My #1TMCthing – Vulnerability

As I continue to reflect on my Twitter Math Camp (TMC) experience, I want to make a commitment for the next few months.

Let me explain what I think being vulnerable means in each context. I’ll go in reverse order.

By pushing send to the #mtbos

I have been an active member of the online math teacher community for four years now. I follow and read more than 50 blogs, and they have had a huge impact on my teaching. I’ve adopted standards-based grading and interactive notebooks. I routinely use 3 acts, visual patterns, WODB, clothesline math, notice/wonder, etc. I’ve posted math with bad drawings on my bulletin board. My curriculum is filled with ideas taken from Sam, Fawn, Kate, and Sarah. I advocate for these websites and resources when talking to my friends and colleagues, and these sites drive both our mathematical play and our pedagogical arguments. I am an avid #mtbos reader, listener, learner, consumer, etc.

Through this blog and the Play With Your Math website, I have tried to contribute, but it’s hard. I draft and edit and start over, struggling to push send on anything, even on twitter. I find writing to be reflective and worthwhile, but I find it hard. I have often decided that writing is not worth the time, but in doing so, I am leaving an opportunity for professional development on the table. I want to get better, and Carl Oliver’s keynote convinced me that I should #pushsend. I’m trying to jump into twitter conversations, and I’m planning to post shorter, more frequent blog posts. I hope Carl was right, and that as I put myself out there more, it’ll only get easier.

My Colleagues

I want to benefit from the skills of my colleagues. While I theoretically have an “open-door policy” for anyone that wants to come observe my class, only one classroom teacher came into my class last year. We had grade level and department meetings, but it was hard to tell what was really going on in their classrooms. I have four ideas for how to put myself out there and start getting more out of teacher-to-teacher collaboration.

  1. Post an #observeme sign. I need an ever-present, physical reminder that my door is open to any visitor at any time.
  2. I want to observe every teacher at some point this year. Our school is small enough that I can do this if I observe about one class per week. I’ll reach out to find a time that is okay to visit, and I’ll bring my resident and debrief with her. I hope that by going into other classes, I can start a reciprocal relationship.
  3. I want to invite my colleagues to play math. I want to use Eightfold as a faculty meeting warm up. I want to push to use department meeting time for doing math together.
  4. I want to RSVP yes whenever someone invites me to their classroom. Showcasing some student work? I’ll be there, even if it’s a different subject and a different grade level.

My Students

I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with classroom management. My general approach is to make class as fun and accessible as possible, and to use a quick redirect or a stern look when needed. When that isn’t enough, I feel ill-equipped. I’ve lectured students on proper behavior, I’ve yelled, I’ve pulled students into the hallway, and I’ve sent them to the dean, and I’ve felt gross every time. But I felt even worse when I did nothing.

During Grace Chen’s keynote, I thought about classroom management because it feels like the most political aspect of my job. When I respond punitively, I worry that I am playing my role in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Grace’s three action steps helped me reflect on why and how I’m trying to change.

  1. Create a microcosm of the world you want to live in. I want my classroom to foster mathematical thinking, but mathematicians are also people. I need to create a space that supports students social and emotional growth, not just their mathematical growth.
  2. Teach the gray area. My students are so good at finding the gray area in the school rules, but I always feel pressured to pick a side. Instead, let’s talk about it. How does the uniform code make you feel? And maybe over time, we can widen our lens and talk about other gray areas, like college and race.
  3. Explore alternatives. I need an alternative to punitive and permissive approaches to classroom management, and I am trying to learn about and enact restorative practices. I am trying to shift from “What happened? What is the rule? What is the consequence?” to “What happened? Who was affected? How can we fix it?”

Last winter, some members of our staff started a “Restorative Practices Working Group” and my resident suggested trying a restorative circle with our students. I was hesitant because it went way outside my comfort zone, but I took the risk. I joined the working group, and eventually, we started doing circles with a subset of our students on a weekly basis. It didn’t solve my classroom management struggles, but the feedback was hugely positive from students and it felt better.

Earlier this summer, I (along with two other staff members) attended a four day restorative circle training in Baltimore through AFT. We spent a lot of time sitting in circle, passing the talking piece, and sharing. I was amazed at how well we knew each other after four days and that people were comfortable enough to share powerful and painful experiences.

Centerpiece - Beginning of Week
Our circle trainers created a sacred space by placing these objects in the center. Each object had some special personal meaning to them and could be used as our talking piece.
Centerpiece - End of Week
As the week went on, we created a safe space by sharing our stories and offering our own sacred objects to the centerpiece.

This year, I want to step further outside my teaching comfort zone with my students by:

  1. Periodically shifting from a mathematician’s space to a human space by sitting in a circle.
  2. Entering this space as a participant, not an authority.
  3. Making this new space safe and sacred, so that we all feel comfortable to share.
  4. Giving students a voice and listening to what they have to say.

Conclusion

I think Graham Fletcher’s keynote summed it up best: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of professional growth.” I want to get better, so I will put myself out there.

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