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Implementing Guided Math, Professional Learning Communities

Tonight we finish up our online book study of Laney Sammons’ new book, Implementing Guided Math: Tools for Educational Leaders. You can read through all the posts using the links in the Reading Schedule. Also, check out #ImplementingGM to read the slow Twitter chat questions and comments.

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Reading schedule

Join the slow Twitter chat

We’ve been having some great conversations! Search on the hashtag #ImplementingGM now to catch up and join the conversation over Chapters 6 and 7. We use the standard Q & A format–questions will be tagged Q (Q1, Q2, etc.) and you tag your response with an A (A1, A2, etc.). Don’t forget to tag your response with #ImplementingGM so it will show up in the search. Remember to follow other participants to grow your professional learning community (PLN).

Chapter 6: Guided Math Professional Development Provided by Coaches

“An academic coach is most effective when he or she finds a way to balance being teachers’ most enthusiastic cheerleader and being a trusted confidant who offers honest feedback to teachers about how to improve their teaching.” (Sammons, pg 143)

I know that what brought you to this book and book study is an interest in implementing Guided Math, but aren’t you just amazed at the wealth of information Sammons has collected for this book? Both new and experienced math instructional coaches could benefit from the material in Chapters 5 and 6. Sammons seamlessly blends information from many different resources and lays it out in a concise and readable format.

While Chapter 5 focused on different ways math coaches can support the implementation of Guided Math, this chapter deals with one-on-one coaching during the implementation process. Of course this process begins with the importance of trust in the coach/teacher relationship, and the tips from Covey and Merrill on pages 140 through 142 provide a great list for coaches to use, not only as they begin working with teachers, but also as a tool for ongoing self-reflection. Sammons reminds us on page 145 that “coaches are not administrators.” That is so very important, because when that line is blurred, it’s extremely difficult to maintain trust.

Math coaches can work with teachers during the implementation process in a number of ways: planning, demonstrating lessons, co-teaching, observing, and accompanying teachers during peer observations. Sammons includes a lengthy section discussing the importance of post-observation conferences and reflection. I found that section to be particularly useful, because coaches can impact teachers most profoundly by helping them reflect on their own practices and enter into a cycle of continuous improvement. As the proverb says, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day–teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Just as we differentiate instruction for students, coaches must take a differentiated approach when working with teachers. The table on page 177 outlines four different conversations coaches can have with teachers: reflecting, facilitating, coaching, and directing. Each type of conversation has a different purpose, and the example conversations that follow illustrate each type.

Teachers and coaches, chime in and share your coaching experiences by adding a comment. What connections did you have to this chapter? What makes a teacher/coach relationship most effective?

Chapter 7: Guided Math Professional Learning Communities

Sammons establishes the benefits of using Professional Learning Communities when implementing Guided Math early in the chapter:

 “By participating in these collaborative study groups, teachers are able to learn about each of the components of Guided Math, plan Guided Math lessons collaboratively, reflect on their own teaching and their students’ learning when using the framework, observe their peers as they implement Guided Math, and examine evidence of student learning to gauge the effectiveness of the implementation.” (Sammons, pg 183)

Just as our instructional methods must change if we are to reach all students, our model for professional development must change as well. One only needs to contrast the comprehensive support provided by an effective PLC as outlined in the quote above with the traditional professional development workshop to understand the need for change.  No matter how effective a workshop is, without ongoing support, collaboration, and reflection, the effort is unlikely to bring about change. The keyword, however, is effective. In this chapter, Sammons provides a step-by-step manual for establishing and maintaining effective PLCs.

A discussion of PLCs would not be complete without talking about how instrumental campus leaders are in supporting the work of PLCs.  Sammons includes this quote from Jones and Vreeman: “strong leadership is a critical factor in the success of Professional Learning Communities.” Why is that? First, leaders must provide the time and resources for PLCs to operate. Sammons provides a number of options leaders can use to make time for PLCs on page 190. Making the time for PLCs sends a clear signal to teachers that this is important work. Leaders also need to monitor the work of PLCs (pg 188) and celebrate the successes of PLCs (pg 189). If leaders act like the work of PLCs is important, teachers will believe that it is important, and true change will happen.

I found the discussion of PLC norms and protocols to be very informative. Norms are frequently discussed, but are infrequently implemented or adhered to. And yet norms can be the difference between effective and ineffective PLCs. The protocols Sammons describes provide a structure for the work of PLCs. I know I’m repeating myself, but this is good stuff regardless of whether you’re implementing Guided Math or just trying to improve the effectiveness of grade level teams.

The gold at the end of the rainbow is found in Appendix A: A Guided Math Learning Plan for Professional Learning Communities. This is an amazing year-long plan for PLCs to use to guide their implementation process. The plan incorporates reading assignments, suggested activities for teachers to use to apply the reading material, goal setting, and reflection. It’s truly the complete package. Seriously, where was this when I was a math coach trying to implement Guided Math on my campus?

As you reflect on this chapter, what do you think your biggest challenge will be implementing Guided Math? How can PLCs support the implementation process?

Thank you so much for participating in this book study! We live in an amazing time when learning can be shared by educators across the county and the globe. I hope you will continue the conversation on Twitter!

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