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SD Department of Education
Jan. 2019  

Rapid City math teacher coaches colleagues

Photo of Crystal McMachen Crystal McMachen teaches math at Southwest Middle School in the Rapid City Area School District. She is a coach in the South Dakota Department of Education’s Virtual Math Coaching program, which is accepting applications for a new cohort through Friday, Jan. 18. Learn more about how to apply in this month’s article, titled, “K-12 math teachers: Apply for free coaching by Jan. 18.”

Why are you passionate about teaching math?
I have always enjoyed working with kids, and math was my favorite subject in school. That is why I initially wanted to be a math teacher. Since then, I have found that making math the class that students like to come to and learn about is a challenge, and I LOVE challenges. I find it exciting and rewarding to see students get excited about learning new math concepts and seeing that math isn’t something scary, but something that can be fun!

You’ve coached in previous cohort(s), correct? How long have you been involved, and what drives you to stay involved?
I have been with the virtual coaching program since the start. This will be my fourth cohort. My district used to have math coaches who would support us within the classroom. I had one coach who really helped me learn and grow as a teacher. I really valued her input and the advice she gave me. I know I am a better teacher because of her. I want to be able to help others the way my coach helped me.

The coaching program requires teachers to watch video of themselves teaching. Why is that valuable?
Video is a powerful tool. When you are teaching, it is hard to concentrate on everything that is happening within the room. You are worried about your students, what they are doing and learning, your teacher moves, and everything else that teaching involves. When you record yourself, you are able to step back and concentrate on you and your focus. Video doesn’t lie, and watching yourself is an excellent way to reflect on your instructional moves.

What kind of feedback have you heard from teachers who were initially reluctant to watch themselves?
The first time watching yourself is tough. People tend to concentrate on how their voice sounds or how they look. But after that first viewing, you can concentrate on you and your teacher moves. Teachers have also liked watching their students from a bird’s eye view. You are able to see what they are doing while your attention isn’t directly on them.

How has the program evolved?
I feel the process has become more streamlined. Watching video of a coach’s lesson has been added to the process so both the teacher and coach are able to self-reflect and go through the learning progression.

If I’m a math teacher considering signing up for virtual math coaching, how will my students and I benefit?
Both the teacher and students benefit through the Virtual Math Coaching program because teachers become more aware of their instructional moves. The time we have with our students is precious, and we want every moment to count. With the Virtual Math Coaching program, the teachers can improve their own practice, which in turn benefits the students.

How have you seen teachers grow through this program in the past?
I have seen teachers work on a specific goal, such as the level of questions they ask or getting more student talk into a lesson. Through the process, teachers have reflected on their videos, brainstormed with me on solutions that would work with them in their own classroom, and then applied these in their next video.

How do coaches and teachers get to know each other/build rapport through the program?
Since the teacher and coach may live on different ends of the state, they get to know each other through one face-to-face meeting and then the rest is through phone and email. I have also used video chats.

What would you say to someone who says, “I know this would be a valuable opportunity, but I don’t feel like I have the time to do it.”
We have all been in professional development meetings or courses that felt like a waste of time since it didn’t pertain to us. This is 100 percent individualized. The teacher gets to watch their own teaching and reflect on what they need, with the support of a coach who is also a teacher who understands the day-to-day struggles. Plus, John Hattie’s research proves that watching video and reflecting on your own practice has a high positive effect on student learning.

What are some tips/advice you could offer for math teachers at various grade levels to improve their professional practice?

  • Reach out to colleagues—don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. Sometimes we get stuck in our day-to-day routines and don’t realize we are in a rut. Brainstorming with others can help light that spark.
  • Listen to your students—they will tell you how they learn best.
  • Join a professional organization such as the South Dakota Council of Teachers of Mathematics and attend conferences. The SD STEM Ed conference is coming up and it is open for all K-12 teachers. There are sessions for everyone!

How do you reflect on your own teaching?
I reflect on my own teaching by videotaping myself and by looking at student data. During the Virtual Math Coaching program, participants use a Swivl, which is a robot that helps record your class. While I have access to the Swivl, I will record and watch little chunks of my teaching.

When I don’t have a Swivl, I rely on my student data. I will look for patterns in the answers that students give, and this helps me find my next steps. I also talk to my colleagues a lot. I ask for their advice or will go over student answers with them to help me find new ways of presenting information to help correct misconceptions that we find in the students’ work.

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