Norms…we hear this buzz word all over the education landscape. Norms for meetings, norms for classes, and norms for work. In our own classroom, practices become routines, which become norms. These norms can become so common place that we forget that maybe not every classroom runs like ours and not everyone teaches like we teach. Sometimes it takes a step out of our safe places to see the effect of the norms we have established in our classrooms.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to team teach with another math teacher and it was the step out of my comfort zone that allowed me a deeper look into my own practice. Mr. H, the teacher I had the pleasure of working with, is a fantastic teacher. We only had a brief chance to plan together so we looked at the lesson and how to group students more than we looked at how we were going to break the lesson up between us. At the time, neither of us thought about how different our teaching styles are. I teach nearly completely student centered; that is, I almost never stand at the board or interrupt my kids once we start the lesson. I circulate and talk to teams, but not to the entire class at once. Mr. H is student centered as well, but he uses the “catch and release” method of teaching. He will stop a lesson, talk to the whole class, turn them out to work, stop, talk as a class, etc. This is just as valid a teaching method, but it is very different than my own.
As the class began, Mr. H took the lead and I fell into a supporting role. It was crazy to watch; when I start class, I have the sections and the the problems on the board (block schedule = 2 sections per day) and after a warm up, I assign team roles and turn my kids loose. If I don’t assign a role, they are good at picking one and rolling. Mr. H didn’t do that at all. My kids were so wrong-footed it was almost comical. Mr. H started lecturing to the class and when he paused to take a breath, the teams just started working. It was awkward, but I was very proud of them; they did not wait for instructions but just started the day’s work.
Mr. H interrupted them in order to get the class going how he wanted to; his go-to teaching strategy of “catch and release” was how he wanted to work the lesson through. When Mr. H started explaining the math problems to the class, one student spoke up: “We haven’t even tried yet!”
This is still incredibly striking to me. The students were used to tearing into the math by themselves, without my help. It was normal for them- a norm in the math classroom. Their confidence in their ability to “get” the math in their teams is something that I wasn’t directly looking to teach them but it is such a beautiful by-product of good teamwork, quality math problems, and (I’d like to think) a bit of management.