I frequently hear teachers say “How are we supposed to teach all of this in one school year?” or “What are we supposed to cut to make time for what you’re showing us?”  These are valid concerns as >82% of math educators said that they don’t have enough time to teach one year of standards in one year.

What I wonder is why we don’t do something about it. I believe that the reason is because we know discussing how to move forward will be a painful, tense conversation and we tend to avoid situations like that. Unfortunately, avoiding the conversation leads to pretty awful alternatives that will never go away until educators make some tough choices.


The Path Forward
To explain why we must have these conversations, I’m sharing a 12-minute presentation from my Empowered Problem Solving online workshop. You can watch or download it to use with your colleagues.

I hope that watching it makes the problem unavoidably clear and helps your team find a way to have these tough conversations. The story I share talks about the difference between change and transition and was inspired heavily by William Bridges’ book Managing Transitions.


If you’d like to use this video to share with others in your presentations, click on the button below and enter your information. You’ll receive a link to download it shortly afterwards.


What do you think about the message I share in the video? What do you agree with and what do you think is unrealistic? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. The hardest (and scariest) part of being a teacher is success evaluation. When we talk of change and transition, the unknown is whether those changes and transitions produces better results. The data produced to determine this is usually something annual like CAASPP, or a district benchmark, where there is little room to make adjustments or tweaks on the fly that will affect the outcome. This makes teachers even more resistant to change because there is no guarantee the change will produce better results, or the very real possibility that it may take multiple years before those improvements are noted. Having some sort of reassuring measure in place (I don’t know what it would be, but can see it’s necessity) as these changes occur would be highly beneficial. Curious as to whether some districts out there have something like that.

    • John, I totally appreciate the worry you are voicing and that many teachers feel. It’s perfectly natural to want these clear markers of success. That said, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, teaching and learning are messy, and so are assessments of teaching and learning. No one has designed a perfect assessment that can adequately describe all of the goals that we want students to achieve in mathematics. It is an ongoing challenge that statisticians are working to address. That said, secondly, there are also batteries of different types of assessments that have been given for over twenty years. And the evidence is showing that when students are taught in conceptual ways, they not only become better problem-solvers and mathematical thinkers, but they ALSO do not lose any ground to their peers in terms of computation and skill (and in many cases actually improve, because of their stronger understanding). So it’s not a zero-sum game. Changing to teach in a conceptual way is not a trade-off to fear for potential lack of results. As Robert says, the transition period is uncomfortable during which scores on traditional exams may fluctuate a bit, but in the long run the evidence that better outcomes (including a more scientifically and mathematically literate population, better prepared for a breadth of college, career, and life opportunities) is indisputable.

      • To be a bit clearer, the battery of assessments I describe are far broader than just simple traditional multiple-choice tests. Those are the ones that, in particular, are still narrowly-framed and difficult to craft in ways that can assess skill, understanding, and problem-solving.

      • J, I totally agree with you. The shifts are uncomfortable and messy. I don’t get the feeling teachers are resistant because they don’t think it will produce better results in the LONG run. I think they may be resistant because they fear it will not produce significant results soon enough and by the time they are comfortable with it, it will shift another direction. I love the way Robert emphasizes improving the practice, not the curriculum not the test, but the strategies that meet kids where they are. If these messages gain traction, then whatever fears of performance exist may slowly fade away. Good discussion.

        • Points well made, John! I understand the urgent desire for results. After all, these are kids lives at stake, right? And, plus, teachers have a lot more pressure on them coming from administrators, policy makers, and the like.

          The only thing that I would push back on, is the “shift in another direction.” Yes, there are fads in education–plenty of them. And buzzwords. And rapid changes in leadership in districts, and new elected officials, such that new pet projects are introduced before the older ones have taken root. Far too much turmoil in my opinion.

          All of that being said, though, the long arc of progressive-oriented math education has (in my view) been consistently and very narrowly focused toward supporting students with improved conceptual understanding. In addition, it’s also been focused on breaking the stranglehold of procedural skill-and-drill. I hope readers don’t think I’m saying skills aren’t important, rather that skill without conceptual understanding as a foundation is meaningless and has been known for generations to lead to: low achievement and small proportions of graduates entering STEM-related fields. And I know that there have been various back-to-basics movements, from time to time, that are more often propaganda in public than they are built on any hard science and data. But all told, there is a great deal of consistency in the history of reform-oriented mathematics education, led by teacher-educators and knowledgeable scholars. In fact, Elizabeth Green’s influential book even talks about how the success of conceptual oriented teaching around the world originated from research done here in the U.S.; it hasn’t taken hold fully, here, not because the science is bad–but because the policies and leadership too often are.

          • I’m jumping in late here, but yes, it’s challenging to take that leap of faith and hope that a change will actually be a good thing.

  2. It’s funny for me, because when I started teaching was exactly the year when the government changed our program, and I remember older teachers complaining all the time. Last year we had another big change, and when I started complaining, I felt old. So I decided to prepare a talk for my fellow teachers to think about what the changes ment. With these guidelines, it would have been easier, though. Thanks.

    • That has to be a funny experience so begin at one end and now see it from the other side. I guess that’s the way it will be for all of us eventually. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I believe that most teachers’ fear of change is directly related to how it is going to affect them in terms of supervision/evaluation. You made an analogy to how the approaches have changed for heart surgery and how they will continue to improve. The practices utilized in supervision/evaluation of teachers have not changed in decades. Some will point out the adoption of some model devised by some theorist. However, in the end, there is a once-per-year classroom visit and observation by a building administrator that is primarily responsible for teacher ratings. The need to perform supervision in this manner is one big reason I’ve never used my administrative degree/certification. It’s just so useless to me. As a teacher, I want someone to meet with me on an ongoing basis and to actually brainstorm ideas for change that can truly be implemented. I don’t care about words like proficient or distinguished. They’re meaningless….useless. I want a collaborative atmosphere/program for planning change and providing feedback in order to create, troubleshoot and modify those changes. In education we throw the word “collaboration” around all the time. In practice, it really doesn’t occur. I worked in industry as a biomedical/electronics technician before becoming a teacher. When a problem arose, it was normal for several technicians to get to work on the problem. Sometimes, engineers would join us when we discovered something the needed to address. But, we truly worked together. When I began teaching and would talk to my friends from industry about the differences between the jobs I would always say two things. First, I can’t go to the bathroom when I need to do so. That’s hard. Secondly, I hate the isolation of the classroom. We rarely work as a team to teach students. That’s harder. Today more than ever collaboration is a key characteristic needed by employers. Yup….we talk about in education all the time. We rarely allow our teachers to actually do it. That’s disappointing.

    • There is certainly much room for improvement in education. Conversations about evaluating effectiveness in education need to be more common.

  4. I needed to rewatch this today-thank you. I have been trying to use strategies and platforms that will work in any set up (in person, virtual, hybrid) and this has led to an incredible workload. I had habits of dedicating large amounts of time to lesson creation pre-Covid, but now, the increase feels exponential. It is very exhausting, but you are right-this is a transition period. The instant change-a pandemic, has led to the craziest transition of our lives and careers simultaneously. Perhaps that is the challenge-both areas are transitioning. Although it is difficult right now, there is hope that it won’t be this way forever. Thank you for that reminder.

    • My pleasure, Merryl. Remember that expectations now are about as low as they will ever be. So do what you can and focus on higher value options.

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