This post is written by guest blogger, Cheryl Kerr, High School Mathematics Coordinator, Alvin ISD.
There is an elusive creature that rarely has time to leave its den. It can sometimes be spotted at the copy machine or gathering armfuls of mechanical pencils at a beginning of the school-year sale. It’s possible to lure it out with a Tower of Hanoi or an article about Zukei Puzzles. It exists for accuracy, organization, and linear sequences of processes.
It is….a high school math teacher.
The life of a high school math teacher is nonstop.
There is always so much to get done it can be hard to sit down and breathe. Despite this, communication, coherence of goals, and collaboration are essential parts of working successfully. As leaders working with groups of math teachers, what are the best ways to unite high school teachers who so often exist at least in part in isolation?
It is hard to build a team in a high school environment. A team, by definition, is a group of people linked by a common purpose. What is our common purpose as high school math teachers? For most, it is to teach math! But how do we do this more efficiently? When I think about building a math team in my district, there is a ton going through my mind. How do I pull together the entire team of Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 teachers across the district to share ideas throughout the year not just at periodic staff development? Algebra 2 gets lumped in with Algebra 1 because I want the upward vertical alignment and Algebra 1 would assist Algebra 2 with prerequisite skills, but what about Geometry? Don’t the skills in Algebra 1 aide in solving formulas? And don’t leave out Pre-Calculus! They can benefit from the prerequisite skills in all these courses, and likewise the others can benefit from knowing what is to come. And so I am charged with seeking to build a team of all high school math teachers.
Thankfully, social media allows us to connect with an audience that we can’t always reach face-to-face, a community without a face. While it can be a major hassle to drive all over the district just to do a quick check-in with everybody, Google Classroom allows me to reach out to all of my teachers in the district with the few clicks of a mouse. We use Google Classroom as a district high school math department to stay connected, share ideas, disseminate information, and manage our resources all in one location. Below are some of the ways that our team connected using social media.
Is It Worth It?
Almost no professional wants one more thing added to their busy schedule. That’s why the first goal of this community was determining what our teachers wanted the most. This was not going to be a place for assignments and more work, instead the posts would be full of items that were of interest to the group of math teachers we have in the district, and that could be immediately and easily implemented in the classroom.
The most common thing that teachers wanted in both the “wants” and “needs” categories was more tools. Thus, our Google Classroom has become a primary avenue for sharing easy-to-use relevant resources and materials. Our teachers want anything that can make teaching faster or more efficient, and help them to improve their clarity in instruction.
Sort It Out
In an effort to make the Google Classroom environment as fun and inviting as possible, I tried to come up with catchy subsection titles such as “There’s an App for That” and “Mind Snacks.” Not only did that improve the atmosphere of our space, but it also provided simple organization for sorting posts for the community so that finding and referring back to old items wasn’t overwhelming.
In addition to posting helpful tools for our teachers, we also scheduled some special events. When it was time to talk about new standards for our next unit we were able to share some time without leaving our computers by joining online hangout sessions. During the months of November and December, traditionally a season of giving, teachers were encouraged to participate in the Share-a-thon where they posted their best and most useful activities, classroom strategies, organizational tools, and applications in a shared folder that all teachers could access.
Resource management could be enough of a reason by itself to have our shared space, and it played a major role in the success of our collaboration. Google Classroom provided the team with a document cloud that could be used to share, edit, store, and search for ideas. After all, the best resources in the world are useless if you can’t find them easily.
In sum, social media has been a lifesaver. It has enhanced our collaboration and communication, and helped our math teachers to move off of their islands and into a shared space. Together, we are always better.
Within the Visioning Document (Article V: Organizational Transformation) we read about the need for a comprehensive professional development system in order to support educators to continue to transform teaching and learning. This system includes ongoing, just in time support. The use of digital technology articulated in this post which connects educators with resources and feedback is a step in the direction of this premise:
V.c The overall quality of the present teaching force is excellent, and most teachers are capable and willing to take on their new designer role if their sense of moral purpose for entering teaching is honored, and if they are provided relevant development opportunities and a climate and conditions that support them.
For the latest with Ms. Kerr and her leadership of high school mathematics in Alvin ISD, follow her on Twitter: @CKerr01