Somehow, as a profession, we’ve ended up conflating support, collaboration and shared resources with a lack of autonomy. I can sort of see why we’ve done that. By definition, if you’re teaching in a department where you don’t discuss maths or pedagogy with colleagues, don’t benefit from maths-specific PD, and don’t share any resources, you do have pretty high autonomy! And in those (surely rare?) departments operating with zero autonomy and fully scripted lessons, there’s necessarily a fair bit of ‘shared’ resourcing.
But I find myself bemused by the conflation – why can’t teachers collaborate, support each other, offer a coherent learning experience to students AND have autonomy?
I firmly believe that students get the best deal when departments operate in the middle part of Jo’s autonomy spectrum – “department policies determine some aspects of pedagogy”. And I believe, in fact I know, that maths teachers can work in this way – with a considerable amount of teacher autonomy – in schools that use complete curriculum programmes like Mathematics Mastery.
The level of teacher autonomy at a department or a school is determined by the professional culture and the teaching and learning culture of the school or team – not by the type or amount of shared resourcing they have.
Investing in a Complete Curriculum Programme (CCP) provides teachers with a quality starting point for lesson resources, and access to bite-sized relevant training and research. Collaborating around a CCP can give a department a shared language to support and challenge each others’ practice. Of course, as CCPs are built around a carefully sequenced programme of study, schools that use them are somewhat towards the right of Jo’s spectrum, but where they sit varies considerably.
If I didn’t know how our Mathematics Mastery programme works in practice, I might assume that teachers in our partner schools have ‘fully scripted lessons’, or at the very least, ‘mandatory, centrally planned lessons’. So I’m going to have a go at explaining what it’s really like to teach in one of our partner schools.
In her blog, Jo writes:
“In the middle ground of the teacher autonomy spectrum, there are a wide range of approaches. These may include one or more of the following:
There are many more approaches I could add to this list, but you get the idea. Basically we're talking about measures to support consistency of experience for students, but still allowing teachers to plan (or adapt) their own lessons.”
Jo’s ‘middle ground’ is exactly where we would hope to find maths teams in our partner schools.
I found Jo’s blog really thought-provoking. Here are my brief thoughts on each of her great sub-headings.
Workload and Wellbeing
Back in 2014, I wrote, “…teachers of mathematics have an enormously complex role to play. This includes creating a positive classroom culture, having a sense of what pupils currently understand, and how they might understand it, and using this to inform next steps. This is a huge responsibility for any individual teacher…”1.
And I feel that now even more than ever. Ensuring that every student, even those who’ve previously found maths confusing or anxiety-inducing, loves learning it and succeeds with it, is the most enormously demanding challenge.
Seven years on, we’re now working with hundreds of schools, many of them for nearly 10 years! We’ve seen again and again the wellbeing impact of teachers being empowered by a Complete Curriculum Programme.
No longer planning from scratch, seeking and creating resources for twenty plus different lessons every week. Instead, teachers in our partner schools can start from classroom resources they know work (they’re informed by evidence, written by experienced teachers and rigorously tested and improved in hundreds of real classrooms). They can focus their valuable time on thinking about the specific needs of their students, and adapting the resources to make them their own.
Recruitment and Retention
Access to speedy, on-demand PD videos and comprehensive, evidence-informed classroom resources to plan from can definitely retain teachers. We love hearing from teachers who are moving to a different part of the country or seeking promotion and ask us for a list of Maths Mastery partner schools to apply to!
Great schools with brilliant Heads of Maths see partnering with Maths Mastery as a way of empowering teachers and increasing teacher autonomy, as well as increasing teachers’ confidence to teach autonomously.
We also see how the time freed up from having to find or create resources from scratch can do wonders for developing expertise. Yes, sometimes that’s more time for life outside teaching, improving teacher wellbeing. But often the ability to focus planning time on adaptation gives teachers the chance to develop.
Teachers take part in Departmental Workshops to allow time for these discussion on upcoming topics.
Different teachers have very different teaching styles – and that’s as true in our partner schools as anywhere!
Some teachers make much more use of our practice exercises.
Some teachers dedicate lots of time to our ‘explore’ tasks, like these:
All teachers bring their own unique teaching style. They plan their own lessons, to meet the needs of their own classes. And in our partner schools, they do that from a well-supported starting place.
Groupings and responsiveness
Our training places huge emphasis on the most effective ways for teachers to adapt the classroom resources to meet the individual needs of their class, as well as to their preferred teaching style. All our classroom resources are fully adaptable.
Teachers have the option of using a diagnostic quiz at the start of each unit.
We signpost to a variety of resources that teachers might want to use to help them respond to what they learn from the pre-unit quiz.
As Jo points out, many maths departments have a range of teacher expertise, and students often have a different maths teacher in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10.
We carefully select a variety of representations to support students’ conceptual understanding. For example, use of bar models is interleaved throughout our classroom resources, so students are familiar with them and can use them as a meaningful representation when learning about the mean average.
Students do experience variety over time in the way concepts are represented, but that variety is considered and designed to deepen their conceptual understanding.
In our Year 8 bearings unit, for example, students experience and use a variety of representations and contexts.
In each unit’s teacher guidance, we make clear the main mathematical ideas that will be being revisited in that unit:
Quality of teaching
I don’t happen to think that novice or developing teachers should experience less autonomy than more experienced teachers, but I strongly and passionately believe that they are entitled to significantly more support.
That support might be more time – a reduced teaching load, so that they can read, reflect, plan and prepare more comprehensively. But how many schools can afford that?
That support might be co-planning – and where our partner schools are able to timetable this, we offer carefully designed co-planning resources to maximise the impact of that precious time.
That support might be training – learning about what approaches more experienced teachers might take, or what the evidence recommends, or working on their own maths.
I also feel strongly that these teachers should not be left almost entirely to their own devices, to sink or swim on their own.
Why not keep teacher autonomy, and empower teachers with on-demand training videos, a complete, coherent curriculum of evidence-informed classroom resources and membership of a collaborative partnership?