E- R- M- E-J- I- A. And just to share a resource, there’s a website that gets teacher development trust. T D trust dot org. And if you type in T D trust dot org forward slash what is lesson study, that is a good place to start if you’re calling an interest meeting and want to break it down as simple as possible for your colleagues.
Jon Orr: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you for that.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. How about Jed?
Jedidiah Butler: I’m on Twitter as well at math butler. I have blogged in the past but not recently, and I would say feel free to reach out to me there. I probably should be sharing more than I do currently. Kids, you know.
Jon Orr: We know.
Kyle Pearce: You’ve got some little ones, don’t you?
Jedidiah Butler: Yeah. A one year old and a three year old. The thing that has impacted me in thinking about lesson study and trying to find structures for groups to work in, and also in coaching with teachers, is that TRU framework that I mentioned. And if I just do a web search for T- R- U math framework. And I type in math framework because it’s a math group that started it. And I’m sure we can get these links to you guys for your show notes or something.
Jon Orr: Sure. We’ll put them in.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. No problem.
Jedidiah Butler: Perfect. The one things I’d like to say about the TRU framework is they have these guides for facilitating conversation depending on which dimension that you want to focus on out of their big five, and it has guides if you’re a math educator, but it also has guides that are just worded more generally for any subject. So since I coach with teachers from all subjects, I’ve been using that as a model just for coaching with teachers as well as lesson study.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome. And if you folks don’t mind, I can also include in the show notes your NCTM resources.
Jedidiah Butler: Definitely.
Kyle Pearce: Is that okay if we share those out? It’s a bitly link. Bit dot L- Y forward slash lesson dash study dash now, and we will include those in the show notes for this episode. Well, Gabby and Jed, we want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences with lesson study. I love your open learning stance. I love how you’re giving people some actionable ways that they can overcome some of those barriers. Some technical and some that are just more personal and professional barriers that we sort of cast on ourselves.
Kyle Pearce: And I think I’ve learned a ton here, and I know that people listening at home have learned a ton, as well. So we want to thank you so much. On behalf of the Math Moment Maker community, we hope you have an amazing evening, and hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with you sometime soon.
Jedidiah Butler: Awesome. Thank you.
Kyle Pearce: Have a great night, friends. Wow. What an awesome conversation. Now, we shared some of our takeaways at the end of the interview. Now we want to know your big takeaways. Hit us up right now. Take out your phone, only if you’re not driving. Get online and either email us or tag us on Twitter and Facebook. What was the takeaway from this episode for you? Or maybe you have some questions. Send those our way, too. We’d love to keep the conversation going.
Jon Orr: Did you know that we are consistently hitting on the top education podcast charts each week? That’s because of your listens and your subscribes. Do us a huge favor so that we can reach as many math educators as possible by hitting subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.
Kyle Pearce: Have you checked out the Make Math Moments Academy yet? What? Are you kidding me? What are you waiting for? The academy is your home for ongoing support in implementing problem-based lessons, amping up your pedagogical moves, and stretching your math content knowledge. And it’s now open, and the Make Math Moments Academy community is waiting to welcome you in. You can decide if the academy is the right math professional development fit for you over at make math moments dot com forward slash academy. That’s make math moments dot com forward slash academy.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at make math moments dot com forward slash episode 30. Again, that is make math moments dot com forward slash episode 30.
Kyle Pearce: We release a new episode every Monday morning, so keep an eye open for our next episode. Well, until next time. I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And high fives for you.
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