Excellence is never an accident.
It is the result of high intention, sincere effort,
intelligent direction, skillful execution,
and the vision to see obstacles as opportunities.
 
It is 8:30 on a typical day at Parker Elementary School in Quincy. A school with 325 students, 49% of the students are identified as economically disadvantaged,  81% of the students are identified as non-white in ethnicity, 72%  do not have English as their first language, and 53% are English language learners. This school that is in level 1 standing with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for exceeding their targets for growth is special. I am lead through high ceiling hallways with hardwood flooring into the basement of a school built in 1916. Most of the structure itself remains unchanged since being built, but the learning inside reflects the 21st century. I walk into a kindergarten classroom to 22 students gathered on a rug. Students are given eight different choices for their learning and as their names are called, they select which math activity they would like to start with. 
 
They carry their math choice menu with them and begin. Four children are counting mini cherries and taking turns, working on one to one correspondence up to 10. Two children are playing flash math and working on subitizing amounts up to 5. One child is working on a matching game and practicing his recognition of numerals and number words. Students can be heard saying things like, “To make 5 how have to put on three more counters.” As they finish an activity, the move to a new station and continue their learning. Everything is running like clockwork with highly motivated and engaged students, who are clearly in charge of their learning. 
 
excellence in math teaching - professional development
                                               
I move back upstairs to grade three. Here students review the lesson from the previous day where they were dividing arrays to make sense of the distributive property within basic facts. Students are given an exit ticket to check for understanding, and then a small group moves to the back table to continue the conversation in a guided group with the teacher. Groups have been created based on the results of exit tickets from the previous lessons. Other students then get their math folders and begin to work on their personalized menu.  Options are weighted, and students have choices on how to meet their goal. Like in kindergarten, every student is engaged, using math manipulatives, writing in math journals, using technology, and interacting with peers to discuss mathematical concepts. 
excellence math teaching
The city of Quincy has committed to a K-8 professional development plan  to transform mathematics instruction with an emphasis on differentiation. All 11 elementary schools and 5 middle schools are receiving regular support as their teachers work to meet the needs of their diverse population.  Since the adoption of the 2011 MA Frameworks, and the Common Core nationally, all teachers have been hard at work to implement these standards. The level of complexity and conceptual rigor required is a significant shift. And while the standards may be clear, the pathway to understanding for ALL students is not.
It is up to the teachers to determine how to move forward through a curriculum while allowing students to achieve understanding in meaningful ways, at varying paces. The challenge is real and guided math is a viable solution. Authors Laney Sammons and Dr. Nicki Newton have both written books and provided the framework for guided math, but its roots lie  in what we know about students. They vary. Not all students learn at the same pace, and so moving a class forward in whole class instruction means that we are not meeting the needs of all students. When we shift instruction to allow for small group lessons and provide meaningful opportunities for ongoing practice, we begin to see results. This is what I have been privileged to see in action in the classrooms that I have been visiting.
Schools like Parker epitomize why I became an educator. These teachers know that all students can learn at high levels, but beyond that, under the direction of their principal, they hold themselves to that same high standard and strive to provide the best possible learning environment. This school believes in equity and demonstrates excellence.

excellence in math education