Karen Wootton, Director of Curriculum and Assessment
When my children were in elementary school, I was a member of the PTA. Some years I enjoyed my membership more than others depending on the culture of the PTA. Often the current president fostered a sense of community and focused on the goal of supporting the teachers and student success. Other years the group deteriorated into a clique that excluded people who suggested “new” ideas. Although I never really thought about the culture of the PTA during those years, it is easy to figure out which years were the better years.
During a year coaching another elementary school, I was surprised and impressed with the culture this school had developed. The teachers and administration had worked hard to make sure students knew they were all in this together. Every day I visited I would see many instances of students supporting other students. Students would say “Now you try” when working together on problems, or “Let’s put our brains together to figure this out.” Students on the playground would be inclusive encouraging reluctant students to join in, and I would hear calls of “You can do it!” and “Nice shot!”
In my own classroom, I tried to promote the same culture of support and community, with some years being more successful than others. Establishing classroom norms is important to this process, but so is pointing out violations, or instances that destroy the culture you wish to create. If a student laughs at another student’s question, it is important to let the student know that laughing at a student is not supportive and diminishes the feeling of community. We want to recognize and honor the good moments but we cannot let the bad moments go by without a comment. One of my guideposts to check on my classrooms culture was to ask “How did my students behave when I was not there? Were they still collaborative and supportive?” I always asked my substitutes to comment on this aspect.
Now that I work for CPM, I still think about culture a lot. It is more difficult to promote a particular culture when all the employees work remotely. Yet we still must try. What is CPM’s culture? Our culture is evident in our mission, vision, and position statement, which can all be found at cpm.org. We at CPM want More Math for More People, and we work diligently to make that happen. Some people view CPM as a publisher of textbooks or as curriculum writers, but we view ourselves differently: We are changing the way math is taught, providing opportunities for all students to be successful in mathematics, and providing teachers the opportunity to grow professionally. The textbooks and the professional development are just the pieces that support these efforts. CPM’s priority is to improve math students’ classroom room experiences.
We realize that teachers are the ones in the trenches, working with students everyday. They are the key piece to student success. CPM supports teachers with professional development so that they can implement best practices. While we feel CPM is the best curriculum to promote problem solving, collaboration, communication, making connections within math topics, and gaining understanding, we understand that we may not be the “right” curriculum for everyone. And, you know what? That is okay! We are not trying to be the biggest publisher. We want to do what is right for students and teachers. Our focus is student success and teacher growth.
Maybe you have colleagues, or you yourself do not believe CPM’s approach of emphasizing problem solving, collaboration, communication, and sense making is the correct way to teach math. Maybe you or a colleague believes computer adaptive software, or some other program, is the answer. In the case of a computer platform, you must ask yourself, what is gained by putting students in front of a computer with headphones on, blocking communication and collaboration, and drilling students on skills? What are the students accomplishing that cannot be accomplished by the computer alone? What is the culture of such a classroom? Is that the culture you want?
CPM is trying to do what is right for students based on what the research tells us best promotes true understanding, but also based on what the teachers tell us. With the CPM curriculum, teachers see students engaging in the mathematics and making sense of it. They see students enjoying interesting lessons. Think of the culture you would like to see in your classroom. What do you do to promote that culture? What culture does CPM support?