Instead of writing a list of New Year’s resolutions of what we will and won’t do, there is a movement to determine one word that will focus our goals. This one word can shape decisions and serve as an inspiration throughout the year. I am proposing the word for education in 2016 be PURPOSE.

Purpose is both a noun and a verb, and has several definitions, involving reason, determination, and intent.


PURPOSE as determination – to proceed with purpose.

Choosing to focus and narrow instruction, to hold to the ideal that everything that I do with my students must have a clear purpose and reason for happening, will require some resolve. We are all too often made dizzy by the every swinging pendulum of educational initiatives in our districts. Cathy Seeley, past president of NCTM, warns us of The Worst Thing we do in Education (a must-read, powerful article). Among other advice, she states, “The all too familiar scenario we see played out in district after district and state after state can best be characterized as Yo-Yo Decision Making. A decision is made to do something new. There’s a flurry of activity to put the program in place, often on a short timeline, targeting teachers with new demands, requirements, training, and the stress of changing what they’ve been doing. Significant, maybe even huge, amounts of money are spent to put the program in place. In the best-case scenario, teachers rally around The New Thing and do their best to do what’s demanded of them. They attend meetings, engage in professional development workshops, change out the materials in their classrooms, modify the way they plan lessons, and try to use new strategies for orchestrating their instructional approach or the way they evaluate student learning. They may get a year, or even two years, into the work of transforming their classrooms. It takes at least that long to even start to be comfortable with a new way of operating, but as time goes on, and with the right kind of support, they move in the right direction. Students may even start to show increases in learning. Then, Something Happens. . . ” We need a clearly defined purpose and to be prepared to defend our reasons for thoughtfully taking time to improve our practice. Working together with PURPOSE for a common goal helps us stay the course.

Steve Wyborney  shares a creative model for learning from each other, creating a community of educators, working together with PURPOSE to improve instruction. He shares with us 5 different challenges for “Stepping into each other’s Classrooms” including a brief video explanation of each model – if interested be sure to scroll through his blog for video clips at the end. Wyborney tells us, “Powerful instructional practices are occurring all around us.  Sometimes those practices are in classrooms only a few feet away from us.  So very close.  There may be teachers just a few moments down the hallway who are using highly effective strategies that could quickly empower our own instruction and positively impact our students.  We know that stepping into those classrooms, even for a short time, could significantly contribute to our own practice. Yet, stepping into neighboring classrooms can feel like an opportunity that is somehow out of reach.  How can visiting other classrooms during the school day actually happen?  In 2016, I challenge you to do exactly that:  Step into each other’s classrooms in the thick of instruction.  In this post, I offer 4 challenges and several practical suggestions to turn that nearby opportunity into a powerful possibility.”

The  PURPOSE of education calls to mind the  reason or the  intention for the lessons that we teach. This is the WHY part of teaching. Do you know why you are teaching the next lesson in the unit? Is this next lesson the best next step for the students in front of me? For all of them? Some of them or none of them? Lessons must pass the test of answering the question of why with clarity. If it is unclear, there is more work to do. We must be able to confidently find the justifications to enhance a textbook, to abandon low-level repetitive tasks and activities for rich exploratory tasks, to find the line of productive struggle even if you experience push back. (See Pearse and Walton, 2011, Teaching Numeracy,  Component 1: Purpose & Focus for more…)

Take  this time at the start of 2016 to ponder the PURPOSE of mathematics. Why is it important for students to understand the mathematics that we are teaching them? Isn’t that the question students and parents ask all the time? What is the PURPOSE? How does education have a long lasting impact on the knowledge and skills of students so that they are prepared for their future? The answers here lead to the standards for mathematical practice. A reflective activity for staff could be to create a word cloud that answers just that.

math word cloud

Whether you embrace teaching numeracy as described by Pearse and Walton, or think about your role as a leader and resist the urge for yo-yo decision making as described by Seeley or take up Wyborney’s call for stepping into classrooms, or try something else, I challenge you to spend 2016 teaching with PURPOSE – to always be able to tell the why for the lessons you teach and the decisions that you make. What is your PURPOSE this year?

Happy New Year!
Sue Looney, Ed.D.
Director of Mathematics Professional Development
Looney Math Consulting

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