Professional Learning

Who’s Doing the Work? Developing Math Muscles

3 Min Read
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The Division of Labor in Your Classroom

During Dr. Matt Larson’s webinar Overcoming Obstacles to Make Mathematics Work FOR Students he shared this quote from Dylan Wiliam’s book Embedded Formative Assessment:

If your students are going home at the end of the day less tired than you are, the division of labor in your classroom requires some attention.

It got me good, as they say. So good. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve heard teachers express their sheer exhaustion about their work. I have been the teacher, sharing my sheer exhaustion. Make no mistake, I’m not saying that teaching isn’t a hard or exhausting job. But I can say that teaching isn’t supposed to make you count down the days until retirement.

Developing Mathematical Muscles

Have you ever worked out with a trainer? Or perhaps seen a gymnastics event where the coach spots the gymnast during a particular part of the routine? That’s how I think about a sustainable, workable, meaningful balance of effort, work, and practice in the mathematics classroom. We aren’t the gymnasts. We are the trainers, the coaches, there to offer lifts, assists, and spots so that the students can do the intellectual heavy lifting required for them to learn the mathematics they encounter in the lessons. When I leave the gym, I’m the one with tired muscles. Not my trainer. And so too with our classes. They are the ones building the mathematical muscles, practicing their skills and developing their understandings so that they have what they need for future learning events.

Larson dove into the importance of lesson planning, and I’m a big believer in the power of a good lesson plan when it comes to not accidentally carrying the load for all your students when you didn’t intend to do so. When I have a solid, intentional, thorough lesson plan in hand, I am far less likely to find myself running around the gym trying to lift the weights for all the students or trying to prevent my students from falling off the uneven bars, the beam, and the vault all at the same time. When I march into class confident that I could wing it? That’s when I found myself, through brute force, pulling minds through lessons and facilitating “learning” that was students watching me “perform” mathematics rather than working on their own skills and understanding.

Human beings are the ones executing the job of teaching, and those human beings require great care if they are to effectively care for the students they lead.

It hit me with renewed importance when I read that William quote: human beings are the ones executing the job of teaching, and those human beings require great care if they are to effectively care for the students they lead. I felt called to renewed reflection, to increased consideration of the ways in which I can make the math work for students, so that I can make the lessons work for students. I was reminded to step out of the exhausting cycle of doing all the work and then wondering why students didn’t develop the “muscles” I showed them how to use. What a powerful reminder as we launch into this school year and work to keep ourselves un-exhausted as best we can.


Did you miss Matt Larson’s webinar? Watch the full video below, and inspire a culture of math achievement with HMH math professional development.

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