We’re All Learners

I think most everyone has seen this graphic before:

Photo credit: oklanica via Flickr

I have been far outside of my comfort zone for the past two days.  This former high school teacher has been attending a local conference concerning Eureka Math, which we have been implementing K-5 for the past 2 years.  I thought it best to attend this three-day mathstravaganza since I am asking teachers to implement this curriculum in their classrooms…and I am the Curriculum Director, after all; I should be here.

The first day I attended a 5th grade module study (did I mention I taught high school science for 18 years??).  I spent the day doing 5th grade math, which, in Eureka, looks a lot like this:

I was introduced to the world of place value and all its chip diagrams, vertical number lines, bundling and unbundling, pictoral representations and standard algorithms.  I was completely out of my depth (after all, we high school teachers expect our students to be pre-loaded with this information when they get to us), an imposter among the real 5th-grade teaching experts in the room.  The teachers around me took pity on me after I confessed I was a Curriculum Director with a high school background, whispering definitions of things like “decimal fractions” and “number sentences” and explaining the basics of a Eureka lesson while the wonderful facilitator in the front of the room demonstrated problems and answered questions.

Boy, did I feel stupid.  But I sure did learn a lot.  I learned that this curriculum has a levels of focus and coherence that mirror that of the CCSS math standards, with concepts and skills building and spiraling, containing absolutely no fluff.  I learned that, even though this is a pre-packaged curriculum, you must still prioritize concepts and activities to maximize the time you have with students.  I learned that the main intent of Eureka math is to have students understand the math using the mathematical practices rather than the usual emphasis on finding right answers as fast as you can.  I also learned that people who don’t look at the big picture of how Eureka math is set up often focus on one piece of it that they don’t like and use that to vilify it (hence all those posts on the internet ranging at the “ridiculous” ways students are told to “do” math problems these days).

I truly believe that administrators are learners too.  Sometimes people feel that administrators should have all the answers and know everything…but how can that be possible?  No one has all the answers.  No one knows everything. And, just like the shift Eureka takes with it’s focus on student understanding rather than correctness, I think administrators have to cultivate an emphasis on growth and improvement rather than “rightness.”  And it means making ourselves uncomfortable at times, being willing to learn along with our teachers.

When we realize that we’re all learners, that administrators and teachers should be learning together because we’re all in this business of improving student learning together…that’s when the magic happens.

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