Last week I attended Twitter Math Camp 2015 (TMC15), one of the most powerful and enjoyable professional developments I have ever participated in. In subsequent posts, I'll share some of the content that I learned and my goals for applying that in my classroom this year. But what I've been thinking of most since I returned home on Sunday is 'Why is TMC such a powerful and joyful experience?' and 'How can I get more of that in my life?'
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." (James Comer)
At its heart, teaching and learning is all about building relationships and communities. We know and recognize this for our students. Why do we not know and recognize it for ourselves? What is good for students is good for teachers. Teaching can be a lonely profession. We need to be given time and a space to connect with other teachers who have similar goals and who will push our ideas of what good teaching can and should look like. To some extent, I have been able to do this within my workplace. But the community of teachers that I connect with the most resides within the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (#MTBoS)- an online community of teachers dedicated to improving their craft. We blog for each other, we Tweet to each other, we create awesome professional resources for each other. And once a year, we have a math teacher family reunion at TMC where we showcase some of the best things that have been happening in our classrooms. The sense of community is powerful and very welcoming, even to those who may have shown up to TMC not knowing a single soul. Everyone leaves with friends and a feeling of deep connection.
Recently @MathButler created a directory of the MTBoS. Here is what the map of online math educators looks like right now:
Let me tell you what I notice and wonder when I see this image. I notice that there are a huge amount of online math educators in New York and California. I feel jealous of their ability to easily get together. I notice that some states, like Wyoming and Montana have no online educators and I wonder why. I notice that there are only two in Utah. One year ago when I returned from TMC14, that number inside of Utah was a one, not a two. Let me tell you how that made me feel. Alone.
When I talk to math teachers in Utah, it seems to me that morale has reached a dangerous low. Many of us work in environments where we do not feel valued by our community or supervisors. With recent changes to the state mathematics standards (which I fully support and endorse!), I find that I am in the position of constantly defending my work to nearly everyone I talk to. It is as though the pail in which I keep my teaching energy has developed a leak. I do not yet know how to mend the holes that are causing the leak, but I do know that if I am not active in finding ways to refill and replenish, I will run dry and have nothing left to offer my students.
Build the Community You Need
That solitary number one in Utah on the map was the primary reason I contacted UCTM about creating this blog. I wanted more of the community I felt at TMC back home in Utah. I don't know how effective I have been so far at creating this community, but I do know that I'm not alone any more.
When I noticed the 'two' inside of Utah, I did a search to find the other Utah math teacher. Turns out that Lori Kalt (@MrsLKalt) also teaches 8th grade math in my district and was also going to be attending TMC15. We made our travel plans together and spent almost all of our time at TMC making new friends together and learning together. I feel that I've met a kindred spirit. I'm excited to have someone nearby with whom I can discuss the new ideas we're reading about and trying out in our classrooms.
So our online community of math teachers here in Utah is growing. Slowly. And I'm ok with that. I recently listened to a TED Talk by Zeynep Tufekci entitled Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win.
The growth of the MTBoS has been described as a paradigm shift or a movement in the world of mathematics education. How has this been possible, considering the difficulty of creating sustainable change online? What has the MTBoS done that so many other movements have failed to do? The answer lies near the middle of Zeynep Tufecki's TED talk, " The magic is not in the mimeograph. It's in that capacity to work together, think together collectively, which can only be built over time with a lot of work." And so I would like to say thank you to all of the people who put so much time and work into creating and sustaining this wonderful community called the #MTBoS that fills me when my teacher-energy bucket is nearing empty. Thank you to Lisa Henry, the lead organizer of TMC whose dedication and efficiency knows no bounds. Thank you to Fawn Nyugen for inspiring me and reminding me that teachers can be leaders and that it's the connections we make that count. Thank you to Elizabeth Statmore for sharing from your heart and constantly broadening my ideas. Thank you to Mary Bourassa and Alex Overwijk for sharing about activity-based learning, spiraling, and vertical non-permanent surfaces - I'm taking the plunge this year! Thank you to so many others that I won't even try to name them all.
Join the Community!
I know that there are more than two of us in Utah who are dedicated to improving the craft of mathematics education. Please join us. We want to get to know you. We want to learn from you! Add yourself to the MTBoS directory. Join our #eduread book club (we're starting to discuss What's Math Got to Do With It next week, and both Lori and I are excited to participate in the discussions). If you're nervous about using Twitter or blogs or don't know how to get started, look here for some how-to's. Or just send me an email and I'll come meet with you and help you get started. Or we can just meet for ice-cream sometime and share stories. I believe there is power in sharing our stories with each other. If you would like to share some of your stories here on this blog, fill out this form and we'll make it happen. I tell my students that every voice in my classroom is important and that it's important to create a community where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. It's time start realizing that what is good for students is good for teachers too. Let's put it into action!
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