4 Keys to Successfully Shifting Math Instruction Districtwide

Understanding the instructional shift and progression of the Florida math standards can present a challenging learning curve for any district. Two years ago, Orange County Public Schools’ district-level elementary math team started focusing heavily on providing resources and professional development focusing on math discourse and reasoning. Our goal initially was to show teachers that the instructional shift of the standards meant that we could no longer teach math solely through algorithms and we must now teach why the algorithms work. While there is still room to grow, we have seen some success. In the 2016–2017 school year, students in grades 3–5 increased their math Florida Standardized Assessment (FSA) scores by 5 percent, which was the greatest gain in that area among the seven largest urban Florida school districts. 

As with any new shift, change can be difficult. The four actions below have been the foundation for our work and will continue to be focal points as we move into the next school year.

1) Use a common language and make connections.

Starting a new initiative can feel overwhelming to teachers and administrators. We really don’t want our resources and trainings around math standards and math discourse to feel like just “another thing.” As a result, we work hard to make sure that the information we share has a common language and we constantly make connections to other district initiatives and previously taught content. Approaching our professional development in this way has allowed teachers to make connections in a variety of content areas rather than isolating math instruction.

2) Provide a central location for professional development and resources.

Orange County Public Schools will provide digital devices to all students by the year 2021. In order to ensure that teachers feel connected across all district initiatives, we placed high importance on the digital initiative. We decided to use our new learning management system to house all of our professional development and resources. Teachers can easily access content at any time of day and all of the content is shared utilizing the digital platform they will soon be utilizing with students. It isn’t feasible for such a large district to engage in face-to-face professional development that reaches every teacher. As an additional advantage, this format allows us to have discussion rooms and share resources that normally would have been reserved for in-person trainings.

3) Build communication through relationships.

Communication is key to implementing math reasoning and discourse. Clear and consistent communication is also critical to ensuring teachers can facilitate math reasoning and discourse within their classrooms. Our team decided that our goal for the year would be to focus on building relationships with teachers both face-to-face and virtually. We reasoned that the more teachers could connect a face with the content, the more they would trust the information being shared. This started on our professional development site. Each elementary math staff member is pictured and is designated to support a specific group of schools. We also feature a public discussion board where teachers can ask questions. Utilization of this board has been helpful not only as a resource, but as a place where teachers can get answers quickly, as we respond within 24 hours. Finally, offering remote support to schools has been a huge asset in building understanding and communication with teachers. Our team will often call in or host virtual planning meetings where school teams can get their questions answered in the moment. While not face-to-face, teachers feel as if they have built relationships with our district team. Teachers are much more apt to ask questions and ensure they have greater understanding rather than just executing content for the sake of compliance.

4) Model a growth mindset.

It can often become frustrating to not accomplish the ideal in one year. Just as with students, we push ourselves and teachers to have a growth mindset when it comes to implementing math reasoning and discourse in the classroom. Each year we see teachers improving with this implementation and we know with time every teacher will teach math reasoning as if it is the only way to teach math. It is the idea of not giving up and continuing to see small successes through gains in student math test scores and student conversations that model growth mindset not only for our teachers, but students as well.

Going forward, we plan to continue to building understandings with the implementation of Math Solutions across all schools during the 2018–2019 school year and we look forward to seeing the even greater successes to come.

Watch this space for more success stories from Orange County as we fully implement our Math Solutions learnings, track student outcomes in our 1:1 math initiative, share takeaways from this year’s Model Schools Conference, and more!