When parents were interviewed about math instruction in school, the four most frequent words that arose were intimidated, frustrated, worried, and confused. The author who conducted those interviews, Dr. Hilary Kreisberg, explores what school leaders can do to support teachers changing those parent concerns. Hilary is the author of “Partnering with Parents in Elementary Math” and “Adding Parents to the Equation: Understanding Your Child’s Elementary School Math.”
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:28 Bringing parents into the math success equation. Our guest today is Hillary Kreisberg, the director at the Center for Mathematics Achievement that Lesley University. Hillary provides professional development, coaching coursework and training to educators nationally and internationally. She’s the author of “Adding Parents to The Equation” and “Partnering With Parents in Elementary School Math.” I’m excited that she could join us today. Welcome Hillary.
Hilary: 00:59 Thanks for having me.
Steve: 01:01 Hillary, I know that you interviewed many parents about their questions and concerns about math instruction at school. Would you share some of the insights that you gathered in those interviews?
Hilary: 01:13 Sure. So in 2017, my co-author and I interviewed hundreds of families across the states to find out how they were feeling about the way we teach math today. And we found out that there were four keywords that were used most frequently, and those were intimidated, frustrated, worried, and confused, and they felt like they can’t help their kids because they don’t understand what math they’re doing. They felt frustrated that their kids might fail because of them an intelligent – hey, I have a master’s degree and I still can’t do third grade math homework, things of that nature, what we’v heard. And most importantly, that they couldn’t communicate with their children because of the disparity in the language of the mathematics. So all of their sentiments aligned with what we had heard and continue to hear from parents daily, whether I’m at a store or even I’m just watching TV, right? The Incredibles has a line all about “why are they changing math? Math is math.” So this all just stems from a lack of communication, which is why I think doing this coach and administrative podcast is really important.
Steve: 02:18 What advice do you have for schools and districts as to how they should be approaching communicating with parents?
Hilary: 02:25 Well, I think that the reality is that many students have been positioned inadvertently as chiefly responsible for parent’s education about math instruction, when really this has to be the school’s job. So to answer your question, at minimum, there should be something
Steve: 03:51 I know that you’re big on having us assess the beliefs that behind our actions. So I’m wondering if you have some questions that school leaders ought to be asking themselves and maybe those are the questions then that carry over into a staff meeting where we examine our personal beliefs about the parents engagement in student success in math.
Hilary: 04:25 Yeah. Well, you’re not going to be able to partner with parents if you believe some families are incapable of the work. So school leaders have to first see families as essential to their child’s success and recognize that their strength, knowledge, and skills that all families bring to the table. And then from that school leader perspective, that coach perspective, it’s about helping teachers get to that same place. So once teachers then believe that all families have something and knowledge to bring to the table, then leaders can set up structures that ensure partnerships are done successfully, but you gotta start with your beliefs first.
Steve: 05:03 So I’m wondering as a administrator or instructional coach in a school, what would I be observing or hearing from teachers that would be an indicator to me as to what teachers are doing to encourage that partnership. And then based on what I hear, what steps would I take then to support teachers with that?
Hilary: 05:30 Yeah, I mean, I think it’s so interesting because it’s kind of like the chicken or the egg here. I think really it should start at a schoolwide level and there should be expectations set for teachers of like, at minimum, I want you to send home one letter this year that explains the math program, or at minimum this year, we’re going to host one family math night and here’s our goals with that. So I think it really starts at the top and then works its way down because then what you have, if you don’t do it that way, is you’ll have populations of teachers that are doing these things really well and then others that are not, and now you’ve set those teachers up for some competitive nature from parents, right? So I think it has to start at the system level. But really teachers should be reflecting and thinking about as a grade level team, what have we done to communicate with families this year about the way we’re teaching math.
Hilary: 06:19 And it may just start with a survey to families about what they know and are able to do with the mathematics, because maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you don’t have to worry about it, Maybe all your parents are familiar and great, but based on my interviews, I would say there would be a couple parents there who – and you gotta be because sometimes parents play a dual role, right? Some of them are educators. So if they’re an educator, they generally are a little bit more aware of what’s going on. So I think you gotta start with just assessing what’s happening. And actually in our book, we have an initial survey that you could send home to families that does exactly this, and it lets you know, what families know and don’t know and what more they could be learning. So I think starting there would be really helpful. But yeah, it’s definitely a schoolwide endeavor. I think stakeholders at the top have to think about what are the roles of math teaching and learning and who owns what role and starting there.
Steve: 07:14 Which of your books has that has that survey?
Hilary: 07:18 Partnering with parents. The one for teachers and leaders.
Steve: 07:21 Okay.
Hilary: 07:22 There’s a ton of reproducibles in that, that coaches, administrators, teachers can use to get that communication started.
Steve: 07:31 We’ll be sure to include both books in the lead-in to this podcast. As I was listening to you, I was almost picturing that it could be a grade level PLC activity of once a quarter, we put together a letter going out to parents kind of maybe it’s recapping this this past quarter and giving some indications of of what’s coming.
Hilary: 08:02 Yeah, I think that’s a great place to start. What I often find in here is, we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough time. And what ends up taking up that time is content related things. But I think we often forget that by pulling parents into the work as partners, the achievements going to go up, because we have that third person to help us. We’ve got the student, we’ve got us, and now we’ve got the parents that can come on in. So I think we’ve gotta make the time to bring the families into the picture and I think PLCs is a great place to start.
Steve: 08:37 I’m smiling because on the parent podcast, you said I used your magic word of coach. And on this podcast now, you used my magic word of make time. People are always hitting me with, they can’t find the time and forget finding the time, but if you decide this is important, if you decide that that parent makes a major contribution here, then putting aside a PLC meeting once a quarter to put that letter together, or to spend the time planning for that math math night to share with parents, we will make the time because we see the importance and the value of it.
Hilary: 09:19 That’s exactly right. I don’t have time right now to go to the gym and work out, but I gotta make that time. You might have to give up something else. I might have to sacrifice an extra 10 minute of sleep to do something a little bit different. There’s a great book I just read actually, “Atomic Habits,” and it’s all about small steps and how that can lead to really big changes. And that even doing something slightly different for one minute is going to compound over time and have a very large change. So even a 10 minute PLC check-in on parents is going to make a large difference if you do that more consistently.
Steve: 09:57 Yeah. Seeing that we put in the agenda once every eight or nine weeks, parents are in the agenda and takes us back there, where are we and what’s next. Well, Hillary, it’s been great talking to you. Would you tell folks easiest way to get in touch with you and find out about your resources and the work you’re doing there at Lesley?
Hilary: 10:19 Yeah. So I’m on Twitter, you can follow me on Twitter and Steve will put that in the show notes, my handle. Or you can find me on Lesley University’s Center for Mathematics Achievement website, and be sure to grab a copy of “Partnering With Parents in Elementary School Math.” Again, it comes with tons of tools and reproducibles to support families from both the educator and the leader level and it’s a great resource just to have in your school buildings for teachers.
Steve: 10:45 Well, thanks again, Hilary. Have a great day.
Hilary: 10:47 Thank you. You too.
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