UIC College of Education faculty working with three CPS schools in Network 10 that have early childhood programs in their buildings guiding and studying a process designed to build math leadership teams in each school in order to strengthen the school’s teacher learning organization, and mathematics instructional practices. While the overall project goals are for this constellation of changes to strengthen early childhood and elementary mathematics student learning for all students in these 3 schools the project team is also expecting that the study will generate new knowledge that will promote the ability to bring this type of work with schools to a larger scale and to more networks/schools in future years.

With funding from the McCormick Foundation, Shelby Cosner, PhD and David Mayrowetz (Department of Educational Policy Studies), faculty affiliates with the Center for Urban Education Leadership, Cathy Main and Kathleen Sheridan, PhD (Department of Educational Psychology) and UIC graduate students Debbie Leslie and Andria Shyjka are collaborating with school principals and math teachers leaders from Kinzie, Hurley and McKay Elementary Schools to cultivate math leadership teams that previously were not in place in these schools. Through a design-study that has examined this work as it has unfolded, they are identifying challenges to local implementation and approaches for overcoming these challenges.

The project is focused on cultivating the kinds of instructional practices that are associated with Common Core Mathematics.  “The only way teachers will be able to bring about these new practices instructionally is if they learn to do them,” Cosner said. “Math leadership teams can play an important role at strengthening the teacher learning organization within schools so that teachers have a supportive learning environment for learning, practicing, and developing these approaches.”

Among other things, the work by UIC’s team is highlighting four areas that are essential for a strong teacher learning organization including strengthening:  a) the school’s teacher learning system, b) the school’s teacher learning planning, c) the school’s teacher learning design, and d) the school’s culture of instructional inquiry. Starting with the learning system, principals and teachers identified spaces in schools for social and collaborative teacher learning.  For example, schools may host professional development days for teachers five or six times per year, but those opportunities will not be enough to build new instructional practices.  Cosner recommends schools complement professional development opportunities by utilizing additional spaces for teacher learning including teacher team meetings, instructional coaching, and peer observation.

UIC’s team is helping these schools to strengthen their teacher learning planning and teacher learning design. Part of this work entails identifying the mathematics practices to be cultivated and then using backward mapping to develop three successive 100-day plans that guide teacher learning over the course of a school year. These plans identify learning that will be provided and do so in ways that provide for sequenced and scaffolded teacher learning over an extended timeframe. Teams then begin to plan for the design of individual teacher learning experiences that take place during the 100-day cycle. “One of the big shifts is helping these math teams plan 2-3 hour teacher learning experiences that are active in nature vs. passive,” Cosner said. “Engaging teachers with application of new practices and then collaborating with their colleagues to make sense of and learn from these early application experiences is a critical part of stronger teacher learning designs.”

Findings from this work are expected to be disseminated late 2016 and early 2017.