MTTI Teacher Leadership Panel Discussion
Mathematics Teacher Transformation Institutes
Second Annual Teacher Leadership Conference
Saturday March 20, 2010
) - District 10 Superintendent, Bronx, New York
) - Principal, DeWitt Clinton High School, Bronx, NY
) - Mathematics Teacher Consultant for the NYCMP
) - Assistant Principal of Mathematics at the HS for Health Careers & Science
) - HS Math Specialist NYC Department of Education
Yasmin Aquino, Ronald Schwarz, Sonia Menendez, Geraldine Ambrosio, Rajendra Dyal
A video of this panel discussion is available on request to MTTI. Here we include a transcript created from that video. Some panelists reviewed and revised some aspects of their statements after the original transcript was made.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, MSP 0832247
has been the Principal of DeWitt Clinton High School since 1999. She
began her career as a teacher of mathematics at Walton High School in 1972 and moved to Herbert
H. Lehman High School in 1975. She was appointed as the Assistant Principal
Supervision/Mathematics at Christopher Columbus High School in 1991 and then the Assistant
Principal /Administration in 1996. Ms. Ambrosio received both her BA in Mathematics and MS
in Intermediate School Mathematics from Herbert H. Lehman College. She also holds an MS in Educational Administration and Supervision from Pace University.
is a Teacher Consultant for the New York City Mathematics Project (NYCMP).
Ms. Aquino began her teaching career at P.S. 28 in District 6. After five years as a bilingual
kindergarten teacher she moved to I.S. 218 as a middle school math teacher. In 2001, she joined
the New York City Mathematics Project at Lehman College as a teacher consultant. For the past
nine years, Ms Aquino has worked in K-8 schools in the Bronx and as an adjunct instructor at
is the Assistant Principal of Mathematics at the High School for Health Careers
and Science (one of four high schools in the George Washington Educational Campus in
Washington Heights). Mr. Dyal began his teaching career in 1991at Theodore Roosevelt High
School on Fordham Road in the Bronx and was a former student at Roosevelt. In February of
2000 he accepted a position as a teacher consultant with the New York City Mathematics Project here at Lehman. While consulting in the four schools in the GWEC, part of the “Chancellor’s District,” he joined their team as the lead math instructional specialist. When the Chancellor’s District dissolved in 2003, Mr. Dyal accepted the position of assistant principal at the HS for Health Careers and Science.
has been a dedicated member of the New York City educational community
since 1977. She began her distinguished educational career as a fourth grade teacher with the
Archdiocese of New York. In 1980, she joined the New York City public school system in
District Ten as a bilingual teacher at Public School 46 and went on to become an English as a
Second Language (ESL) teacher and a Bilingual Resource Teacher. She continued to advance her career at P.S. 46, becoming an Assistant Principal until 1996, when she became Principal of P.S. 310. After serving as instructional leader of P.S. 310 for seven years, Ms. Menendez became a Local Instructional Superintendent (LIS) in Region 1 and then moved on to her current position, Community Superintendent for District 10.
, High School Math Specialist, has worked as a math teacher on the high
school and middle school levels, and for more than twenty years has organized and conducted
math professional development in Manhattan high schools. Since 2003 he has worked as a
high school math specialist at the central Department of Mathematics of the NYC Department
of Education. In that position he has worked on implementation of the citywide Core
Curriculum, the recent transition to a new sequence of high school math courses and most currently on a pilot program related to the proposed National Common Core Standards.
: It is my honor to moderate this morning’s panel discussion on teacher leadership. When we think of
teacher leadership today, we are thinking of the many different ways we can empower teachers to support one
another to improve student achievement.
Question 1: Panelists I would like you to take a trip down memory lane. I’d like you to think about
those teachers that influenced you or those that you considered to be a teacher leader. What were the
characteristics they displayed that made you think of them as teacher leaders?
Early in my career I met lead teachers, it was their love for mathematics, their love for teaching, and also
their love of students that influenced me a lot. They would discuss math in their offices. They worked to make
sure the lessons were correct. I learned how to teach by watching other teachers teach all the time. When you
taught a new topic, the AP would assign, a person to work with you, so you knew what to teach, what the lesson
is on each day. That was a good thing. Real teacher leaders got to know most of the students in the school, not
just in the classroom, but also outside the classroom. And the teacher leaders would go to all the different
conferences and workshops that they could get and continually went to school to learn. So that’s what really
makes a teacher a leader.
Adding to that, teachers have to see through the kids’ eyes. They seek to do their thing and give the kids
what they think they need to have. I think that leaders look at where the kids are and figure out what they need
to do to get them up to where they should be. Leaders, I think, take on different roles, they work extra time, and
they start clubs with kids. So, a lot of the things teacher leaders do are beyond just teaching.
: I believe that what makes teachers leaders is their ability to motivate their colleagues and to take the
initiative on things in the classroom. This doesn’t mean this person has all the answers. It means that this is
someone who has the curiosity, willing to look, willing to search and to be the best teacher he or she can be.
Speaking of best teacher, I read a very interesting study a few years back and it was a survey to see that in a
given math department, who were the best teachers. And you might think, well, that is going to be a tough one
because there are 21 different math teachers and it’s a survey, so you will probably get 21 different teachers
nominated to be the best teacher in the department. But actually that was not the case. In fact, it was
surprisingly apparent who the best math teachers were in that department. So then they decided to look further
into, and find what are the qualities or characteristics these teachers have in common that made them to be
considered the top math teachers in their department by their colleagues. In figuring different hypotheses, for
example, was it the different graduate degrees they have? It turned out that there was no correlation with that.
Was it the number of years of experience? Nope, no correlation there either. Was it the level of course they
were teaching? Same thing, nope, no correlation. What they found was that the one area of correlation teachers,
who were considered the best, was that these teachers were more than five times as likely as their colleagues to
attend a professional development session, like this one today. Interested in their own professional growth and
being excited about learning made them the best teachers.
: I have to say that I was lucky enough to work in a school where teacher were passionate about teaching.
Where they really care about their students, not only academics, and they really built a community of learning
for both teachers and students. They viewed those students as human beings and cared about their well being as well as teaching them the academics. Making sure that teachers are making a difference in the lives of their students is what I see as being a teacher leader.
Question 2: Panelists, I would like you to think about how you have moved from the role of teacher to
your current position. What were the characteristics or supports that you needed along the way to move
into your current leadership position?
: I think for the most important thing for me in terms of the position that I am in now, is to be excited about
learning and to love to learn and I want that enthusiasm to be infectious with the people that I work with. And to
me that is the most significant characteristic.
: I have to say that being part of the NYC Math Project, working as a teacher consultant, that’s when I really
saw myself as a potential leader and the fact that I had the opportunity to do what you are doing right now,
taking part in a program that gave me the opportunity to go back to my school and share what I was learning.
For a team of teachers to investigate, observe each other, and build a community of learners within your school.
When we become teachers we tend to forget that we are still learning and I think that is a very important point.
: I had a great AP in the high school that I taught at. He would give us all different jobs, like the math team,
the math league and other different things, but he never micromanaged us. That is one of the things that I
learned from him. If you want something done, you don’t have to micromanage people. People generally want
to work together to get things done successfully. There is not always one way to get to where you want to be
and people do things differently and that is what is good. If you just manage how they are doing it, then
everyone is successful and everyone has a part of what’s going on and everyone shares the success. I have a big
school, with more than 4,000 kids and about 300 teachers. If they thought that I knew what was going on in the
building all the time, that would be something. I delegate people to do many different things. It’s really
working with people and allowing people to do their job which is most important, I think.
As I said before, I never thought of it until I started working with the NYC Math Project. When I came to
the project I met and got to work with a lot of wonderful people that are sitting here. When I started to consult,
after about three months I came back to the office and said to Mr. D “It is easier for me to teach than to work
with all these people.” And he said to me, “if you change one teacher, you’re touching 125 kids.” Imagine if
you change another one, what would happen? Back then in the year 2000, his talk moved me on to take on a
leadership role. I saw that I could really influence and help others to become leaders and make sure that they
got exactly what they need, not just information. Another thing is that I consulted much better when I realized
that Mr. D recognized what I could do. He gave me the confidence to say to myself, “You can do it.” The same
thing happened when I went to work for Mr. Harrison at the H.S. for Design. He would give you a task to take
on or a challenge, but he would give you all the necessary tools that you needed to succeed and show you the
respect to say “I know you can do it, go on and do it.” So nobody was really looking over my shoulder and
looking at me saying what I should do next, there was no micromanagement. There was just a trust that you can
get things done. When I look at other teachers, whom I feel have e potential, I usually do the same thing. I say,
“You know what, why don’t you take that on for me, and let me know what happens and give me the results.” I
don’t micromanage them either. In leadership roles, I think once you recognize that a person has the potential to do and you give them the route to do it, you don’t stay on their backs all the time, only ask how things are going.
Question 3: In NYC we suffer from not getting enough students to pursue math and science degrees.
Panelists, what do you see as the greatest challenge in engaging students in pursuing STEM careers?
I think that we need to decide on a program that engages our students in more inquiry-based activities. I
believe that students need to be more exposed to real-life situations. They need to be more engaged in research
and investigation. We need to challenge them more. Sometimes given the time constraints and the
accountability of completing a lesson or topic a day we forget. We fail to think about that. And I think that is
the foundation for them to start thinking about their careers. They need to be thinkers and problem solvers. We
need to be able to provide these opportunities in the classroom in order for them to be able to succeed in today’s
: When I was invited to be on this panel, I was very happy to have the opportunity to speak to you, future
math leaders because we need you. We need you to work with your colleagues one on one, when working with
them in planning lessons that are going to promote student understanding. What we have found in terms of
research is that teachers are not isolated if they work with other teachers in planning lessons, working on a
particular topic, planning the lesson together, then implementing it. Then meet afterwards to get feedback as to
how that implementation went, and how did the lesson taught compare with the planned lesson. As we all know
firsthand, these two are not necessarily the same thing. Then we look at that process and continue to do it again
in order to promote student understanding. You might say, is that the point in any given math lesson, to
understand math? The problem is that it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, a big push that all of us are
familiar with in math education over the last 20 years, has been as a result of comparing the performance of our
kids in math and science with comparable children in other countries. As various studies have proven, American
students, despite having the most money spent per capita, do not get results that even put us in the top half in
these international comparisons. These studies have shown that there is a very different method of teaching that
goes on in the U.S.’s classrooms. A book by James Stigler called The Teaching Gap, calls it the American
script. We are all familiar with that script because we were all taught that way as students. In many cases, we as
teachers repeat that same script when we are in the classroom. One of the first things in terms of changing how
math is taught is to work on the curriculum. It has almost become a cliché to say that the American curriculum
is a mile wide and an inch deep. In comparison to other countries, American textbooks are much, much thicker
than the textbooks in almost any other country in the world. We teach too many topics. I know, I for one was
always was skeptical of this and would argue, what topics would you leave out? According to James Stigler, it
is not a question of leaving out topics; it is the question of are we really getting the key ideas across? Therefore,
we should not create separate isolated topics, but instead integrate various topics into the key idea. This is a
rule-based approach that we ourselves were taught. We perpetuate this, thereby producing the types of
mediocre results that we find in these international comparisons. Once we get kids to understand those key
ideas, the rest of the topics will fit in.
: I agree with what Ronald said. I think it is important to get kids interested in Math. Teachers want to have
great lessons and inspire kids. We want to have teachers involved in afterschool activities that enhance students’
understanding of math, which is a goal of a teacher leader. However, we have to make sure that we are not
spreading our teachers too thin, because the teacher leaders will do anything principals will ask them to do.
Teachers need to make sure that incoming 9th graders are prepared in the basics so these students have the best
chance to succeed in higher level mathematics, such as calculus, as well as science.
This is one of the topics that I really enjoy talking about. We always blame the middle school, because
they send some kids to HS that are ill prepared. I think part of that is because of all of the testing that goes on in
our classrooms. This creates students learning math on a “what I need to know” basis, just to pass the test. They
do what they need to do, but they don’t understand why they are doing it. In order for kids to succeed in math
on a high school level, they first need to have an understanding of what these things are. This goes back to the
elementary school level as well, that kids need to learn and have some number sense. Having number sense,
understanding concepts and being able to apply them to real-life scenarios is crucial. I think that the focus on
testing takes away from their understanding; kids are just doing things by rote. I like to see teachers from the
elementary level all the way up to high school, take on the task of ensuring that students first understand
mathematics, have a feel for mathematics, and have a sense of what things mean. Therefore, when these
students get to the high school level they are ready to take on the higher-level concepts and classes because they
have a solid foundation of understanding mathematics. When I was a teacher, I experienced this firsthand in my
classroom. I was giving a review for a test and wrote an equation on the board with a variable other than x and
immediately one of the students raised their hand and said, “You never taught us that one.” Right away, I knew
there was a problem. Right now when students enter our classrooms, they don’t want to be challenged, they
have the attitude of “just give me the formula.” If we want kids to move on to higher levels, such as
engineering; they are not going to get there if we don’t change what we are doing at the elementary school level
all the way through to the high school level. In high school, teachers have to deal with this gap in
understanding of math and higher level thinking skills for the students to move on to STEM careers. Right now,
as Ronald stated, everything is separate, each day focuses only on one topic. This reinforces the attitude
students have “I just need to know this.” They cannot think on the multi-level steps, they do not have the mental
stamina to move on to the next step. They only have the capacity to learn that one step. I am finding this is the
problem in high school and it is a tough one to overcome. We need to change students’ perception of “this is the
one thing I need to know”. I see no movement towards students having the mathematical knowledge to inspire
them to go into something like engineering. If they don’t understand the basic math when they come to high
school nor have a sense of numbers how can we move them forward.
Question 4: NYC teachers are increasingly being held accountable for the scores of their students. As a
result there is an increasing emphasis on teacher collaboration through teacher inquiry and the use of
data to inform instruction. As we come to the end of our panel discussion, what are your thoughts on
what Geraldine and Ronald discussed regarding teacher inquiry and teacher collaboration?
I have to say that, as teachers, first we need to separate that fact of teaching to the test, and instead provide
the students with opportunities in which they can do more of the research practice. Where they can problem
solve. Also, as teacher leaders in the school, we need to provide teachers with resources and provide the time
they need to collaborate with the other teachers and provide the opportunity for more professional development. In most schools, we don’t see that teachers are given the necessary resources or time in order for them to collaborate with their colleagues. These are some of the changes we need in order to raise the level of student performance.
: We know that majority of the teachers in NYC teach the FOIL method, we think that we are doing them a
favor by teaching our students the short-cut way to solve problems. But the problem is that we are really hurting
them in learning the process. The reason why is because most of the teachers that are teaching this, have never
connected to the fact that what kids are actually doing is the distributive property of multiplication. The less that
kids understand key ideas within each mathematical subject, and rely instead on shorthand methods to solve
problems, is not the same thing as understanding it. Again one of the key ideas: that what we need teacher
leaders to do is to select the right problems. We tend to think that if I can get my kids to work on twice as many
problems in a course of a period, I am twice as good of a teacher. Again, in international comparison we
discovered that in the other high-scoring countries they tend to spend more time, tend to work on richer
problem, and they also tend to give those students time to struggle with those problems. Our kids need to
struggle. We think we are doing them a favor by intervening and giving them help by scaffolding. In reality, we
are teaching them to learn helplessness. And we know this, because for an example, as soon as our kids see a
problem that does not apply to any of the rules that they have learned; they throw up their hands, they give up,
and won’t even attempt it. How many regents’ exams have been marked with totally blank answers on the
constructed response questions? That is exactly what helplessness has taught them. In addition, in comparison
to other countries, we tend to focus on the answer. Once we got the correct answer, we are done. Some of these
other countries, they also find the answer to be very important but for many of them, the answer of the problem
is actually the beginning. Looking at the mathematics that you needed to get to that answer and exploring the
different ways to get to get to that answer. So for us, we tend to think, okay we got the answer now let’s do lots
more problems and kids are learning that much more.
: The best professional development goes on in the classroom. The work teachers do with coaches,
assistant principals or even co-teaching with other teachers working together to plan lessons. Teachers who are
teaching the same courses meet and decide on an approach, using the inquiry model. They try different
methods and then assess data to see which approach was successful. If methods are not successful, the teachers
go back and develop other approaches. It is a collaborative effort. It will cost money to free up teachers to
discuss and develop lessons. Some ways that we can make this work is to have teachers teach four classes and
have common planning time in lieu of their fifth class. It is important that teachers be given this time together to
Yes, I agree with Ms. Ambrosio that teachers need common planning time. They need to discuss different
ways to approach topics and lessons. Without this discussion, teachers will be isolated and their teaching will
not improve. When I started to consult, I worked with Carol DiMauro. One statement she made at a workshop
for teachers was “whatever answer the student gives you, that is the correct answer.” This may not seem right,
but her point was that students don’t say 2 when the answer is 10 unless they have some misunderstanding of
either the question or the problem. You may have to rephrase and rethink the question until you get what you
really want. We have to work on better questioning techniques. An example would be when I asked students
(holding up an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper): What is the area of this? They respond by giving me the dimensions. At that point we know that the concept of area is not understood by the students and we know where we have to begin.
How about a round of applause for our panelists. At this time we will open the floor for questions.
I am interested in your opinion on the role of technology in the mathematics classroom in the US in light of
the comparison between our students and those in other nations.
Part of the Children First Initiative in 2003 was to get graphing calculators into the hands of as many
children as possible. We figured that was the most cost-effective way to get inexpensive technology into wide
use. This had mixed results. In schools where the teachers were comfortable with the technology and
encouraged calculator use, results were good, where teachers themselves were not that comfortable with the
graphing calculators not so good. Teachers need professional development in the use of technology to make it
an effective means to improve. Likewise we encourage the use of Geometer’s Sketchpad in the geometry
classrooms, because we live in a visual culture and being able to see these geometry problems in a hands-on
way is something that is very important. We have made a substantial investment in technology for the
American classroom, more than any other country. Certainly technology is a help, but it is not going to replace
good day-to-day teaching in the classroom.
We are currently working on advanced placement classes. I stated to my colleagues on the panel, that even though there are major advantages to small schools one major disadvantage is that we don’t have a critical mass of kids to take advance placement courses in these schools. One of the ways we are attempting to meet this challenge is to have on-line courses available to students in the different schools. Remember we certainly want to help our struggling students but we cannot neglect our gifted students. On-line courses are another growth area. There are a number of big corporate players entering this market, and this is clearly the way to go.
Has NYC been looking at this problem, that is, as the number of small schools increases the choices for
math classes in these schools is limited?
I heard the question as, “Is NYC creating a plan to deal with the inability of small schools to offer
advanced placement courses?” Actually NYC encourages schools to increase the enrollment of students in AP
classes. Small schools that are on the same campus or geographically close are being encouraged to work
together to create these classes. In our school, which is not a small school, our students are able to earn a
stipend through the REACH program. New York City is looking at outside agencies to assist with this issue, it
is an ongoing process. Even in our large high school we have far too few students taking these advanced
Thank you again and that concludes our panel discussion.
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