Implications & Recommendations for Leadership & Practice in K-12 Math Classroomsby Diana Abbati Dr. Diana Abbati is the Superintendent of the Los
Educational consultant Dr. Diana Abbati continues her series of articles on organizational learning and innovative instructional methods such as differentiated instruction. She offers her reflections on the implications and recommendations for leadership and practice in the area of improving K-12 mathematics instruction for students today.
Teaching mathematics to students with mixed-abilities can be complicated for the average teacher who has little skill in the practice of differentiating instruction. This is because the differentiated instruction is not a strategy that a teacher can easily churn out, and it requires organizational support to cultivate the skills needed for implementation. For more than a decade I researched what would make a difference to define the characteristics of teachers who could be viewed as a “high implementer of differentiating instruction in mathematics.”
In my findings, I show that no amount of skill, determination, experience, or resources could overcome the drain of daily workday demands and the additional time needed for high-quality implementation of such an innovative practice. I found that many of the teachers I spoke to continue to work in fairly isolated conditions even when the organizational leader endorsed ideas of collaboration to meet the needs of individual students. If anything, high implementers concentrated all their energies on their own classroom and professional growth needs, while teachers with lesser abilities felt more alone. Even the participants who had access to additional resources could not find the time during their workday to utilize such support. But there were some structural factors or conditions leaders could attend to. Specifically, clear messaging, distribution of the workload demands, and flexibility came through as important. But it needs to be recognized that structural conditions are not easily changed, and the prospects even for educational leaders to make such headway here are sobering.
Organizational leaders need to understand the demands teachers are faced with every day and the complexity of implementing new initiatives. Through my study, I came to understand the significance of an average teacher’s skill and workload expectations in contributing to the challenges of implementing differentiated instruction. Leaders cannot expect every teacher within the organization to perform at high levels and are faced with the challenge of pushing employees to the brink of failure. Even high-quality implementers found that differentiated instruction could not be executed on a daily basis and sought additional pre-made resources from publishers to enhance the curriculum in meeting the needs of diverse learners. As a result, the implications of my study serve to generate several suggestions and recommendations that leaders may want to consider if they seek to improve high-quality instruction in the area of differentiated instruction in elementary mathematics.
Implications and Recommendations for Leadership and Practice
The first implication of this study suggests that personal factors play a key role in the facilitation of differentiated instruction. The second implication of this study suggests that the typical teacher may be overtaxed by the complexities of the task. A third implication of this study suggests that differentiating instruction in mathematics is an arduous task. A fourth implication has to do with workplace structures. A final implication had to do with the way professional development was offered and delivered to the organization.
As superintendent, I proffer that leaders must be reflective about their own assumptions, skills, and perceptions in order to improve practices in the classroom. They need to have a clear understanding and focus on the challenges of leading a change effort. I had my own biases and beliefs that differentiated instruction could be easily implemented with support from the organization. I would even offer that I had an unrealistic expectation that an average teacher could easily implement such practice without systemic changes. In my mind, low implementation of differentiated instruction was a weakness, but I am now of a different mind. Leaders need to step back and realistically assess what their organization is able to offer a teacher with average skills and ordinary commitments to their own family. Moral purpose and moral clarity cannot overcome structural obstacles and even the best can only go so far. I clearly did not understand this challenge at the onset of this study.
With that said, Carol Tomlinson, in her framework for building capacity within schools (1999), describes the role of leadership this way: “Don’t ask teachers to do something shrouded in uncertainty. Be sure you are clear on your definitions of goals for differentiation. Explain these definitions and goals so other can examine them and talk to you about them. Then do a difficult thing: hold the vision with one hand and reach out to the other to invite other leaders, teachers, and parents to revise and extend that vision. It is a paradox of change that leaders must believe in their ideas but be open to the reality that the others must shape those ideas for change to truly happen” (p. 109).
Created on Jun 7th 2018 06:08. Viewed 452 times.
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