A Bridge Too Far??

The Sydney Harbour Bridge turns 75 tomorrow. 

I admit that I have been a bit depressed this week. I strongly believe that a focus on learning leads to improvements in teaching and thus outcomes for our students. This said focus needs to be continually maintained, sustained and enriched through various ways such as curriculum documentation, engaging staff and students in reflective dialogue, modelling the sorts of behaviours that are valued and celebrating the good things that happen…even small steps.   

Sometimes, however, the emotional energy and resilience that are needed to continually guide and support such change practices just aren’t there. Sometimes one feels as if it’s all too much effort and that the hurdles seem insurmountable. It is important at these times to know that there are colleagues who understand what you are trying to do and believe in what you value in education. Equally, if not more so, it is important to know that your students appreciate what it is you are trying to do for them and express that appreciation in meaningful ways. 

Thankfully, I am fortunate enough to have both in my working life: some very supportive colleagues and some most encouraging students. These are sufficient to re-focus my efforts and give me the courage and determination to pick myself up and go again. 

In my conversations about teachers’ beliefs about the teaching of mathematics, I am reminded of an article by Kim Beswick from the University of Tasmania that was in the AMT magazine recently (Number 62, Volume 4, 2006) titled The Importance of Mathematics Teachers’ Beliefs.  In this article she notes “that what teachers believe influences their teaching yet the focus of much professional learning remains on influencing the specific practices and tools that teachers employ in their classrooms.” I have commented on this aspect of change management in previous postings. It is very difficult to implement changes to teachers’ practices without a concomitant shift in how they believe mathematics should be best taught and learnt. She lists a number of statements that were given to teachers – they were asked to indicate the extent to which they believed they were true. These statements were, for example:

(1)  Mathematics is about connecting ideas and sense-making

(2)  The teacher has a responsibility actively to facilitate and guide students’ construction of mathematical knowledge

She concludes her article with the comment that “Findings concerning the importance of teachers’ beliefs to the kinds of classrooms they create highlight the importance of individual ..teachers..reflecting carefully on the beliefs they hold about the nature of mathematics and about mathematics teaching and learning.” 

So, the question is this: how can reflection be encouraged in teachers who are not open-minded to this? Is there a bridge between where their thinking is now and what it could become with some reflection?    

Another article I have been reading is titled Rethinking Professional Development: Supporting Reform in Middle Grades Mathematics through the Cultivation of Teaching Dispositions by Ron Ritchhart (in L. Leutzinger (ed): Mathematics in the Middle; Reston, VA: NCTM). In this article, Ritchhart also comments on the need for a pedagogical approach to professional development as an alternative to ‘how to’ training of teachers. He says that we should be trying to inculcate 5 teaching dispositions. These are the dispositions to: 

(1)  grant students reason

(2)  learn from students

(3)  grapple with pedagogy

(4)  focus on big ideas

(5)  seek and offer collegiality 

Yes!! And so I will pick myself up out of the depressive mire I found myself in last week and think about it in a different way. It may not be possible to build a bridge in the usual way for some teachers but not all connections have to be bridges.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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