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Supporting teachers to change practice at St Hilda's Collegiate

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Anna Cox, Head of mathematics, explains some strategies she has used to support professional learning in her department.


We ask a lot of mathematics teachers now. We ask that they’re very competent in the subject - enough that as well as understanding where their students might find difficulties in coping with new concepts or mastering skills, we also ask that they can extend students laterally rather than just jumping to the next step, the next bit of knowledge that they can gain. We ask they have empathy so that every student within their class has their individual needs met. And that’s a big ask and that’s a big change from when we used to herd a whole class together copying the same notes down, doing the same exercises. We also ask for the energy to stay focused and interested and engaged in what is a very busy and demanding teaching day.

I’ve supported my department with regular communication, we found that we needed to move to weekly meetings to keep up with all of the questions that people had about how am I going to introduce this? Often they’re about the delivery and their change in emphasis - ‘How do I incorporate this key competency in this task with? What am I really looking at? I’m used to just maths but now I’m marking how they relate to each other in a group’ Discussion is very necessary. But for regular problem solving we’ve found that working on forums and Mahara and having regular discussion through the Internet, in our closed forum setting has actually been incredibly valuable.

But what I’ve found is useful is rather than putting all the professional development money into attending courses, I’ve actually put it into teachers being freed up so they can actually observe other teachers in action. So for part of a lesson or sometimes for whole lessons I’ve had people come out and look at some best practice examples around the department and that’s been immensely useful.

We’ve been approached by departments and heads of departments from around the city who have been interested in sending someone along to see how aspects of what we’re doing are working. For example, next week we’ve got a teacher from boys’ school introducing the numeracy standards in much the same way as we have, with the primary trained teacher and a small class working on IEPs and he’s coming to observe the class and then to spend the adjoining study period with myself and the teacher to discuss where to from now.

I think it’s really important as head of department that I have a feeling for where the subject is going. And that’s looking at the pathways towards university but also as a feeder subject for others, the example of mathematics, how useful it is for students going on to study in physics or in economics. Or students that will need their mathematics to get into a trade that they’re interested in and see that they have all those pathways available to them.
And that way I haven’t taken The New Zealand Curriculum as a limiting standard that I work to for particularly the junior units of work. And I’ve seen that what I think is really missing from senior students understanding of mathematics, for example an idea about set theory or mapping as an introduction for graphing or the links between algebra and graphing and number and putting everything together. Because I feel that’s missing, I’ve put it into our programmes of work.

So in a way, it’s to have the vision of what more to teach and for the senior classes it’s really to see how they can use their maths so they don’t limit their use just to the purely theoretical but they actually use them elsewhere. So for example the Year 11 science students have traditionally struggled with the kinematic sections of their science. So we’ve made sure that our timing of our algebra and graph work and the measurement involves the units sympathetic for that course, have been just before or during the delivery in science of similar work and we’ve supported science teachers.

Published on: 18 Jul 2011