In my role at the Math Forum I work with math teachers in their classrooms and from that vantage point I often view these “players” interacting with each other:

students <-> students
students <-> teachers
teachers <-> teachers
teachers <-> other professional development providers (other than me)
teachers <-> school administrators
teachers <-> district administrators
school administrators <-> district administrators

I find myself thinking of two common themes.

The first theme is from parenting — “Do as I say!” The TV show Mad Men comes to mind where the parents are drinking and smoking and it comes as a surprise to them when the young daughter tries to sneak a smoke in the bathroom. She’s just modeling the behavior of the parents, right? Is she completely to blame for an action that has been modeled by her parents?

As I think of that phrase “Do as I say” the implication is “and not as I do.” In many of the interactions that I view, the person of authority in any of the pairings is trying to improve the behavior of the other. I’m using “behavior” to include “instructional behavior” or, in other words, how the classroom is managed or functions. The classic example is when you find yourself being lectured to when the theme of the professional development is student-led instruction or something that is the opposite of lecturing!

The second theme is valuing — this has always been an underlying theme of my interactions with the Math Forum from my very first encounter in July, 1995. Each individual has value and the way that we acknowledge their value is to listen to them before suggesting any action or change. An example of how this works is our Noticing/Wondering activity and it turns out that it is extremely powerful!

If I pose a math context (without any question to distract us) and I ask students “What do you notice?” I am immediately valuing their input. As I listen and/or record their noticings, I am continuing to value their thoughts. And, when used well, I value and make use of those thoughts as we move forward with our mathematical thinking.

This first step of valuing could go a long way in working with teachers. Instead of imposing the next round of professional development “on” them, I wonder what might happen if we were to pose a classroom situation and ask them what they notice. It might take a little extra preparation but it would provide the valuing that is so needed. Teachers, just like their students, are not blank slates!

Think of a professional development session you have recently experienced. Was your initial state of mind valued? How successful was the experience for you?