Helpful Advice for Math & Other Coaches

The Mathematics Coaching Handbook: Working with K-8 teachers to improve instruction (2nd Edition)
By Pia M. Hansen
(Routledge/Eye on Education, 2016 – Learn more)

scott sharpReviewed by A. Scott Sharp

I currently serve as the middle grades specialist for Madison County Schools in Huntsville, Alabama. This is my first year. Prior to this position, I taught mathematics at the secondary level and also served as the Advanced Placement lead teacher for mathematics.

math coaching handbook sharpAs I began my new position as the middle grades specialist, I certainly was curious about the best methods of interacting with middle school teachers. Previously as the AP math lead teacher I had worked with AP teachers, but I had not spent a great deal of time in the middle grades. This book grabbed my attention since I felt it would offer some great suggestions.

I read the book over several weeks and found it offered many ideas for interacting with the teachers I serve. It also affirmed many of the things that I have been doing and offered some suggestions on how I might be able to improve my action plan. Author Pia Hansen, director of Professional Development for the Math Learning Center, presents her own action plan and the steps that a new coach needs to implement to insure success.

The role of coaches

Some of the coaching roles that Hansen discusses are:

  • to support the professional growth of math teachers through content;
  • to enhance mathematics instruction by helping teachers develop effective teaching strategies;
  • to collaborate with teachers and teacher teams concerning modeling and team-teaching;
  • to share research with teachers on how students best learn mathematics;
  • to facilitate opportunities for teachers to understand standards;
  • to assist administrative staff in interpreting student data;
  • to examine classroom-based assessments and standardized test items for alignment;
  • to examine student work as evidence of understanding; to provide staff development for math curriculum, and to organize math resources.

Hansen emphasizes that coaches are not administrators, supervisors, or evaluators of teachers. Coaches also do not just “go with the flow.” They must be willing to take risks and take action to support learning and teaching.

Coaches must set goals for the year and must be able to communicate openly and professionally with all teachers. Math coaches must be willing to create and sustain momentum for quality mathematics instruction regardless of other factors involved.

Helping teachers reach school goals

Hansen also gives a template of sample questions to ask administrators and teachers prior to working in a school. It’s important to know the schoolwide goals of each school and where special emphasis might be placed. Active listening and objective documentation are the two characteristics of an effective coaching cycle.

Hansen also addresses how to deal with resisting teachers and offers suggestions about working with the hard-to-deal-with teachers who exist at every school. Coaches encourage teachers to try the things they fear they cannot do, together.

Well worth your time

Overall, this handbook was well worth the read. In addition to the many suggestions and ideas presented throughout the book, the appendix contains many sample templates that an instructional coach can use as effective tools. Moreover, even though this coaching handbook is designated for math instruction, I feel it offers many ideas and guidelines that could be used across the curriculum.

I know as I continue to work with our teachers throughout the district, Pia Hanson’s handbook will be my constant companion. Furthermore, I will encourage our coaches at each school to read the book and implement the guidelines that are suggested. My only complaint is a personal one – I wish I had chosen to read The Mathematics Coaching Handbook sooner!

Scott Sharp currently serves as the middle grades specialist for Madison County Schools in Alabama. Prior to this position, he served as the AP Math lead teacher for five years in Huntsville City Schools. He also taught AP Calculus and Geometry for 19 years.

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