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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

Mathematics Coaching: An Essential Component on a Job-Embedded Professional Development Structure

RUSMP instructor, Blanca Medina recently wrote the following essay on Mathematics Coaching:

In many districts across the United States, schools use mathematics coaches as an important element in a comprehensive plan to improve instruction and learning in mathematics. But coaches don’t work in isolation. They are part of the education system and they play a crucial role in the design of an effective job-embedded professional development structure.

Job-embedded professional development occurs at schools and is tailored to teacher’s professional needs. It is designed to enhance teacher’s instruction with the purpose of improving student achievement, and allows schools to create a collaborative work environment that provides the level of support necessary to improve the teaching of mathematics in the classroom. These are some of the components:

  • Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s): grade-level meetings, where teachers collaborate with each other to implement best practices, discuss student performance and work, create data-driven lessons, help each other prepare and share materials, and assist each other in areas of difficulty.
  • Coaching: done by a person with high level of expertise in mathematics and in education in general who is not a classroom teacher, an administrator or an evaluator. A coach can help teachers align curriculum, instructional materials and assessments, create data-driven and differentiated instruction; collaborate with other teacher in their grade level, provide and model a variety of teaching strategies specific for a teacher’s needs, recognize and correct misconceptions, inform teachers of all matters of education: school and district policy, instructional strategies, curriculum and special populations.
  •  Mentoring: differs from coaching in its focus. A mentor is an experienced teacher providing support to a new teacher in the personal and non-academic features of teaching like district and school rules and procedures.

Within the job-embedded professional development structure, the role of a mathematical coach is an important one. They engage in direct contact with teachers to analyze their strengths, weaknesses and possible misconceptions with the purpose of improving math instruction and student learning.

Through classroom observations, demonstrations of strategies, modeling lessons, co-teaching, and engaging teachers in math conversations and powerful questioning that make teachers think, math coaches change teachers’ attitude. Teachers are guided to reflect on their own practice and encouraged to modify it when student data indicate learning is not happening.

The coach will select or design curriculum-based activities to demonstrate to teachers. These activities will address areas of need and will allow teachers to grow professionally. They should represent what research indicate are best practices. Once a new skill or strategy is learned, it’s time for teachers to implement it in their classroom. This implementation should generate some physical form of student response that the teacher can bring to the following meeting for discussion.

The discussion generated by teacher’s feedback on the implementation of new skill or strategy should be guided by DuFour’s four questions: 1. What do we want our students to learn? 2. How will we know they learned it? 3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty? 4. How will we respond when a student already knows it?

Mathematics coaches can have a direct impact on teacher’s quality, which will accomplish the final goal of improving student achievement.



“Job-Embedded Professional Development: What Is It? Who Is Responsible? And How To Get It Done Well?” National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. April 2010. 14 October 2013. http://www.learningforward.org/docs/pdf/jobembeddedpdbrief.pdf?sfvrsn=0

“Mathematics Specialist and Mathematics Coaches: What Does Research Say?” Research, News and Advocacy. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 17 March 2009. 14 October 2013. http://www.nctm.org/news/content.aspx?id=22839

Shaub, Linda. “Instructional Coaches: Leaders of Instruction and Agents of Change”. Texas Educational Agency. 2 January 2010. 20 October 2013.  http://ipsi.utexas.edu/alg_readiness_tool/kit/instructional_coaching_v2.pdf



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