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2018 MƒA Summer Think

Workshop Spotlight | August 9, 2018

By Linnea Reyes-LaMon, MƒA Master Teacher

Summer is the best time for me to reflect on my teaching practice. This time allows me to keep the past year of teaching fresh in my mind, while leaving enough time in before fall to plan the implementation of new strategies that will improve my students’ experiences in the classroom. Over the course of three days at the MƒA Summer Think, a teacher-led conference created to facilitate deep collaboration and the sharing of resources between teachers within the MƒA community, all of the 90+ teachers in attendance had the chance to reflect on our practice, and collaboratively learn how to improve our teaching and understanding of our students.

I was on the Summer Think planning committee, and part of that work included deciding on the theme “Identify Your Why.” Whether it’s teachers’ students that inspire them, the love of content, a desire for impact, or social change, we chose to tackle questions of purpose, motivation, goals, rationale, inspiration, self-awareness, and metacognition over the course of the three days. Within the greater theme, personally, I had two learning goals during Summer Think – to learn about ways to improve meetings and discussions with colleagues and to lessen the impact of grades while teaching students to be metacognitive.

There were a variety of “Deep Dive” and “Splash” sessions at the conference, two different formats that varied in length and gave teachers a chance to do in-depth explorations of the “why” questions. Deep Dive topics were anything from “Why are we learning this?” to “Why aren’t more students taking opportunities for practice as opportunities for mastery?” In the “Why do meetings suck?” Deep Dive, facilitated by MƒA Emeritus Alan Cheng, all MƒA teacher attendees wanted to explore the qualities of effective meetings and how teachers can contribute to their success. Modeling what good facilitation looks like, Alan led us through protocols to get to know participants and build trust before tackling pressing issues. We discussed our hopes and fears when walking into meetings. We analyzed times when we felt successful in our classrooms. Sadly, we are all familiar with meetings or after school gatherings that can skew toward negativity. (“I don’t know why my students don’t get this,” or “Let me tell you about my terrible day.”) To make discussions and meetings more productive we can simply discuss what is going well and what led to the success. In the subsequent sessions, we followed a consultancy protocol, taking the role of facilitator, presenter, or participant to fully understand a dilemma and discuss possible ways of dealing with it. As facilitators of meetings, our most important job is to listen and respond accordingly. We as teachers can make sure we follow protocols so that every voice is heard and so that we fully understand a situation before diving into recommendations.

During the Summer Think “Splash Sessions,” I was able to tackle my second goal of teaching students to be reflective about their learning and less focused on their overall grades. We considered questions like, “why is independent learning empowering to students?” and “why does identity matter?” In addition, teachers in attendance were invited to write ideas for topics discussed during the “Open Ocean,” an experience similar to an open studio where we could move freely between discussions. I had written “Going Gradeless” on the dry erase board in hopes to talk with other teachers about the emphasis placed on grades rather than learning, and ways to communicate students’ progress without reporting grades. I met MƒA Master Teacher Katelin Corbett who revealed that she did not use grades in one of her classes and plans to do the same in of the rest of her classes this upcoming school year. In this open space session, I heard voices of teachers ranging from those who use percentage grades and haven’t heard of mastery-based grading to teachers who like me are challenging the ways we report the progress of our students. Hearing from these different perspectives highlighted the issue of reporting grades across schools and identified roadblocks in our paths of creating meaningful learning experiences for our students.

When walking through the “Deep Dive Exhibition” on the last day, the vision we had for the conference was on full display. It was exciting to see how many of the sessions focused on either improving discussions or reflecting about teaching and learning. These workshops all introduced protocols or specific structures to bring back to our classrooms and shared practices for effective teaching and learning. The Summer Think conference was another way we could create a space for teachers to share experiences and improve our practice. It was designed and led by us, for us, and focused on us, our classrooms, our schools, and that’s the most powerful type of professional development I’ve experienced. 

Linnea Reyes-LaMon began her teaching career as an MƒA Early Career Fellow in 2014 and is now a 2018 MƒA Master Teacher. She teaches mathematics at Beacon High School, one of thirty-eight schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium. Linnea researches the mathematical properties of musical rhythms and her work has been featured twice in Tom Tom Magazine: A Magazine About Female Drummers.