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Discussion: Preparing for the summer workshop

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posted by: Laura R. Van Zoest on May 15, 1998 at 3:14PM
subject: RMTC Intro/teacher involvement
I am Laura Van Zoest, co-director of the Renewing Mathematics Teaching
through Curriculum project. RMTC is a 9-12 collaborative which includes
17 schools (many rural/small town) and approximately 150 teachers (all
the math teachers in each high school and representative middle school
teachers) in the West Mighigan area.

The title of the project comes from the fact that all the collaborative
schools have adopted the Core-Plus Mathematics Project curriculum and
our belief that that curriculum is a useful vehicle for professional
development. I think a main part of the success we have had so far in
involving teachers is due to their ability to see a direct connection
between what goes on in the workshops and meetings and what's happening
in their classrooms.

During the summer we have week-long workshops tied to a specific year of
the CPMP curriculum. This summer we will have workshops for Course 1,
Course 2 and Course 3. We have a teams of 2 teachers serve as workshop
leaders. The criteria we use in selecting these leaders are: 1)
currently teaching the curriculum; 2) from collaborative schools (two
different geographical locations if possible); 3) previous experience
leading CPMP workshops (at least one member of the team); 4) experience
teaching other years of the curriculum.

So far we have been able to satisfy all of the criteria, but it is
becomming more difficult as the need for workshops expands. Starting
last summer, we have taken a long-range view to staffing workshops and
have tried to choose current workshop leaders to prepare for future
needs. That means involving as many new people as the second members of
the team as possible to make sure that we don't run into future problems
with #2 and #3 and encouraging teachers to teach a variety of courses to
deal with #4. So far that has been the most difficult - many teachers
feel comfortable teaching Course 1 or Course 2 and don't want (and it
isn't required by their school's staffing needs) to move on to teach
Course 3 or 4. Can't blame them - new preps are a lot of work! On the
other hand, having the perspective of the whole curriculum allows the
facilitator to make cross-course connections during the workshops.

I would second Margaret's statement about involving teachers in
designing and decision making as a way to maintain their commitment
level. We have a Coordinating Council made up of one representative
from each collaborative school that meets on a bi-monthly (4 times a
year) basis that has been instrumental in serving as a liason between
RMTC staff and the teachers.

The Council is the programmatic decision-making body for the project and
is charged with both bringing input from their school colleagues and
sharing information with them. From my perspective, it has been
exciting to see the Council members start to take ownership and
initiative for project activities. It has taken a year of reminding
them that this is _their_ project and that whether it is
successful/useful/etc. depends primarily on them. In the process, some
things haven't been attended to as quickly as I would like, but I think
had we stepped in it would have stunted the growth of the group.

For example, we had a whole-collaborative conference last March that
Council members were supposed to get teachers to submit proposals for.
Six weeks before the conference we had 4 proposals. It took all my
reserve not to panic and put together the program. Instead, we took the
issue to the next Council meeting (less than a month before the
conference!) and amazing things happened. People stepped up,
volunteered names of others, did some definitive brainstorming about
what would make a good program, and by the end of the meeting we had an
excellent and extensive program outlined. Two days later we had all the
final confirmations and, from all accounts, the conference was a
success. The Council had created the conference and received appropriate
accolades from their colleagues. Moral of the story: If someone else
will do it, teachers won't. As organizers, we need to convince them
that we won't/can't do it alone, and that they _will_ need to step up.

Another thing that we've learned is that teachers (at least in our area)
have not always been treated like professionals. In some ways, this
means that they need to be treated like professionals, repeatedly,
before they are willing to act that way. This requires patience,
persistence, and an optimistic view on our part, but it seems to pay

Well, it took me ten days to find time to participate in the list - now
you see why! I'll stop now although there is much more to say. I'm
looking forward to hearing others' insights.


Laura R. Van Zoest
Department of Mathematics & Statistics
Western Michigan University
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