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Annual Report Overviews


Reaching Every Teacher Annual Overview

submitter: Reaching Every Teacher: A Systemic Approach to Increased Student Achievement K-12
published: 03/21/2000
posted to site: 03/24/2000

From the inception of this project, the enduring goal of Reaching Every Teacher (RET) has been to create a culture of mathematical thinking and learning in the Waltham school district. During the first year of RET, teachers attended workshops that concentrated on promoting cross-grade discussion, deepening mathematical understanding, and improving pedagogical skills. Over the course of the 1996-1997 school year, K-12 mathematics teachers attended 30 hours of professional development. Regularly scheduled workshops featured discussion around the "big ideas" in mathematics, sample lessons, teaching and learning styles, and peer sharing. Feedback indicated that teachers were enjoying the workshops and were bringing some of the skills learned back to their classrooms. Liaison teachers, though not yet facilitating workshops, were gaining confidence in their roles as intermediaries between EDC staff, school administrators and teachers. All in all, year one was judged to be a success.

The focus of year two was curriculum adoption. Teachers were asked to test lessons from NSF developed materials. As they looked at new standards-based curricula, teachers at all grade levels began to really understand the challenge that lay before them. Standards-based curriculum materials tested their content knowledge as well as their comfort level with new teaching strategies. Seeing that teachers, as a whole, were risk averse and more comfortable with the status quo (i.e. the current curriculum), project leaders took measures to reassure the faculty of the merits of curricula change (see year two report). As year two of RET came to an end, teachers formally shared their input through questionnaires and building level meetings. During the summer institute liaison teachers, the district's mathematics coordinator, and assistant superintendent chose the new K-12 curricular materials; Math Trailblazers, MathScape, and UCSMP.

The foci of year three were implementing the new curricula and building leadership. At the summer institute both issues were addressed. Rarely is a curriculum implemented at all grade levels simultaneously. Project leaders understood that teachers, students, and the community needed to be eased into this process of curricula change. A plan was created to integrate six to ten weeks of new curricula materials into the existing programs in all K-12 math classrooms. Without being overwhelmed, teachers would then have the opportunity to try out new materials and experience for themselves what new forms of teaching look and feel like. Several liaison teachers opted to fully implement the new curriculum during year three. At the same time, Educational Development Center (EDC) was scheduled to step out of the program in the autumn of 1998 and turn the professional development responsibilities to the district and the liaison teachers. Leadership training was provided for all liaison teachers at the summer institute. In addition, the district sent five elementary teachers to the University of Illinois at Chicago for additional training from the TIMS project.

In order to give teachers a clear view of the expectations for the 1998-1999 school year, a schedule of workshops was created that expanded the planning/processing model begun in year two. During rounds one and three, elementary and middle school teachers received training from representatives of the publishers, Kendall/Hunt and Creative Publications. These representatives were themselves teachers experienced in teaching the materials. Rounds two and four were processing sessions facilitated by liaison teachers. High school teachers received training from the company representative during only round one. The representative herself suggested that two sessions were not necessary as the UCSMP curriculum, although standards-based, has a more traditional approach than other standards based curricula such as Interactive Mathematics Program or Core Plus. The high school math teachers indicated they were comfortable with the outline of the program and the liaison teachers felt they could successfully facilitate workshops that would address issues around the program itself and its "fit" with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.

The planning/processing model proved to be highly successful at the elementary and middle school level. Professional development providers were well trained and experienced in using the materials. They were articulate and honest about the advantages and difficulties of curricula change; for example, students would be more engaged in their learning and acquire better understanding, but teachers would require more preparation time and assessment methods would need to change. In addition trainers inadvertently served as role models for Waltham's liaison teachers. In conversations with the district's math coordinator, several liaison teachers indicated that after participating in training sessions, they had no apprehension about their ability to facilitate workshops with their peers. In fact several elementary and middle school teachers have themselves become trainers in order to help teachers in other school districts. Mrs. T., an elementary liaison teacher said to the district coordinator, "I enjoy going to other school districts to train. I feel like I am giving back to the profession."

The classroom teachers appreciated the learning of the training sessions but really enjoyed the sharing aspect of the processing sessions. They were eager to attend and query their colleagues about successes and failures. They brought examples of student work and asked each other for suggestions. Teachers were more focused on the importance of mathematics as an everyday experience in the classroom. One teacher reported in a processing session, "It used to be that if I ran out of time during the day to do everything I had planned, I would eliminate math. Now I never do." A culture of mathematical learning and thinking appeared to be building in the district's classrooms.

At the high school processing sessions, liaison teachers reported that they had a more difficult task in keeping teachers focused on the substantive issues of curricula change. Teachers were still reluctant to try new teaching strategies, fearing that course content would suffer. They also displayed the same apprehension around alternative assessment as K-8 teachers, but were less apt to try out alternative assessments in the classroom fearing they would "take up too much time." In order to remedy this apparent lack of focus, liaison teachers chose to structure workshops around comparing the UCSMP program to the state assessment test, and how the mathematics department could best implement the goals and content of the state curriculum frameworks. Hoping that teachers would see that the delivery of curriculum, instruction, and assessment are linked and become more comfortable with alternative teaching and assessment strategies, liaison teachers planned workshops around scoring open-ended questions and performance assessments. Liaison teachers drew correlations to the UCSMP approach to the expectations of the state frameworks. A set of three workshops was planned around using rubrics to assess student work. Liaisons asked classroom teachers to bring samples of student work on a set of open-ended questions, a rubric was distributed and anchor papers were examined. After teachers scored the papers, student understanding was discussed. Teachers saw the connections between the new math program and the goals of the state frameworks and assessment test, but it is still not clear that high school teachers have "bought into" new teaching strategies.

The district's implementation plan for 1999-2000 was to begin full classroom implementation of Math Trailblazers in all K-5 classrooms. In grades 6,7, and 8, teachers would phase in two more units of the MathScape curriculum, bringing the total number of units implemented to four, with full implementation planned for the 2000-2001 school year. At the high school level, the first two years of the UCSMP program would be phased in during the 1999-2000 school year with phase in continuing in the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years.

Even though the RET program was officially coming to an end, K-8 teachers eagerly expressed their wish to continue the district-wide seminars. Both the district's math coordinator and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction agreed with the teachers that such seminars should become institutionalized in order to create a culture of sharing and collegiality. During the 1999-2000 school year K-5 teachers will participate in two full day workshops discussing issues around Math Trailblazers as well as the new science program, Symmetry Science. Waltham has been working closely with the MathScape center at EDC to continue training for Waltham teachers. Middle school teachers will attend either two or three full day workshops that will provide training in further MathScape units. High school teachers will attend either two full day workshops or three half-day workshops continuing the discussion around the need for curricula change.

Strengths of Year Three

  • To prepare for full implementation, liaison teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels prepared pacing guidelines and teacher journals for the first year of implementation. At the high school level these guidelines were connected the Massachusetts State Framework Standards. These guidelines are meant to help teachers overcome some of the feelings of isolation as they go about their daily practice in the classroom. They are not meant to restrict teachers to a prescribed daily lesson plan, only to send all teachers in the district the same message. The guidelines and journals are flexible and are being reviewed at the district level meetings. Feedback from the first cycle of grade level workshops during the 1999-2000 school year has been extremely positive. Classroom teachers were skeptical that the district would continue to support the RET program after funding ended. In reflection/evaluation sheets they have indicated how much they learn when the attend and how sharing with their colleagues reassures them that we have followed the correct path in curricular change.

  • The liaison model for teacher leadership has been extremely successful. Not only have the liaison teachers taken on the responsibilities for facilitating workshops, they have emerged as teacher leaders in their school buildings, relied upon by administrators and fellow teachers for support and encouragement. They have also shared their expertise by serving as consultants to science teachers as Waltham expands the liaison model to the science department. Math liaisons worked with elementary science specialists sharing their leadership skills during three two-hour workshops in early October. The science specialists have begun leading workshops introducing the underlying concepts of Waltham's new science program, Symmetry Science.

  • Finally, indications of professional growth are becoming more and more apparent. K-8 Liaison teachers wish to expand the workshops they facilitate into more than just processing sessions. Currently they are planning to build the spring cycle workshops around the theme of classroom assessment. Classroom teachers are beginning to inquire about the process of becoming a liaison teacher as the model is expanded into other curricular areas.

Weaknesses of Year Three

  • More work needs to done at the high school level to provide high-level professional development. Three half day workshops are planned for high-school teachers. At least one of these workshops will be facilitated by the liaison teachers and the district's math coordinator. Experts in instruction and assessment will consult on the other two workshops. Results of the latest administration of the MCAS test will be analyzed.

  • One element from the first year of RET that was lost was the cross-grade level discussion. Many teachers expressed how much they missed the discussion about how students learn at each phase of their development as well as how the curriculum flows from one curriculum level to the next. After these discussions teachers learned to value the work of their colleagues at other grade levels. The district needs to look at ways to reinstate the opportunities for such discussion.

Reaching Every Teacher has changed the way mathematics education is delivered in Waltham. Elementary teachers report that math takes up a larger portion of their day, that students are engaged, and that student discussion about math is at a higher level than ever before. Teachers are renewed. They look for ways to complement all curriculum areas, such as using mathematical statements as writing prompts for journal entries, and using graphic organizers to explain math problems, classify science concepts, and outline writing assignments. Mathematics is becoming less of an abstract exercise and more of a real-world skill. Teachers appreciate the work that has been accomplished during the RET experience. Mrs. T. (the elementary liaison) said, "Every time I go out and train teachers from other districts) I thank Waltham for RET. We got so much more support than most teachers."