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Discussion: Exploring a Case Study

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posted by: Beth Ritsema on June 7, 2000 at 5:09PM
subject: LATE RESPONSE: POSTED 6/7/2000
Discussion participants,

Is our three-week discussion almost finished already? Hello, my name is
Beth Ritsema. I also am sorry to be joining late. Can we continue
awhile yet?

I am one of the principal investigators for the Renewing Mathematics
Teaching Through Curriculum (RMTC) LSC based at Western Michigan
University. We are in our fourth year of the project and have had
similar experiences and thoughts as expressed in the case studies and
comments by this group.

Some of the issues that are coming to the surface in the professional
development community seem to be a result of the NSF funding for long
term professional development for schools. Long term professional
development in itself is new to most schools.

The schools in our collaborative are either implementing the Core-Plus
Mathematics Project (CPMP) curriculum in high school and/or the
Connected Mathematics Project curriculum in the middle school. The
Riverside case study most closely resembles our experience.

It seems that much of the difficulty in professional development is the
tension between what teachers think they need and the directions a
"resource partner" would like to encourage teachers to go. Even when
teachers are given the opportunity to help design professional
development experiences, if they have not participated in high quality
professional development, if they do not recognize constructivist
teaching, if they do not recognize student thinking, or as previously
discussed if they do not have deep mathematical content knowledge, how
can they be expected to design quality professional development or push
themselves professionally?

Are we expecting too much from teachers. In our LSC, we have expected
that with quality workshops that embed mathematical content learning in
a instructional format similar to what we would like to see in their
classrooms, teachers classrooms would be transformed. Not so. Visiting
classrooms tends to be a depressing experience. Many teachers who "talk
the talk", do not seem to really understand that they are not pushing
students to think.

It seems that resource partners who develop relationships with a teacher
that allows for modeling of teaching and constructive criticism in the
teacher's classroom has the greatest potential for helping teachers
reflect on their teaching. It can happen within the context of the
teacher's day. One problem with this approach is that most resource
partners do not have the time to do this one-on-one mentoring. Another
problem is that there is often a lack of respect for the resource
partner since he/she may not have taught the particular content to
students or, in the eyes of the classroom teacher, "understand my

(Of course, video and student work have potential as professional
development tools also, but quality seems to be lacking - especially for
high school mathematics.)

So, to address Kay's question about finding "good" professional
developers: Yes, they are hard to find. In fact, I have been finding
out how difficult it is to do professional development that has a real
impact on classroom teaching myself. I have been approaching the
problem of quality pd people by trying to identify and work with
selected classroom teachers who seem to have the potential to learn,
grow, and have the respect of their colleagues.

In our final year of RMTC, we are going to be working with a Leadership
Council made up of a few lead teachers who we hope will be able to
continue quality discussions within the 3 geographical regions of our
collaborative after the grant ends. We also plan to do more on site
mentoring of teachers this year.

The problem is one of gearing up to accommodate the need nationwide.
Another one of my hats is as Professional Development Coordinator for
the Core-Plus Mathematics Project (CPMP). In that capacity, I am
assisting experienced classroom teachers who are doing professional
development and also facilitating a Leadership Institute for CPMP
consultants who contract themselves to do professional development for
districts. In some cases, I would call the work the teachers do
"training" not pd, but in other cases, it is quality professional

There is a real need for professional development for those of us
providing pd or assisting others in providing pd. I have had some
opportunities to gather professional development people together and
have found that I benefited greatly from the experience. (Harold, I
learned much from you. J)

As for fees: I have heard of fees ranging from $350 per day to $800 per
day. It depends on quality, supply and demand, and whether there are
one or two facilitators.

That is probably more than you wanted to read. If this discussion
continues, I will go back to the paper: "Time, and Time Again."
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