An Administrator’s Six Spheres of Influence in Mathematics Teaching and Learning

What expectations do you have for what you should see on the walls in the classrooms you observe? Do you expect the essential question, or lesson target, to be posted? What do you look for when you observe instruction? Are your observations guided by best practices in general, or by best practices related to the subject area being taught?

In recent years, I’ve noticed that the majority of conversations regarding classroom observations in support of improving instructional quality do not include specifics regarding the content area of instruction. The expectations and suggestions for lesson structures, teaching practices, and classroom culture are the same for every content area. Should requirements for teaching and learning be consistent across content areas? In this series of blog posts, I’ll tackle this question and share my perspectives.

Effective administrators are instructional leaders in their schools or districts. Effective leaders of mathematics teaching and learning know what to look for and promote in mathematics instruction. They are “critical consumers” of the structures and practices imposed on teaching.

In this role, you are able to prevent supporting requirements that could inhibit student achievement in mathematics. This is best accomplished by understanding your Six Spheres of Influence for teaching and learning mathematics and how those spheres might impact student achievement.

Your Six Spheres of Influence:

  • The lens through which you observe teachers
  • Your expectations regarding the posting of lesson objectives
  • Your requirements related to lesson structures
  • The ways you hold teachers accountable to provide feedback to students
  • The structures you have in place for intervention
  • How you support teacher planning

I will share my views on the first sphere in this post, and then add to it over the next few months leading up to the Model Schools Conference 2018. I will present a session on June 25 that provides a window into schools and classrooms where these spheres are operating in ways that support student achievement in mathematics.

The Lens Through Which You Observe Teachers

Most popular observation tools cross content areas; they are not specific to the content being observed. While it is interesting that subject-specific evaluation tools can help focus on key features of effective instruction, an overwhelming majority of administrators prefer one tool that can be used in all subject areas. This is due to ease of use—a separate evaluation tool is just too cumbersome. 

A way to meet both of these needs is to use a tool designed for multiple content areas but to observe the lesson through a lens informed by what is known about mathematics teaching and learning. The mathematical practices and processes can provide that lens. The practices and processes highlight ways that students should be engaging with the mathematics and how the teacher may or may not be facilitating that engagement.

Before a lesson begins, during the pre-observation meeting, the teacher should tell you which mathematical practice(s) he or she will be focusing on. This determination should be based on the lesson objective and the tasks and questions the teacher plans to use to support students in meeting that objective. This will help you provide a more mathematics-focused evaluation because the mathematical practices are the lens through which you will view the lesson.

Similarly, after the lesson, during the post-observation meeting, the teacher should tell you how the students engaged in the targeted mathematical practices. In this way, the mathematical practices provide a lens through which the teacher can reflect on his teaching, thereby increasing the likelihood that the observation will lead to improved teacher quality, and thus, increased student achievement.

Check back soon for the next installment of the Six Spheres of Influence to learn how your expectations related to posting the essential question might influence mathematics teaching and learning.

Join me and my fellow ICLE thought leaders at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference, June 24–27 in Orlando. Each year, over 5,000 participants are inspired by innovative strategies for strengthening their teaching and leadership practices, and take away an action plan for positive change.