This is part six of a series of six posts on how to create a mathematics teacher specialist network. Find the entire series here.
In this final part of the Math TOSA Network Series, I want to share some lessons we’ve learned and some potential issues to consider if you are starting your own network.
- Sometimes schools will want to only send some members of their team. For example a district with two teacher specialists may send each teacher specialist to every other meeting. While I understand the reasoning behind this choice, the problem is that the teacher specialists may often not be on the same page, making implementation harder. I always go with my real life friend and colleague, Nanette Johnson. If either of us hear something great in one rotation, we tell the other person so that the other person can sit with the person who had the good idea and learn more as well. It greatly helps to have us on the same page, having heard it from the original source.
- One rotation is not always enough time to finish a conversation. As such, consider this network more like speed dating. Instead of having the entire date with someone, you get 15 minutes to decide whether or not you want to hear more from that person. Then you can continue the conversation after the meeting or during the breaks and/or lunch.
- As I mentioned in an earlier post, eventually you want to start planning your meetings as much as a school year in advance. What I didn’t think about though were potential issues this may cause. Specifically, somewhere around September 2015, I got an email from a member of our network asking if I knew that all the teacher specialists from one of the venues no longer work there and that they hadn’t hired replacements yet. This meant that when it was time to use that venue later in the school year, there would be nobody there who had any clue who I was or why I thought it would be OK to have a meeting there. This thought had never crossed my mind. Now I have learned that it is a good idea to check in with venues periodically to make sure everything is still on track.
- It’s possible that what you’re trying to do already exists or has existed in the past. It is worthwhile to check in with people who are connected to many others to find out what they know. You may just be able to join an existing group or learn about reasons previous groups collapsed so that you can avoid those problems.
- Make sure to distribute the leadership as much as possible. Not only do you not want to be doing all the work but the group functions best when others get leadership opportunities.
Here are some questions and concerns I have that are potential issues. Most don’t have answers.
- How do we making the group more resilient if any one person leaves? A future boss of mine could find running this network to be a bad use of my time. What would happen to the group then? Right now it is more of a star network than a mesh network.
- How do we connect with more people? As big as we are, there are still so many people and districts who have no idea we exist. When you think about it, it’s not the easiest to even find other teacher specialists nor is it the easiest for them to find our network. It does remind me how important it is to “invite” (a la Kaneka Turner and her enlightening talk) other teacher specialists.
- How do we ensure that everyone finds others to connect with at their grade level? You need to work hard to get a critical mass of each grade band. For example, for several meetings there was only one table of elementary teachers specialists. It appeared that their dissatisfaction was growing and that they would not come back if they didn’t get more people and feel more value. So we made a constant and continuous push to get people to bring their elementary counterparts. These days, this issue has been mostly solved for our network. We are finally big enough that there is usually a minimum of 15 elementary and 15 secondary teachers at every meeting. If there wasn’t, a group could fall off the network in an instant.
- How will the group size change if Common Core funding changes? One fortuitous reality is that this group came into existence soon after the Common Core State Standards and corresponding funding was in place. A wave of teacher specialist positions were created and this group had huge influxes of members. What happens though if that money dries up? Will the group be able to withstand losing 25% of its members? 50%? More?
- How do we make meeting locations more central? As I mentioned here, our strategy for picking meeting locations went from “anywhere that will take us” to “where is the best location for most members?” We believe that we have made progress by literally averaging members’ GPS coordinates to find a better center. However future iterations of this approach might go as far as taking in traffic as some distances take much longer in So Cal at different times of the day.
I hope this series of posts has been useful for you. Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below.