Episode #46: How do I spark a love of learning in my fellow educators. A Math Mentoring Moment
Today on this Math Mentoring Episode we speak with Laura Tomas from Palm Beach county in Florida. Laura ‘s been teaching for 27 years and she’s an instructional coach for her school. Laura chats with us today about how we can spark the love of learning in our fellow teachers and colleagues. Stick around while we talk about how being vulnerable can allow you to become a better educator, how you can help teachers create a lifelong learning attitude for themselves, and a bunch of tips on how to help switch educators mindsets.
- How being vulnerable can allow you to become a better educator,
- How you can help teachers create a lifelong learning attitude for themselves,
- Tips on how to help switch educators mindsets.
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Laura Tomas: Well, I think the one question, and if we come up with the answers we will be millionaires, I’m sure, is as an instructional coach, how do I spark the love of learning in my teachers? Because I feel like we’re in the business of learning, so we should all be lifelong learners, but I also understand we all have lives. You don’t have the time to learn or [crosstalk 00:00:28].
Jon Orr: What amazes me about our guest today is how persistent, dedicated, and passionate she is about her teaching role. You’ll see how Laura shows this over and over again in this episode.
Kyle Pearce: Today on this Math Mentoring episode we speak with Laura Tomas from Palm Beach County in Florida. Laura’s been teaching for 27 years, and she’s an instructional coach for her school. Laura chats with us today about how we can spark the love of learning in our fellow teachers and colleagues.
Jon Orr: Stick around while we talk about how being vulnerable can allow you to become a better educator, how you can help teachers create a lifelong learning attitude for themselves, and a bunch of tips on how to help switch educators’ mindsets. Here we go. Play it.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from TapIntoTeenMinds.com.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr from MrOrr-IsAGeek.com. 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. Welcome to episode number 46. How do I spark a love of learning in my fellow educators? A math mentoring moment with Laura Tomas. Let’s do this.
Jon Orr: This is another map mentoring moment episode with many more to come where we have a conversation with a member of the making math moments that matter community like you who is working through a challenge and together we brainstorm ideas and next steps to help overcome it.
Kyle Pearce: Before we get to our chat with Laura, we want to give a quick listener shout out to Trice77331 who left us this review on iTunes. I absolutely love these podcasts. I feel like I’m at Fogo de Chão of mathematics, a smorgasbord of ideas for next year. Some I’ve heard of, some I wanted to try and some are totally exotic to me, and some go against my old school way of thinking. Thank you so much for your time and effort in putting this project together. I’m excited to try new things.
Jon Orr: If you’ve been loving the project Cast leave us a review on iTunes just like Trice7731 did by outlining your biggest takeaway. Reviews help more educators hear about the show and in turn, we can help make more math moments that matter for students.
Jon Orr: We encourage you to register for the Make Math Moments Virtual Summit. Yes, that’s right. We are running a free online math professional development summit for K to 12 educators. The Make Math Moments Virtual Summit is running on Saturday, November 16th and Sunday, November 17th. And will feature sessions from past and upcoming Make Math Moments that matter podcast guests, Sunil Singh, Dr. Nicki Newton, Skip Fennell and his team of the formative five authors and many more.
Kyle Pearce: Register for this year’s summit at makemathmoments.com/summit.
Jon Orr: Listening to this episode after November 17th 2019, you can still head to makemathmoments.com/summit to add your name to the wait list for the next Make Math Moments Virtual Summit.
Kyle Pearce: Go ahead. Head on over and get yourself registered. Makemathmoments.com/summit, makemathmoments.com/summit. Now let’s get to our chat with Laura. Here we go.
Jon Orr: Hey there, Laura. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcasts. How are you doing this lovely summer day? Yes, we are recording this in the summer. But how are you doing today, Laura?
Laura Tomas: Well, I’m doing fantastic. I haven’t walked outside yet. But I know it’s going to be at least in the 90s, and then the next will be in the hundreds today.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that’s quite hot. Jon and I are living around the Great Lakes, so we know what humidity is all about here in southwestern Ontario. People think that just because we’re in Canada that we don’t know what heats all about, but it gets pretty sticky here as well. Laura, do us a favor. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you coming to us from? How long have you been teaching, and give us a little background on your teaching journey?
Laura Tomas: Okay, well, my name is Laura Tomas and I live in Palm Beach County, Florida, which is in South East Florida. First, I want to thank you for having me on your podcast. I’ve listened to every single one of yours.
Kyle Pearce: Amazing.
Jon Orr: Wow.
Laura Tomas: I would love to talk about later, maybe the two that really stuck with me the most. I just finished my 27th year teaching which is unbelievable to me. I’ve had all 27 years in Palm Beach County. I’ve really lived here since I was five. I’ve been a South Floridian pretty much my whole life. After I graduated from college, I came here to teach. I started working at a middle school doing special-ed for seven years and then I jumped into the elementary world, and I’ve stuck there ever since. I stayed 20 years in the classroom, and then the last seven years I’ve been a math coach.
Jon Orr: Awesome. Awesome. Thanks for that. Sharing that little bit about yourself. I’m a little bit curious about this, a little bit more of the backstory. What led you to want to be in this teacher role? How did you stumble across this field?
Laura Tomas: I fell in love with my second grade teacher. When I was seven years old, that’s when I decided I was going to be a teacher and I never looked back. I was at a private Catholic school growing up K to eight. And I was always in that “high” math group because I was that good memorizer and good at procedures. Like I know you guys understand. When I went into high school, I started at our private Catholic high school here. And in ninth grade, I took geometry because in eighth grade, I took algebra so that’s the path that you take. Geometry teacher you have so much of my… What’s the word I’m searching for? Your guys are great. However, I did not jive with geometry very well. I was more the numbers, I guess side of math. The procedure rather than proving all of this.
Laura Tomas: “What are you talking about, I have to prove it’s a triangle? It’s a triangle.”
Jon Orr: You like the function math? Yeah, the algebra math.
Laura Tomas: Well you would think I’d be a function girl. But yes, the algebra math was for sure. 10th grade at that school, you took algebra two trig together. I don’t know if it was a semester of each. But the course I remember was called algebra two trig. And then I switched schools. I went to the public school for 11th and 12th grade. I get to my guidance counselor in the summer, and he says, “Well, in 11th grade, you should really take analytic geometry and trig.” And I looked at him and I said, “Well, I didn’t like geometry, and I’ve already taken trig. Put me in math analysis, which is pre-calc.” And he’s like, “Okay.” This is the part that really nobody knows about me. My first quarter in math analysis, I got a D on my report card. I had no idea what was going on. And the teacher again, maybe he wasn’t the best teacher for me.
Laura Tomas: I’ll just say it that way. I ended up getting a B the second quarter, a C the third quarter. And by the grace of God, I don’t know how I got an A for the last quarter, which says to me, back then I should have realized grades are ridiculous. Then you had to take a test to get into calculus for senior year. Of course my whole high school career, I thought I’d be taking calculus my senior year because that’s the path that I’m on. Well, I sat down to take the test and I had no idea what any of that was. I sat down with my guidance counselor in the summer between my junior and senior year, and I said to him, “Well, I didn’t get into calculus, but I still want to take math.” Somehow I talked him into letting me take the course called Integrated Math. He says to me, “Laura, that’s going to be like steps below the math that you’ve taken.” And I convinced him by saying, “But it’s going to get me ready a great review for the SAT.”
Laura Tomas: I sat in that class, and that really is where my teaching profession began. Because everybody around me, all the students had never seen math that I’ve already taken since middle school, and so I ended up teaching those kids around me in that class because again, that teacher bless her heart. It was all procedural back then, and even for me, and I tried to help the students learn those procedures and everything. Towards the, I guess, middle of my senior year, I took the CLEP test, and I actually looked it up. They still have it these days. Where you can just take the test and if you get a high enough score, you don’t have to take the class in college, they just give you college credit. I took the CLEP test and I got a high enough score that in college I didn’t take one math class. I get into my methods of teaching elementary math class in college. And I remember the professor trying to teach me different basis. I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand. We’re a base 10 system.
Jon Orr: We are?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah Exactly.
Laura Tomas: Fast forward to about three years ago, I was in a workshop in the summer for teachers, and listening to this professor teach whatever, and he brings up different basis. And of course, my heart just sinks into my stomach, because I remember thinking, I don’t know anything about this. Well, that Professor brought out our two colored counters the red and the yellow sided, the two colored sides, and he starts teaching us using these counters and the light bulb comes on for me and I was like, “That’s it? That’s what that guy was trying to teach me procedurally back when I was in college.” I think right then and there I knew how important concrete representational abstract was. But that’s when it really set in for me that we have got to be teaching kids hands on forever.
Kyle Pearce: That story is so… There were so many things. I’ve jotted down so many notes here to comment on. The first thing if I start from the beginning and work my way up, just to think that the impact. I want everyone listening to always remember the impact and influence we can have on students in our classroom and for you, your grade two teacher, your second grade teacher basically had put you on a trajectory to want to become a teacher, and that to me is so powerful. That at such an early age, someone can have such an influence on young people. I think it’s really easy for us to miss those pieces as educators that many times kids don’t necessarily tell us. They might do the head nod, or they might smile here and there. But sometimes we don’t hear that full story. And when you do get that one story from a student who comes back and says how much you’ve influenced them, we always have to keep in mind there’s so many other students that you’ve likely influenced, that haven’t actually shared that story with you.
Kyle Pearce: That was the first thing that really resonated with me. And then the second one, and I love it, you came to this conclusion yourself that when you yourself are trying to learn something, and you aren’t seeing it procedurally, and then when someone brings out the concrete manipulatives, how important and how helpful and impactful that can be on a learner. It’s really hard for us as educators, especially when we’re teaching concepts that maybe are so ingrained in us that we don’t really see the need for the concrete, and oftentimes we think the concrete manipulatives actually make it more complicated. I’ve heard teachers say that before. Is that, “We’re going to confuse the kids.” I think really what it is, is it’s our own discomfort that we don’t really understand what’s going on, and we have to actually think about it because we’ve never been forced to think about it before. Your example of working in different bases is so key here, because oftentimes, and I think it was Mike Flynn. I think Mike’s going to be coming on the podcast in the next little while as well.
Kyle Pearce: Mike Flynn does something with different bases to really help teachers see how challenging learning a new idea can be when you don’t already know the procedure. And that for me is such a big takeaway. Thank you so much for sharing that. That sounds like a big, kind of a really cool journey that you’ve been on and now 27 years later, as a instructional coach in your school or in your district, you have essentially come full circle, right? You came in and you struggled along the way. You’ve overcome those challenges. And then you’ve landed on this idea of concrete, representational and abstract how important that is for students in your classroom. Tipping our caps to you for that one. I feel like you have shared some really memorable moments here. But are there any other memorable moments that come to mind maybe as a student or a teacher that you wanted to share before we start diving in here into this mentoring moment episode?
Laura Tomas: I think one of the most memorable moments was probably… It was the year before Common Core came out. So I want to say maybe about 2009. I knew Common Core was coming, so I was trying to prepare myself, because I’m a self-learner, how I could get better at teaching these things that all we used to do is procedurally. One of the books that I came across was Math Matters, by Suzanne Chapin and Art Johnson. They had a thing in there about partial quotients. That was the first time I had ever seen partial quotients. We’re talking about 2009, so about 10 years ago. And I remember with one of my fifth grade classes, we dove into the standard algorithm. I had them break it apart into… Well, what does this mean? It’s not just four goes into seven and all of that. By the time that one question was done, at least 25 minutes had passed, and one of my students just blurted out, he was like, “We just spent 25 minutes on one problem?” And I was like, “Yes. Isn’t that awesome?” That’s probably one of my most memorable math moments.
Jon Orr: It’s an interesting idea because I think a lot of teachers, one of their first road… They’ll put up roadblocks trying to think about teaching conceptually or with concrete. manipulatives is that we only have 45 minute classes or an hour classes or like us, we have 75 minute classes, but you spent half that time or all that time on one problem. And that’s the roadblock for them, because they’re like, “Well, I could have shown them eight problems or 10. And we could have practice 20 problems in that same time.” I know that you probably know this from experience, is that one problem broke down so many misconceptions. Probably brought forward so many connections between the concepts that we’re trying to learn, like that one problem can be so much more powerful for the students to wrap their heads around like math and why it’s important to do math. Like there’s so many questions, so many things that get answered in one good problem, versus 2020 just standardized practice problems, don’t you agree?
Laura Tomas: It’s so funny because I remember in ’92, back in the ’90s, or as my 15 year old son says now back in the 1900s, I’m like, “Oh, really? Geez.”
Jon Orr: Right, yeah. That’s hilarious.
Laura Tomas: Back in the ’90s when I first started teaching, they kept saying, “We need to become the facilitator.” But nobody would ever talk about how to become that facilitator. What you just said about, “We could have shown the kids”, and as soon as you said that, I was like, “Yep, that’s what I used to do all the time. I was that traditional teacher.” But then when things started clicking for me, I became what I consider a math rebel, because I am not their traditional teacher anymore. I love in Episode 29 when Jennifer said she’s now the meddler in the middle. I was like, “Oh, I totally have to steal that.” Because that’s how I feel I am. I’m not the guide on the side, and I’m not the sage on the stage. I do try to be the meddler in the middle because I do try to ask good questions to kids, instead of showing them, instead of spoon feeding them.
Jon Orr: That brings up, I think it was Sara VanDerWerf. We heard her talk last year, and she said one of the things that she’ll never do is tell them if they can tell them or figure it out themselves. It’s like only tell them after they’ve figured it out themselves, so it’s a good point. Do you mind sharing… Thinking about your role right now in your district, mind sharing, like what a recent success looks like, or that you experienced and what that might look like?
Laura Tomas: I am an instructional coach at one elementary school. Since we’re Title One, they buy our positions for a math coach and a reading coach. I’m the math coach at one school, within my district, and my district is huge so we have many coaches. One success that I’ve had, probably with a teacher… Actually, I would say it was this past year, when your podcasts first came out, and I was listening to all of them. I fell in love with Episode Three, where you all talked about the CRA, the Concrete Representational Abstract, and I think kept telling all my teachers, “You have to listen to this. This is amazing. This is fantastic.” Well, every time I asked somebody, nobody had listened to it. So I went to my principal and I said, “Hey, this is amazing. All of our teachers need to listen to it. Can I hijack a PLC?” So I did that. So everybody in my school, listened to Episode Three. I broke it down into K one and two, we were all together and three, four and five, we were all together. And then the following week, we came back and discussed everything.
Laura Tomas: I had them take notes with everything when they were listening, and then I asked some guiding questions the following week. I think if I just touched one teacher, which I think I did, because I asked for a reflection at the end, and it made them question how they were doing math. How they were teaching math, I should say. I think, “Hey, if I got to get to that one teacher, that’s going to make a difference with that many more students.”
Kyle Pearce: I’m so happy that you shared that story of success. We’ve seen a lot of people on social media who’ve been sharing something similar where they’re either bringing some of the podcasts or some of the other pieces that we’ve shared online into a PLC. We actually recently… I’m going to try to add it to the show notes to go back and find that tweet where there was a group of educators who are out for their… they called it a “podcast talk”, kind of like a book talk. They had gathered at a local restaurant, a local establishment. I think they were having all very, very fancy adult drinks there in the photo, but having discussions about the different podcast episodes. That’s so awesome to hear that you brought that in and tried to help share some of that message with teachers, because I think that could be not only like you were sharing a success there, but in a way that was a bit of a challenge that you have is, how do we get teachers to see and find the value in some of the professional learning resources that are out there?
Kyle Pearce: People are busy. They’re not sure. Just because you like it doesn’t mean necessarily, “Hey, well, Laura likes it, so then I’m going to like it.” But then once you experience something, it can really build and resonate into something else. We’re finding a lot of people in our Math Moments Academy are doing something similar, where they’re actually a part of a academy community, and then they bring that idea or some idea from one of the courses inside the Academy. They bring it to a PLC, and they do some sharing there as well. So all amazing ideas. I love how you found a way to bring that to another group. And then even if one or two people say, “Hey, I’m going to try to listen to a couple more episodes and try to get involved here,” that could be the biggest challenge, is trying to get people over that belief burden that we carry. Like we’ve grown and learned ourselves in a particular type of system. I know I have and I know for me, it was really difficult to overcome this idea of, “No, this is how math is taught.” If I want to be rigorous with my students, I have to do things in a certain way. But until my belief shifts have happened, I wasn’t necessarily seeking out those professional opportunities.
Kyle Pearce: Sometimes it’s just that one little thing. Again, just like teachers, coaches have to always remember too. Sometimes we don’t hear the impact or the influence that we’ve had on people, so I’m sure that there’s at least one person in that room who may have started to go, “You know what? Maybe I want to flip the switch on maybe some of my beliefs, or start digging into more learning.” That’s really awesome. I’m wondering if we can build off of that success, and then maybe do you have any challenges that are on your mind like anything that you’ve experienced along your teaching journey, or anything that’s on your mind lately that we can start diving into here on this mentoring moment episode?
Laura Tomas: Well, I think the one question and if we come up with the answers, we will be millionaires I’m sure is, as an instructional coach, how do I spark the love of learning in my teachers? Because, I feel like we’re in the business of learning, so we should all be lifelong learners. But I also understand we all have lives. You don’t have the time to learn, or maybe even teachers don’t have the desire to learn. But thinking more broadly, “How do I get my teachers to want to learn better ways, maybe different ways, so that it’s going to affect positively our students?” Because I keep talking about spoon feeding things. And here, “Let me show you how to do this.” That’s one side. Where the other side is more of the discovery learning, and let’s let the kids learn. It’s funny as I reflected, before we started, I was like, “You know what? They’re going to probably do the coaching thing like I do, where I flip it right back on the person and say, “Well, how do you do it?”” If you have suggestions, I will take them, but I figure you’re going to probably flip that right back on.
Jon Orr: [crosstalk 00:24:19] You’re right, you nailed it. Let me just restate for everybody listening. It sounds like what you’re saying is, you’re trying to figure out, you’ve got a whole bunch of teachers that you’re trying to… You know the benefits from your probably personal experience of this lifelong learning, like you’ve learned so much, probably just even in the last few years to change teaching, and you’re trying to spark that same level of learning in the teachers at your school. And how do you go do that, because there are teachers there that clearly don’t want to, or they have other reasons or there’s excuses popped up. That’s the big challenge right now right? Is how do I spark the love of learning for these teachers that I work with every day? I guess yeah, the question back to you first would be like you clearly tried some things, you just mentioned a couple of them. What have you seen work so far? Or what have you tried that didn’t work? Like what are you trying so far before Kyle, and I give our two cents on all this stuff?
Laura Tomas: Okay. A lot of times, I will blast out emails. However… Whatever’s in my email, I think is super important. But we know that a lot of times teachers just hit the delete button and don’t even open up their email. Other things that I’ve tried is if I find an article, or something that I call them cheat sheets, but you probably call them tip sheets. Your tip sheets that you all have created, like the automaticity versus memorization, or the principles of counting and cardinality. One article that I… There’s two absolutely love. One is the 13 Rules That Expire by Sarah Bush and her friends. And then the other one is Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say. Those articles at the beginning of every school year, if there’s a new teacher, the first year that I went to my current school, the 13 Rules That Expire, that was the first one that went out. And then you hope people read them.
Laura Tomas: If a teacher comes up to me and says something, “Oh my gosh” whatever. I’m like, “Yes. At least I got to one person,” where they’re on their journey. Other times as an instructional coach, I’ll go into classrooms and either model lessons or co-teach, which we all know that that goes into the planning cycle. You’ve definitely got a plan. I’m really hoping this year’s PLCs our Professional Learning Communities, focus more on content, and how we’re going to teach this, because I’m all about the why, not just how. Because that’s how we learned. We just learned the how and not the why behind it. Those are some of the things that I’m trying to do. I’m the big hugger on campus, so everybody knows that when they see me they’re going to get a big hug. When I meet you two, you’re going to get-
Kyle Pearce: We get a hug.
Laura Tomas: … a giant hug from me.
Kyle Pearce: Trust building, I love it.
Jon Orr: All right.
Laura Tomas: Yup.
Jon Orr: I’m wondering if your past teaching experience was similar to mine, that I was a very traditional teacher. I would say more than I am not. Do you remember… What is the moment that you changed? What was going on there? What caused you to make those changes? What maybe you looked, “Oh, I need to do this now and not these other things that I’ve been doing for so many years.”? Like I was doing, the way I was taught for more than 10 years before I started to make changes. I’m wondering for you, what was that moment if there is a moment that you were like, “I can trace it back. This thing that happened or this year that happened, or what’s going around there?
Laura Tomas: I don’t know if there was a particular… I mean, I’m sure there was a particular moment, but, I’m old. So I don’t know if I can remember. But I do know that in 2012, I was blessed to attend the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy. And I have to tell you, that was the best week of professional development I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve been through a lot of professional development and also facilitated a lot of PD. But I think those hands on experiences, and I think that’s where I learned about Number Talks. I know that they’ve been around since the ’80s, ’90s with Kathy Richardson and Ruth Parker, but I didn’t know about it back then. Because all of you younger teachers back in the ’90s we… the internet was just starting and we actually had to look at catalogs and mail away for things [inaudible 00:28:57].
Jon Orr: Think of the risk [inaudible 00:28:59] the risk you had to take to go like “Which one I’m I going to buy?” Like you just had to stab in the dark, right?
Laura Tomas: And now you can preview everything on Amazon and talk to people, and…
Jon Orr: For sure.
Laura Tomas: … it’s amazing. I think just being that learner I did read, Jo Boaler’s What’s Math Got to Do with It? Back in maybe if I had to guess 2008, 2009. And that, I think was one of those pivotal moments. I think right before Common Core came out is when everything was starting to come together for me.
Jon Orr: Yeah, I echo some of those same things. And when you said that some of those hands on experiences, when you experienced the learning and the power of what you discovered in that experiential learning, I think I mimic that is I probably sat in some really good PD sessions that were modeled really well, and you could see how that might be played out in your classroom and those same books like I read, What’s Math Got to Do with It? a while ago, and Marian Small stuff on Open Questions. Those are some of my first experiences in changing. I think it was like really good modeling of PD that helped me see how that would look in my classroom. I think that’s really important for teachers. Kyle, what about you? Like what made you start to change and see some differences?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I’m sitting back here, and I’m listening to both of you speak. I know obviously Jon, I know a lot about your own transformation. Again, like the transformation’s never complete. It’s always ongoing, and we continue to learn, and I’d argue that now we realize, we know way less than we ever thought we knew. We thought we knew a lot early on, and we started making changes, and all of a sudden, we’re like, “Oh, I think we got this. This is good.” Then you go do that. Then you go, “Oh, wait a second. I guess I don’t.” That can really hurt your ego quite a bit. I know for me I’ve mentioned it many times before, having an opportunity to go to a regional conference, for us it was OAME. That was the thing that really got me started. Before that I was always keen. I was always keen to try new things, but it was so like stuck in the traditional belief system, the many unproductive beliefs. I tried to make my classes as easy as possible for students like not challenging.
Kyle Pearce: I thought the only way all students could access the mathematics I had to teach was by essentially spoon feeding it. I tricked myself for a long time thinking that that would work. And even I tricked other people, because even my administrators and even superintendents like they thought like, “Wow, this guy has “figured it out.” It was just because the grades were high, and kids were showing up and, there were a few things that were working there but they weren’t learning rich mathematics. They weren’t actually becoming better mathematicians, they were just becoming better at the game that I was essentially trying to smooth out the field as much as possible within that very narrow way of thinking. After seeing others speak at that first conference, it was like, I came back and I was like, again, like, thought I had to figure it out, right? Three act math tasks, we’re going to save the day. They did transform how… like the energy of my class and the interest level and the engagement. All those things were so key, but it was like, that was one piece.
Kyle Pearce: Then I was like, “Oh, darn, there’s other stuff out there.” It’s addictive for me anyway. I just wanted to keep digging deeper and deeper and going down these rabbit holes. They’re not like negative rabbit holes. They’re like, it’s intriguing to me, and it makes us wonder, like, when we come back here, how do we go about trying to inspire others to jump in just like you have for your 27 years, and the last seven years being in a role where you’re trying to essentially help move teachers towards this. Not towards like your thinking but towards a thinking of learning stance, and trying to build your practice and start to at least consider things a little differently. For Jon and I, when we set things up for our Math Moment Maker community, we have it so easy. The reason I say that is because people who are listening to this podcast right now, the ones who chose on their own, like they are already past the point of that struggle that you’re referencing.
Kyle Pearce: For example, people who are in our online Academy, the Math Moment Maker Academy, they’re in there, and they’ve essentially chosen themselves. Like we didn’t really have to do anything, so it was like, “That’s easy.” But when I go to my own district, or when Jon travels to another district to do a PD session, that’s when things get more challenging. Because that struggle is there. You’re dealing with some teachers who were told by their administrator to show up for that PD session. Or you’re in a building where you’re essentially just trying to build that trust and you do it through hugs, which I think is great. Other people do it in different ways to try to build that trust and get them into the classroom. I’m wondering if we zoom in on this group. And again, this is like a group of educators. I’m going to say a large group of educators who haven’t had that epiphany, like you or Jon or I, or the other people listening to this podcast.
Kyle Pearce: They haven’t had that epiphany yet, so it sounds to me like we’re trying to help them have that epiphany. I’m wondering, if we were somehow like you said, we got super rich because we figured this thing out on this podcast episode today, what would the solution look like or sound like to the struggle, let’s say like, five years from now? What would things be if we were able to somehow find a way to overcome this huge challenge that I’m sure so many other instructional coaches and consultants are facing themselves in their own districts?
Laura Tomas: I guess it would look like when you walk into their classroom, the kids are not just engaged, but are thinkers, and are learners. And they’re not just passively sitting in rows and columns. I still don’t… That still happens in places, but where the kids are doing the work?
Kyle Pearce: What would it look like in the staff room, or the teachers, or at your PD sessions? What would that look like? Sound like?
Laura Tomas: I guess, with the teachers, it would be everybody sharing their best practices of how … Essentially it would be great if it could be done in the before, the planning session, of how are we going to, “teach” this? And I say teach with quotation marks around it, because I don’t want it to sound like the traditional… I guess it’s, “How are the kids going to learn this?” I guess this is the way. Because the word teacher, it makes us sound like we’re the all knowing, we’re the answer givers. Where we should be the learner helpers? I don’t know what we should be called anymore, so that we’re not the sage on the stage. I did think of two more moments that were very impactful for me. One was when I went to that teachers academy, one of the books that we were given was Good Questions for Math Teaching by Peter Sullivan and Pat Lilburn. And that was the whole open ended questions, low floor high ceiling. That book changed me. That was 2012 was the first state conference that I went to For FCTN, Florida Council for Teachers Mathematics.
Laura Tomas: I was like, “Why haven’t I known about this before?” Which then of course branched into NCTM, which I have not been blessed to attend an annual one. I did go to the regional one because it was near me in Orlando a few years ago. But the other very impactful moment was at the 2014 FTCM conference, Dan Meyer was one of our keynote speakers. I thought, “Why haven’t I heard of this guy?” There’s so many great people out there, educators out there that I think Twitter has definitely helped in that, because I was a late joiner, and actually the reading coach at my other school told me I needed to join. I was like, “Why do I need to join Twitter?” She said, “Because there’s so much great PD on there.” I thought, “In 180 characters, how can there be great PD?” But then of course you go down those rabbit holes and I find myself down those rabbit holes a lot, which is great. But it doesn’t help when I don’t tell my husband how many Amazon orders I have, or all the books that I’ve ordered.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, totally.
Laura Tomas: Which I’m currently reading Math Recess, so I’m thanking you too for that purchase.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, nice. Sunil, nice shout out for Sunil there. That’s an excellent, excellent read. I just actually read an article from him this morning that he had thrown out there, and it was about Brene Brown. His article was about how basically we need her to come into the math space and to actually do a keynote at a math conference. And he went on and I’m just finishing up her book called Dare to Lead, and that’s a great book. We’ll put that in the show notes. Jon, it was your recommendation there, so I read that. It’s not math specific by any means, but it really does apply to what we’re discussing here in it. The part that really resonates with me, and it came up in Sunil’s article was this idea of becoming vulnerable. Oftentimes when we, and I’m saying you as a coach and myself in a consultant role, and Jon being in the classroom, but oftentimes going out and doing workshops, live or online.
Kyle Pearce: We often are thinking about, “How do we help other people become vulnerable?” I think one of the biggest things that we can do is try to make ourselves vulnerable. I’m thinking about some of the barriers that have sort of… You’ve essentially said them and how you’ve described some of the struggle, and this idea of like, oftentimes, we have this fear of failure, and I’m putting ourselves in there, because I still have a fear of failure. When I go into a new setting, a new classroom I go to a new conference, and I’m presenting in front of people I’ve never met before, I still have that fear of failure. And how do we help ourselves become more vulnerable just like in Dare to Lead, how they continually talk about how important it is for us to essentially shed the armor, she calls it in the book. Shed the armor so that if we put ourselves and expose ourselves, then I want to say it’s contagious in some ways.
Kyle Pearce: It’s like we’re putting ourselves out there, and we’re showing people that it’s okay to not know it all. I think it’s really easy for us to get stuck in this idea of like, I want you to have a learning stance, but then the actions that I’m portraying, and the stance that I’m modeling is one of me knowing things right? We have this pressure to fake it till you make it. I see this in education all the time. Not just with teachers, I see it with administrators too, because administrators, those poor people come into that role and they’re expected to know everything. Like they’re expected to be a lead learner, they’re expected to budget, they’re expected to know maintenance of the building. They’re expected to discipline like adults, when they don’t do their job. It’s really hard to be good at all of those things. Whether you’re a teacher or an administrator, just this idea that we need to become more vulnerable, so that we’re not faking it till we make it.
Kyle Pearce: I think the only way that we can help other people do that is by us really working on that ourselves. I know I think about it a lot, and I’m working on it, and it’s going to be something that I’m sure I will continually have to work on for the rest of my life. Because as a human being, I think it’s natural for us to have that shield up, because we don’t want to get hurt. Whether it’s emotionally or physically, we want to protect ourselves. In education, it’s so easy for us to feel like we’re not good enough, or I don’t want anyone to think I don’t have the answers or that I’m not a good enough teacher, or I’m not prepared. Jon, what are your thoughts on this, as we are talking about vulnerability and then also about like, how we might be able to maybe help ourselves as coaches? If it’s an administrator listening to this podcast, what else might we be able to do to influence others to become more vulnerable, and then also to start maybe thinking a little differently about how they go about teaching math?
Jon Orr: That relates to what you’re saying about the vulnerability because I think that’s one of the biggest barrier of why our teachers are putting up blocks to learning these things. It’s the response of the teacher that says, like, “I don’t have much time.” Really, is that what it is? Or is it that I don’t want to try something new, and then fail at it and look silly in front of kids or even adults? That’s the one that I hear the most from teachers, that I said like, “I’m not going to do this in front of my class, unless I’m really good at it, or I’ve practiced this a million times.” But you’re never going to get there if you don’t do it in front of your students. It’s a catch 22 in that case. I think the vulnerability is huge, and I think that’s the biggest thing we need to think about. Laura, have you read Switch that’s by the heath brothers Chip and Dan Heath?
Laura Tomas: I have not okay.
Jon Orr: This one helped me a lot. It’s not a math book, it’s a book about changing people’s beliefs or changing people’s routines. Helping people see something different and switching their habits. I read it a few years ago, actually, on a way to… I listen to it, most of the time we listen to our books through Audible, and it’s a really good one. The Heath brothers, they have three big ideas on how to change people’s beliefs on whatever you want to change. It’s mostly a business book, but the practicality of it for math education is huge, and I took a lot away from it. The three big things that Switch talks about is, in order to change someone’s beliefs about something. Like we want to change the way our teachers are viewing PD, and thinking about getting them that spark of love of learning. That love of learning is huge for them, and not everyone is doing that. They’re just kind of… I have a teacher that’s like, “I strongly believe I’m still doing the right thing by giving all this stuff. I’m showing them how to do it, and I’m marking homework and giving out 1000 questions.”
Jon Orr: They still strongly believe that they’re doing the right thing. The heath brothers say… There’s three things. The first one is that we need… If you think about… You have to imagine this. You have to imagine that there is a person sitting on top of an elephant, and that person is trying to go somewhere. If you can imagine that, that situation, then these three tips, these three big ideas will fall into place. The three things you have to do is, to help that person sitting on the elephant go to where they want to go, you have to direct the rider. What they mean by that is, directing the rider is like you have to think about the rationality part of your brain, or the person’s brain. You have to show them this is the right path for these reasons. This is the person that’s very literal. They need to see the stats, they need to see the practicality of it. They need to see it works. That’s directing the rider. It’s like, “You should do this because of these reasons.” It’s very rational and it makes sense, that’s the first part, is you have to direct the writer.
Jon Orr: The second part, which is the bigger part is you have to motivate the elephant. The rider can go, “I want to go over there.” They can try to like pull the elephant while sitting on it, or direct to the elephant to go that way. But if the elephant doesn’t want to go that way, then the elephant’s not going that way, because the elephant is huge. The elephant gets to decide where they really go if the elephant wants to go there. So you have to motivate the elephant. The elephant since it’s so huge, is the emotional side of people. This is like I have to strongly believe about things. This is the part of your brain that if it’s hungry, it’s going to eat. This is the part of your brain that you’re like, “I know I should be marking right now, but I’m really going to watch Netflix because that’s quick…”
Kyle Pearce: The elephant always wins in that situation.
Jon Orr: Yeah, that instant gratification, right? That’s the elephant. The elephant is that huge part of our person that takes over based on emotion and feeling and basically… But, you know what I’m saying is… And then the third part is, okay, so if you can direct the rider. Like you’ve told the writer like, we should be doing these for these reasons and like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” And then you’ve motivated the elephant, like you’re giving people that clear, like, “Oh, that was amazing. I think I can do that.” Then you also have to clear the path. That’s the third thing. Clearing the path is about making it real easy to do these things that you want them to do. Because sometimes there’s hoops in the way. There’s things that make it hard to do that. Sometimes these little things are called nudges. Like you can nudge a person in a certain direction. You can make it easier to clear the path.
Jon Orr: Here’s an easy example for a nudge. This is from I think, the book Nudge by Richard Thaler. I think there’s a town in Denmark, I think it is that they had traditionally had very low rates for organ donation, less than like 10% of the people were donating their organs and it wasn’t like… they signed up for the organ donation cards. So what they did was they just switched the idea. Because you had to opt in to donate your organs. I think we have to do that here too. What that government did is like, you know what? We’re not going to make it an opt in, we’re going to make an opt out. And so automatically everyone was enrolled to be an organ donor, but you could opt out if you strongly believed you didn’t want to do that. All of a sudden, they had 95% of people, organ donors, and no one opt out. That wasn’t because it was like everyone was all of a sudden, like, I really want to donate organs. It was just because it was real easy to do that, right?
Jon Orr: It was harder to do the behavior that the government wanted them or didn’t want them to do. They made it real easy for the behavior they wanted to do and hard to do the one they didn’t want to do. That’s like what clearing the path is. It’s like what can I do in my school or in my job when I’m working with them on the PD sessions to make it real easy to do the thing I want them to do, and hard to do the thing I don’t want them to do?
Kyle Pearce: It’s such a great example. I’m thinking a lot of people at home are going to benefit a huge amount just by the three pieces there. Directing the rider, motivating the elephant, clearing the path. Definitely worth reading that book. There’s some great examples. For me, I made my own connection just listening to you Jon explaining it, because recently, I’d say maybe three months ago, we both actually read the book Atomic Habits. That’s a great book as well. It doesn’t describe it the way that they do in the book Switch. But he does give this idea the scenario, and he uses jogging as like a great example. I literally in my mind picturing myself, I know every morning I want to get up for a run, that’s like me being the rider. But getting myself to motivate the elephant, me, in the bed, trying to get out of bed in the morning is really hard. So how I clear the path is by setting myself a super low hanging fruit goal, which is, “I want to put my shoes on every morning.”
Kyle Pearce: I’m going to clear the past by making sure my shoes are accessible. My running clothes are right next to my bed, and now the alarm goes off. I literally just put my shoes on and I’ve now accomplished that goal. Once my shoes are on, it’s so easy for me to do the rest of the run, because I’ve put such a low hanging fruit there. My goal was to get the shoes on, and once the shoes are on, I’ve never once taken them off again and went back to bed. Like they were already on. I got out the door, I went for a run. Sometimes I don’t go as long, but I still get out and I can feel good that I’ve actually managed. The rider feels good. The elephant knows after that, yeah, that did make sense. It was because of this idea of like clearing that path and really making it a low hanging fruit.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering if we were to put it back to you. What are your thoughts? There was a lot of stuff that just happened there. I want to get like a check in with you on any of those ideas may be resonating with you, and if so what does that mean for you now? I know it’s probably going to be more of like a long term thing to think about where you’ll reflect on it beyond. But where are you at right now, what’s resonating with you, and maybe we can take it from there and figure out where we go next?
Laura Tomas: Okay, well, first of all, thanks for putting four more books on my TBR pile.
Kyle Pearce: Your poor husband.
Laura Tomas: He knows, it’s all good.
Jon Orr: Get an Audible account.
Laura Tomas: You know what? I’m more of a book person. I like to read and highlight. I even tried to do to online Twitter book clubs, and it just wasn’t for me. I need to be in front of people and talk with people when they’re right in front of me. But that’s just me. I totally understand the whole elephant metaphor. I like Kyle, how you brought it to reality with the jogging. You’re making my brain already start swirling as to how I can clear the path, because I think directing the writer, I have enough research, I have enough logical reasons out there for them to do it. As far as the motivating the elephant, the emotional the feeling part, other than maybe I can have kids give testimony. This past January, I switched up some kids with a fourth grade teacher, and so they would come into my room. And after the first day, they made such great comments that I just had to write them down, and I took a picture of them. First of all, it was like, “Math is over? But I literally want to stay here,” and things like that. I think maybe the teachers seeing or hearing those comments might affect their emotional part of their brain.
Laura Tomas: But clearing the path, I’m thinking now that in our PLCs, I have to make it so easy for them to want to stay the opt in and not opt out. That’s going to probably be my challenge this year.
Jon Orr: Right or make it harder to do the thing that you don’t want them to do. Like you can put barriers in place to go, “Okay, the path over here is easier than that path.” So that could be there too. Like motivating the elephant too. Like remember when we asked you what was the moment that you started to change? Both of us said it was experiencing really good PD. And seeing that action… that for me is motivating my elephant. That was like, “Oh, I can see this in my classroom.” It felt really… I was the teacher that would go to a PD session, and I was like, “I want you to direct my rider. I don’t want you to put me in the place of a student. Just show me what the activity looks like. I can figure it out from there.” I was that person until I found a really good one. And I still had that thought at the beginning. Like I don’t want to just, I don’t want to do the activity, but when I was forced to do the activity, it motivated my elephant.
Jon Orr: I go I can really see this. I can see it outlined. I can see how my students would react to this. I felt that reaction. I want that for my students. That motivated my elephant. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head like how you can clear some paths, like how they can make it easier. How can you set it up for someone? That is a hard thing to set up, but I think once you clear some paths, I think you’ve got the other two things ironed out. I think clearing the path is where you want to spend some time. As Kyle said, we’ve unloaded a whole bunch of stuff on there to think about. We’re getting close to our time ending here, but before we say our goodbyes, we want to know, if you think back to everything that we talked about here, what would be one or two big takeaways for you?
Laura Tomas: I think it was actually towards the end of our conversation here about being vulnerable. I told my mom and my husband that I was going to be doing this podcast with you. And my mom said to me, it’s because I am vulnerable. That’s so funny that you both use the exact same word. I think that might end up being my mantra this year to spread that word to the teachers to be vulnerable. Because really, what do we have to lose? I don’t know. Maybe… I’ve always grown up with the, “I don’t really care what people think about me.” I’m that not normal kind of teacher, where I will take the dive, and I’ll try things out. If they succeed, great. If not, okay, I’m back to the drawing board, let me figure out another way. But I think that might be my theme for the PLCs this year, is to be vulnerable.
Kyle Pearce: I wonder too. Clearly, it’s almost like right there, what resonated with me is that maybe you have to be more explicit. I’m saying you have to be it, I don’t mean it in that way. But maybe considering being more explicit wherever possible. Because I think we assume in our own minds, that people understand how we feel, how we think, how our journey… In reality, a lot of times we’re not super explicit about that. I wonder if maybe there’s a bunch of educators who aren’t aware that you are into online PD, and that you’re actually… You’re not doing it to get them stuff, you’re doing it to get you stuff, and that you’re actually doing the learning, and you’re not just there to help teach them something, you’re trying to help inspire them to want to go and do some learning on their own as well. Sometimes just being more explicit about our own struggles can really draw that out.
Kyle Pearce: I love your idea of thinking about how you can focus things on this idea of vulnerability. I wonder, I know, there’s four books that we described, maybe even more in this episode. But this idea of dare to lead, I think, if vulnerability is what you’re aiming to focus on, giving that one a good read is a really great way to start thinking about like, “How do I model that?” Because if we can model it better, then maybe it’s more explicit for the teachers that are in your PLC to go, “Huh, okay. I can do that too.” Otherwise, if it’s just implicit. If it’s just in the background, it can be easy for us to miss right? We just don’t pay attention to those types of things. So, really cool. I think that’s an amazing takeaway. Are there any other wonders or takeaways that you want to share before we allow you to carry on with your day? We’ve taken up a lot of your time. But I know it’s such a worthwhile conversation for the Math Moment Maker community. Anything else that you want to share before we head out?
Laura Tomas: Well, the last comment I want to make is about another one of your podcasts that made a huge impact on me. It was Episode 21. It was Peter Liljedahl, The Thinking Classroom. That actually changed the last two months of my teaching ways this year, and the kids absolutely loved it. I have to tell you that every time that when I heard, “Sponsored by” I thought you guys kept saying white book, like the color white. I’m like, “What’s a white book?” Then I finally connected this Dotson, I was like, “Oh, it’s Wipe” W-I-P-E, Wipe Books, and I ended up ordering them. So thank you. They absolutely transformed my classroom. I’m actually going to do a presentation on that in the middle of July at our local/state summer mini conference. And then depending on how that goes, I’m probably going to repeat it again at our state math conference in October.
Jon Orr: Wow, nice. Awesome.
Kyle Pearce: Amazing, amazing. So we actually have-
Laura Tomas: Thank you for that.
Jon Orr: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. That’s great.
Kyle Pearce: We actually have a Wipe Book promotion going on. I’m just trying to think of when this is going to be airing that… Or we did a Wipe Book promotion a little while back, but we will have some extra discount codes and we’ll include those in the show notes as well. So super cool. Glad that that was one that resonated. We know that Peter’s episode was definitely one of the episodes that we get so many comments about on social media, on the podcast page and in the reviews, so glad to hear that it resonated with you as well. Jon, what do you think? Are we ready to wrap this thing up?
Jon Orr: Yeah, Laura, we want to thank you for joining us here on the podcast. The conversation has been amazing. We’ve really enjoyed talking to you. And I’m sure all the people listening to this right now have just as many takeaways as you had. Thank you very much. And we want to wish you the very best rest of your summer. As I said we’re recording this in the summer but people listening to this won’t be summer anymore, but we want to wish you the very best summer, and we would love to have you back on the podcast in say six months or so, maybe closer to the year end mark, just to talk about how some of the things that we’ve talked about here, and some of the practices you put into place. Would that be okay on your end?
Laura Tomas: I would love it. I want to thank the both of you so much. I’m a huge fan of both of yours. So thank you for all the time and energy that you put in and thank your families for letting us borrow you for this time.
Jon Orr: Thank you. Thank you. No worries.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. We love doing it. Thanks so much for spending the time with us and the Math Moment Maker community. We will definitely be in touch with you online, either in the academy or in the online workshops in the future. Thanks again for your time, and we will be in touch with you to have you back on the episode or in a future episode, I should say.
Laura Tomas: Thanks so much. And if anybody wants to reach out, I’m on Twitter. Can I give my handles? Is that okay?
Jon Orr: Sure, yeah. Go for it.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely.
Laura Tomas: Since I joined late, obviously, my name was already taken. So my husband came up with this one. It’s @iteachthewhy.
Jon Orr: I teach…
Kyle Pearce: Love it.
Jon Orr: Nice, “the why.” The [crosstalk 00:59:47] why like spelled why?
Laura Tomas: Yes. Like W-H-Y, since[crosstalk 00:59:52] I’m not teaching the how anymore.
Jon Orr: Right. Nice one.
Kyle Pearce: Beautiful.
Jon Orr: All right.
Kyle Pearce: Beautiful. That’s awesome. Thanks so much for spending some time with us. We will add that to the show notes page, as well as all of the books mentioned, the links mentioned. All the great goodness that came out from this episode. Thanks a ton, and we will see you on Twitter with the rest of the Math Moment Maker community. Have a great one and we’ll talk to you soon.
Jon Orr: Bye-bye.
Laura Tomas: Thanks, bye.
Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learned so much from these math mentoring moment episodes, but in order to ensure we hang on to this new learning, we must all reflect on what we’ve learned. An excellent way to ensure this learning sticks is to reflect and create a plan for yourself to take action on something that you’ve learned here today.
Jon Orr: A great way to hold yourself accountable is to write it down or even better share with someone your partner, your colleagues, or with a Math Moment Maker community by commenting on the show notes page. Tagging @makemathmoments on social media, or in our free private Facebook group. Math Moment Makers K-12.
Jon Orr: Hey, yeah you. The one that’s listening. Did you know that we send out an email each week with tips, tasks and tools to the Math Moment Maker community?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, but Jon you know what we can’t do?
Jon Orr: What Kyle?
Kyle Pearce: We can’t send those emails to those in the Math Moment Maker community if they haven’t submitted their email address to our mailing list opt in.
Jon Orr: Right. What are you waiting for? Get over to the makemathmoments.com/episode46 or any show notes page for that matter and you’ll see a box to get added to the mailing list.
Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/episode46.
Jon Orr: Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming math mentoring moment episode where you too can share a big math class struggle? Apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That’s makemathmoments.com/mentor.
Kyle Pearce: As always make sure that you tap the subscribe button in your favorite podcast platforms so that we can reach a even larger audience of educators.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode46. Again, that is makemathmoments.com/episode46.
Jon Orr: We encourage you to register for the Make Math Moments Virtual Summit. Yes, that’s right. We are running a free online math professional development summit for K-12 educators. The Make Math Moments of Virtual Summit is running on Saturday November 16th and Sunday, November 17th. And will feature sessions from past and upcoming Make Math Moments that matter podcast guests Sunil Singh, Dr. Nicki Newton, Skip Fennell, and his team of the Formative Five Authors and many more.
Kyle Pearce: Register for this year’s summit at makemathmoments.com/summit.
Jon Orr: Listening to this episode after November 17th, 2019? You can still head to makemathmoments.com/summit to add your name to the wait list for the next Make Math Moments Virtual Summit.
Kyle Pearce: So go ahead, head on over and Get yourself registered, makemathmoments.com/summit, makemathmoments.com/summit. 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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