Becoming an Agent of Change in the Math Classroom!

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Reacting to a Cognitive Shove

I define an opportunity to develop as a professional a success when my thinking, my stance as a teacher of mathematics and a preparer of teachers of mathematics, changes. By that measure my time at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Annual Meeting was a success. Whether it was hearing about Black Liberatory Mathematics during Danny Martin’s Friday morning talk or Karen Karp discussing appropriate strategies for working with students in need of additional help in mathematics, both provided me with a cognitive shove that makes me want to seek out more information. Information around appropriate actions to take to help me make sense of the change to my stance.

Anne Marie Marshall, Rebecca Nance, and I held a workshop during NCTM where we shared some of the work we have been doing around increasing awareness and agency around issues of equity and diversity. Our attempt to cognitively shove our audiences was to argue that there are no neutral math teachers. A math teacher is either an agent of change or an instrument of inequity when it comes to the teaching and learning of mathematics. But then what…what do we do to be an agent of change? Part of our work in the session was to provide some potential answers to that question and create a list of resources to help people teach mathematics with, about, and/or for social justice. The intent is to help those trying to love others through the teaching and learning of math.

Here is a link to the collaboratively created handout that we created during the session.
Here is a link to the slides presented at the talk

How are you an agent of change in the math classroom?

Amidon, J., Marshall, A.M., & Nance, R. (April, 2018). Becoming an Agent of Change! Learning to Teach Math with, for, and about Social Justice. Session at annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Washington D. C.

Amber, Frantson, and Joel

What We Are Doing in Haiti…in a Podcast From Haiti – #APinHaiti2018

Posted 4 CommentsPosted in general interest


If you are wondering what The Orchard Oxford is doing sending a Service Team over Spring Break to Camp Mary, Haiti, then take a listen to this podcast. One of the trip leaders, Amber, hosts the show, while The 410 Bridge Team Leader, Frantson, and I discuss the work we are doing with the community of Camp Mary.


If you want to partner with Camp Mary you can do several things.
0) Learn about Camp Mary, the beautiful people and their story from The 410 Bridge or previous posts on Amidon Planet.
1) Contact The Orchard Oxford and ask how you can get connected with what is happening in Camp Mary.
2) Sponsor a child from Camp Mary.
3) Sponsor the community of Camp Mary.
4) Pray for the vision of the Camp Mary Leadership Team

Byenvini Lakay (Welcome Home) – #APinHaiti2018

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What does it mean to be home? Is it a place? I don’t think so. People move all the time. It has to be the connection of people located in a place, or as Edward Sharp & the Magnetic Zeroes state, “Home is wherever I’m with you.” That all being said, it is weird to go to a place so far away from home where you feel so at home. I feel at home in Camp Mary, Haiti


As The 410 Bridge van pulled into the drive, I could see the familiar church and behind the big tree was the leadership council of the community of Camp Mary. As we piled out, a gauntlet of hugs awaited. Madam Leon, Waldeck, and of the rest of the council, embraced us the many expressions of love as we came to rest in our pre-arranged seats in the church.
Pastor Moles started our time together by reading Psalms 133, which begins, How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! A perfect verse to begin our week together.
Next each member of the leadership council stood and welcomed us to Camp Mary. For those who have never been, it was a chance to meet the faces that went with the names we have been talking about. Finally, Madam Leon stood and said “Byenvini lakay” or “Welcome home!”


For the last three years I have been a part of The Orchard Oxford’s Service Trip to Camp Mary. (See this link for past Amidon Planet posts about Haiti) Organized through The 410 Bridge, an international community development organization, these trips have been about building relationships for the purpose of sharing agape (unconditional love) while simultaneously building up the community, with the community in Camp Mary. So far we have seen Camp Mary secure safe drinking water, now we are seeing the leadership turn their focus on developing schools so that an education is as easy to access as their water. What a beautiful vision for a beautiful community!


If you want to partner with Camp Mary you can do several things.
0) Learn about Camp Mary, the beautiful people and their story.
1) Contact The Orchard Oxford and ask how you can get connected with what is happening in Camp Mary.
2) Sponsor a child from Camp Mary.
3) Sponsor the community of Camp Mary.
4) Pray for the vision of the Camp Mary Leadership Team

Working on laptop

How to Author an Awesome E-Portfolio, LIVE Webinar, Monday, 11/27/2017

Posted Leave a commentPosted in pre-service teacher

On Monday, November 27th, 2017, navigate back to this page for a LIVE Webinar with me, Dr. Joel Amidon, for the purpose of walking Undergraduate Elementary Education Majors through the nuts and bolts of documenting their growth as a professional educator within their electronic portfolio. There will be opportunities to understand the point of the portfolio, learn the technical side of the portfolio, and engage in live Q & A to get your questions answered!

Click on this link to add your name to the email list to receive information and reminders associated with the webinar.

Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

Celebrating the Struggle

The Struggle is Real…Good #CelebrateTheStruggle

Posted 1 CommentPosted in math teacher, math teacher educator

Struggle is a good thing.

That cannot be true…can it? I don’t want to see my children struggle. I don’t want to see my students struggle. When someone struggling, I want to run over and help them. I want to remove the struggle.

But I know that struggle is good. I know that I have accomplished things in my life and the stuff I am most proud of involved some sort of struggle. I was able to persevere and get it done. Even though I understand the benefit of struggle I know that as a parent and as a teacher I want to make sure that struggle is for a purpose.

In the teaching and learning of mathematics there are documents that call for students to “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them” and for teachers to “support productive struggle in the learning of mathematics”. The big question is how do we promote productive struggle in the math classroom? The danger is that struggle which is not productive can lead to shame and disassociation from mathematics. This is a tough line for teachers to approach, but it is necessary, if conceptual understanding of mathematics is desired.

Check out how we can promote productive struggle in the math classroom! #CelebrateTheStruggle Click To Tweet

Promoting Productive Struggle in the Math Classroom

My colleagues and I attempted to answer this question through our presentation at the Mathematics Specialists Conference hosted by the Center for Mathematics and Science Education. Below is a link to the slides we prepared for the presentation. In addition, there is a link to a handout we collaboratively developed with our presentation attendees, regarding how to promote productive struggle in the classroom.

How do you promote productive struggle in the mathematics classroom?

Link to the slides from our presentation.
Link to the handout from our presentation.

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

Good Bye and Thank You, Fred #40forFred

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The Badger Boys State family lost a great one this past week. Fred Berns died on Wednesday, October 25, 2017.

Badger Boys State is a week long program put on by the American Legion where rising seniors in high school from all over Wisconsin descend on Ripon, WI to create a mythical 51st state in order to learn about government, politics, and being a good leader…but it is more than that. Frankly it is a place where boys from all over Wisconsin take steps toward becoming men. I know my story would not be the same if it weren’t for Badger Boys State, not because of the program but the amazing people who make the program happen. Fred is one of those amazing people.

I first met Fred during Badger Boys State when he appeared to be hanging around trying to be as helpful as possible, just looking for places to serve and be of use. His persistence led him to being a vital cog in what happened at Badger Boys State and eventually running the program. Besides trying to find ways to add value to what was being done, he also sought ways to invest and connect with the young men of the program.

Fred taught me what it means to be present, be selfless, and also to ask good questions about the purpose of what I was doing. Even after my time at Badger Boys State was done I would get a random call from Fred, checking in on me. Just making sure I hadn’t forgot the lessons I had learned.

In honor of Fred and his service to Badger Boys State, I would like to raise a little money for the program and send another rising senior to Badger Boys State this summer. If you feel moved, head to the Badger Boys State Alumni Association website and submit a donation. I suggest $40 because Fred was a writer and #40ForFred has some alliteration going for it.

Thank you, Fred.

Four Books to Inspire the Math Hero in You: Celebrating the 100th Episode Of the Math Ed Podcast

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100 is a big deal

In kindergarten they celebrate the 100th day of school like Christmas. It is a big deal to get to that third digit. Same goes for Dr. Sam Otten (@ottensam) releasing 100 episodes of the Math Ed Podcast. It is a big deal.

The Math Ed Podcast has been a favorite resource for me to hear leaders and legends in mathematics education talk about the articles they have written, the projects they designed, and the careers they constructed. Almost as interesting is hearing about the doctoral studies of the guests, which frequently featured University of Wisconsin – Madison alumni (On Wisconsin!). I don’t know why, but it is comforting to picture math ed rock stars like Megan Franke or Jeremy Kilpatrick as doctoral students, figuring out what their dissertation topic will be.

Another interesting feature of the podcast is to hear what the guest would be doing if they were not in math education. This question led to Mandy Jansen (@MandyMathEd) voicing her wish to be a pop star and Tom Carpenter expressing his desire to be a point guard for the Golden State Warriors.

A Celebration of 100

In honor of the 100th edition of the Math Ed Podcast, Sam wants to do something a little different. He is calling for people to submit a 1-4 minute audio recording where people share a piece of math education scholarship (book, article, etc.) that has inspired them. Each recording should be accompanied by a reference of the resource and an introduction of the one sharing the resource. Sam will compile and share these submissions as part of his 100th episode. To be considered, the submissions need to emailed to ( by October 10, 2017.

Click here to explore the list of all Math Ed Podcast episodes.

Let’s celebrate 100 episodes of the Math Ed Podcast. Share inspiring Math Education resources by 10/10/2017Click To Tweet
Sources of Inspiration during my Math Ed Journey

It is hard to count how many times I have been inspired and educated by listening to the Math Ed Podcast. At a minimum, I can submit something to be considered for the 100th episode…but what to submit. When I heard Sam’s request, four readings immediately popped in my head. Below I describe each and how they inspired me during my math ed journey in hopes they inspire the math hero in you.

Teaching Problems and the Problems of Teaching by Magdalene Lampert

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgAs I would watch expert teachers in action, I would constantly have the question in my head for why they did what they did? Why did they move to that desk in the classroom? Why did they use that illustration to explain that concept? Why did they call on that student over another student? I didn’t understand the “why” of teaching, but I understood the “how”. I was up to my eyeballs in “how” through an excellent preparation program (On Wisconsin!). I was even provided a week of professional development prior to taking my first job . But it was the “why” that got me stuck. I felt like I was less intentional but more just lucky in my teaching that things seemed to go well. Then I read this book.

The book documents the teaching of Magdalene Lampert, as she used her elementary classroom as a lab to figure out how to use rich tasks to teach mathematics. The book provides a first person account of her teaching where you get inside of Dr. Lampert’s head as she directs a whole class discussion. She describes the moves she makes, why she makes them, and the internal doubts she has while making the move. Similar “inside the head talk” happens when she talks about setting up the physical space of the classroom, establishing routines, and choosing problems for the next class. This book is incredible. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to advance their teaching, or their thinking about teaching. She describes the “why” of her teaching so that it is applicable to the most novice of teachers and to the most veteran of researchers.

Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project by Robert Moses & Charles Cobb

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEarly in the book, math is described by the authors as a “gatekeeper to citizenship”. This was the first shove to my thinking that teaching math had more meaning than I initially thought. Bob Moses was a leader in the civil rights movement in the 60’s, working to organize communities and register people to vote in Mississippi. In the book, he describes his work in the math classroom, through the Algebra Project, as parallel to that work. He argues that mathematics is more than a subject, it is access to academic and economic opportunities. Furthermore, if math is a gate to those opportunities, then lets get as many traditionally marginalized people through the gate. And then let’s dismantle the gate.

Teaching and Learning Mathematics for Social Justice in an Urban Latino School by Eric “Rico” Gutstein

Up until I read this Journal for Research in Mathematics Education article I was pretty sure I was going to quit my doctoral program. We were reading a lot of theoretical research articles and it was difficult to understand anything. I could not see myself doing anything like what I was reading nor connect what I was reading to my work as a mathematics teacher. It was like every assigned reading was another voice saying “You don’t belong here.”

That feeling left after I read Gutstein’s article. In the article, Rico describes teaching mathematics for social justice and what it looked like through studying his own teaching. It was like he took what Bob Moses was talking about in Radical Equations to the next level. Also, he used his classroom to figure out what this thing called ‘teaching mathematics for social justice’ looks like in practice. This paralleled how I used my own classroom as a place of constant tinkering to enhance the learning of my students.

The Long Haul: An Autobiography by Myles Horton with Judith Kohl & Herbert Kohl

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis isn’t a math ed resource (but it is my blog, so it is okay). This book is about the life of Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. The common response is “Who?” and that is exactly why I love this book. Myles Horton was a central figure in the labor and civil rights movements, yet few people have heard of him. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger, even the previously mentioned Bob Moses, went to the Highlander Folk School, where they sought help figuring out how to best help their communities. This book helped my articulate my desire to lead people to love others to math education. Myles Horton had it instilled from an early age that his goal was to love others. He stood against commonly accepted practices for his day because they didn’t align with his desire to love others. In conclusion, this is a great book that has strongly influenced my work in math education.

That is my list. I’ll pick one of these to submit to Sam (ottensa at by October 10, 2017. I am thankful for the Math Ed Podcast and I look forward to the next 100 episodes.

What piece of Math Ed scholarship is a must read for you?

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

Surprised child

How Captain Underpants turned a Sorting Task into Saving the World

Posted Leave a commentPosted in math teacher, math teacher educator, parent/tutor
I was worried.

How would they handle the gravity of the task before them…

As I gazed into the eyes of the 20 kindergarteners in front of me, I played for them the message on my phone. They grinned in excitement as the message played and the math lesson began.

Hello, Dr. Amidon, this is Captain Underpants. TRA LA LAAAAAAAA! And I would really like you to sort the bin of objects I gave you. I need to know how many of each thing there are! Please! The world depends on it. TRA LA LAAAAAA!

Oh and Dr. Amidon, please get me the answers by lunch time. I need to save the world before lunch because I get hungry. TRA LA LAAAAAAA!

Let me back up.

I was given an opportunity to teach a lesson on sorting to my son’s kindergarten class. Looking up the standards for kindergarten I saw the standard for sorting was

Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.

A pretty straight forward standard with many ways to go about sorting and counting objects according to some category. In preparation for the day my colleague gave me a bin full of colorful objects that consisted of teddy bears, dinosaurs, and fruit.

The previous day I had brainstormed with preservice teachers in my math methods class on ways to teach the lesson. Our ideas centered around getting the students to name their own categories for sorting. The categories we came up with for the objects was sorting by color, type (fruit, bear, dinosaur), plant or animal, even texture (some of the objects were hard plastic and others were made of rubber). Then it would be up to them to count the objects and we would combine the number of objects between groups of students. Basically, the task would be

How many of each group are there?

A Problem with the Problem

This is what I call a messy task because it is open ended. I won’t define for the students what makes up a group. And it will be up to the students to name the categories and then to group and count the objects with assistance from me for adding up all the different numbers.

What bothered me is motivation. Why are we doing this task? Enter Captain Underpants.

When in Doubt Save the World

My son loves Captain Underpants. I don’t know if it is the name or the silliness of the stories, but he wants to see the movies and check out the books (even though the books are way beyond his reading level). My guess is that there are more kindergarteners that share his love of Captain Underpants, especially given a movie starring the Captain was released this summer.

So being bothered by the lack of motivation I thought what if the world depended on these kids sorting these objects. That seems silly, but if you have ever seen or read Captain Underpants you understand that such a task could plausibly save the world in the Captain Underpants universe. So I recorded the message to provide a little motivation and focus to the task.

What Happened
Plan from Captain Underpants Sorting Lesson

I used the teacher-created table groups to make the task dependent on social interaction. Each child was responsible for sorting their pile of assorted objects into the piles of objects at their table. Then each child was responsible for counting (or recounting) one of the piles of objects. This involved a lot of counting and sharing of strategies for counting a messy pile of objects. Some lined up their objects and used their fingers to make sure they counted each object. Some slid each object as they counted, which is a more advanced way to count given they have to coordinate saying the word with sliding the object.

They first sorted by color and then by type (fruit, bears, or dinosaurs). We collected all the numbers of objects onto a single white board and then after we had all the numbers of objects from each of the groups we gathered on the carpet to add them up. It became a little tense at the end of class as we were using a hundreds chart to add up all the numbers for each of the groups. The teacher reminded me that Captain Underpants needed the numbers by lunch and lunch was five minutes away! We were able to finish and call Captain Underpants and report our findings. And, guess what, we saved the day!

In Reflection

In no way am I saying that this is a perfect lesson, or that the details I provided were all that is needed to enact the lesson. Honestly, I can think of a dozen ways that I would change it given my new knowledge of the classroom, the needs of the students, the standards, etc. For example, it would easy to incorporate recycling into this lesson to talk about how sorting can save the world. Or to use hundreds charts and crayons as a way to represent all the total number objects and each group based on color.

I share this lesson, not as an exemplar, but just as a reminder (to myself) that learning can be fun. And some of the best learning is fun (just listen to my kids while playing Minecraft). If we are to love others through the teaching and learning of mathematics, then there should be some fun, right?

Was it silly? Yes. Did it work? I don’t know. What I do know is that we sorted, we counted, we even added. Kids appeared to be excited and engaged. More importantly, they wanted to know if Captain Underpants would be calling again. I believe he will…

What are small things you do to create fun/engagement in your lessons?

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4 Pitfalls for Developing Doers of Mathematics: Takeaways from the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

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I saved the day.

The math problem had a small detail in it that if my students were not paying attention, it would mess up their work. So I darted around the room and pointed out the detail at the precise moment each group encountered it. No one got confused. No one struggled. Everyone got the right answer. It was a fantastic moment…until I assigned the next problem. After a few moments all of the groups began to glance in my direction, and a boy right next to me asked, “What do we do?”

The better question was, “What did I do?” I didn’t save the day. I wasn’t developing my students’ capacity to do mathematics. Instead, I encountered a pitfall of developing doers of mathematics.

Developing Doers of Mathematics

Recently, I head an episode of the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast where he discussed four pitfalls leaders can fall into in developing the people they lead.

All throughout the podcast, I kept thinking of parallels between what Pastor Craig shared about leading organizations and the complexities of teaching and learning mathematics (don’t we all?). I see the job of teaching as facilitating a productive relationship between students and mathematics so that students see themselves as doers of mathematics. In other words, the job of the teacher is to develop doers of mathematics.

Below, is a reworking of the content presented by Pastor Craig in his Leadership Podcast, to apply to the teaching and learning of mathematics.

The Four Pitfalls of Developing Doers of Mathematics

I present these pitfalls of developing doers of mathematics knowing I have fell into each of them multiple times. By naming and recognizing these pitfalls, we can avoid them and develop the kind of relationships we want our students/children/doers of mathematics to have with mathematics. I see these pitfalls existing for teachers, parents, tutors, even students, basically, anyone who may help someone develop as a doer of mathematics.

1. Controlling – creates compliant doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students are not given freedom to consider their own methods for solving a math problem. Instead of giving space to explore and make sense of the problem, students are dictated a carefully constructed algorithm for solving the problem. By definition, the problem is no longer a problem. When the student has been shown exactly how to solve a math problem, the problem has transformed into a mere exercise. Controlling has turned doing math into executing algorithms.

To avoid this pitfall students need space to explore problems. A great article that was written about this idea is call Never say Anything a Kid Can Say by Steven Reinhart. The mindset presented in this article has helped me be quiet, sit back, and trust the student(s) (through gentle prodding) to produce a solution, and then use that work as a starting point for a conversation about the problem. Also Mandy Jansen@MandyMathEd has this idea of “rough draft talk” for solving math problems. The idea being lets consider the idea of creating rough drafts for papers and use that same iterative process for creating solutions for math problems.

2. Criticizing – creates insecure doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students may be given freedom to consider their own methods for solving a math problem, but each method is quickly identified for how it falls short in efficiency, accuracy, elegance, or just is not the preferred method of the person providing assistance. Students are eventually leery of presenting their ideas for solving a problem given the overly critical environment in which the idea is received.

To avoid this pitfall an asset-based perspective of the work students do with mathematics needs to be developed. Instead of seeing what is wrong with the method, consider what is right. This approach of having an asset-based perspective and assigning competency to students can be seen in the work around Complex Instruction.

Two books I recommend on Complex Instruction in the math classroom are both from the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). One book is called Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics by Horn.  The other book is Smarter Together: Collaboration and Equity in the Elementary Math Classroom by Featherstone, Crespo, Jilk, Oslund, Parks, and Wood.

3. Avoiding – creates disengaged doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students are given freedom to consider their own methods for solving math problems, but are not given any feedback. The person providing assistance…doesn’t. They are not engaged with what the students are doing and in turn the students see it (understandably) as a lack of caring in what they are doing.

To avoid this pitfall the answer is to simply engage. The easiest way to engage is to ask questions. Try to figure out how students are making sense of the problems and attempt to do so with no assumptions.

I remember noticing on my son once identified a rectangle as having six sides on his homework. My gut told me ask him why he got the question wrong (He knows how many sides are on a rectangle, right?). Instead, I asked him how he came to the answer of six, simply and with no judgement. He told me he used a tile in the shape of a rectangle to count all the sides and came up with six. He counted around the tile and then one on top, and one on the bottom.

I immediately realized his problem was not a rectangle problem. It was a problem identifying the difference between three dimensional shapes and two dimensional shapes. It was a problem identifying the difference between sides of a polygon and faces of a polyhedron. Asking the question, and not avoiding, resulted in a wonderful understanding for both of us.

4. Rescuing – creates helpless doers of mathematics.

This is where students are given freedom to consider their own methods for solving math problems but are given help at the smallest indication of struggle. An example of this pitfall can be seen in the story that began this blog post.

To avoid this pitfall, students need to be given permission to struggle and sometimes even fail. This does not mean disengagement but providing assistance in other ways. Asking an open-ended, probing question, encouraging them to continue on a line of thinking, creating timely partnerships between students considering the same solution path, are all ways to stay engaged but not rob students of the learning potential of a math problem. Helping students learn how to deal with struggle and to learn from failure will not only develop them as doers of mathematics but also as people.

Knowing is half the battle…

In the end, avoiding these pitfalls comes down to a balance of engagement and freedom. By knowing these pitfalls we can avoid them and help our students develop the kind of relationship we want them to have with mathematics.

Avoiding the pitfalls of developing doers of mathematics comes down to balancing engagement and freedom. Click To Tweet

Thanks to Craig Groeschel for providing the inspiration for this post through his Leadership Podcast.

What pitfall are you most likely to fall into?

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

Book cover

How One Free Book = Four Leadership Takeaways for Teachers

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In a book seeking to give advice on leadership, I value honesty and practicality. How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins is a book with both of these ingredients. And by reading it as an educator, I see a book with lessons for teachers on how to lead from the classroom.

An Honest Disclaimer

Speaking of honesty, I was given this book for free and asked to review and promote it. I agreed because, though I had only recently read How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority, I have been familiar with the content for some time. Clay Scroggins is the Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church and he first shared this content back in 2014 on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast Part 1 & Part 2. It is because I understood the main idea of the book that I would agree to such an arrangement…I have principles.

Realizing I Was Not In Charge

When I took my first teaching job, I realized how little I was actually in charge of. The curriculum was assigned to me. The classes were assigned to me. The students were assigned to me. The criteria for evaluation was assigned to me. The schedule was assigned to me (which led to my daily bathroom time being assigned to me). Yes, I was the math instructional leader during my math classes but it was pretty clear I was not in charge.

That is the beauty of this book. It should really be called How To Lead Right Where You Are, because it takes away all of the excuses. There is no list of “Things to do when I become a leader”. Instead, start doing those things, because everyone is a leader…right now.

No excuses. Start leading from where you are! Click To Tweet
The Four Behaviors

This book is built around four behaviors that can be leveraged to help a teacher lead themselves, their classroom, their school, their district, even the profession from their current position.

1. Lead Yourself

Pretty simple, but it is the eternal lesson from the airplane safety instructions. You need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping with someone else’s mask. If you are not leading yourself well then your attempts to influence others (John Maxwell’s definition of leadership) will be seen as hypocritical.

This behavior can be seen in how a teacher is organizing their classroom, staying healthy, implementing district initiatives, etc. For example, It is easier for a teacher to ask students to get their work in on time if turned in assignments are graded and returned in a timely manner.

2. Choose Positivity

There is no shortage of news regarding the problems within education. It is easy to find. What I know, though, is that teaching is awesome, teachers are awesome, and guiding students to learn new things is an awesome thing to experience. See what I did there? I just chose positivity. Makes you want to go teach something doesn’t it?

I like that Clay identified this as a core behavior because it is so disheartening to hear the negativity that can be heard about teaching and teachers. Even more disheartening is that it is sometimes even said by teachers. The energy that is created through choosing positivity ripples throughout a school making it easier to collaborate and do the job of teaching. For example, the new curriculum provides an opportunity to rethink and improve our course versus causing us to throw everything out.

3. Think Critically

Clay is pretty quick to point out the distinction between thinking critically and being critical. Thinking critically comes with a purpose while being critical shades the way the world is viewed. Being critical might be what happens when someone does not Choose Positivity.

Instead, to think critically means having an eye on something for the purpose of making it better. For example, I am a big fan of one sentence philosophy statements and using practice to iteratively refine the statement so that it can help guide daily classroom decisions that are made.

My first statement was simply “to help students succeed in math”. Not bad, except when I noticed that there was a student in the class who was doing great on my written learning celebrations (aka tests), but was quick to point out the shortcomings of others. According to my statement I was doing a wonderful job, but thinking critically, I was called to refine my statement. My second statement was “to help students succeed in math and in life”. Thinking critically allowed me to see how I could take what I had and make it better.

4. Reject Passivity

The fact that you read this post this far means you probably embody this behavior because you are doing…something. The more I read research about the development of teachers the more I am convinced the problems in education can be solved by teachers.

Sometimes I am asked to come to a district and provide an opportunity for professional development. More often then not, somewhere in the crowd of teachers is the expertise that they sought after in hiring me. But it is not just about the district looking from within. It is also about teachers making their expertise available through intentional action. Clay has several suggestions and examples in the book for how to gracefually make your expertise available to those in authority.

The Verdict

In the end I gladly recommend How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins to anyone who feels called to leadership where they are at…especially if they are in the classroom!

And if you are someone who feels called to love others through through the teaching and learning of math education, then follow me on Twitter and stay updated on future posts on Amidon Planet!

Buying the Book

The book can be found wherever you buy books. My suggestion is to head to your local bookstore (e.g. Square Books in Oxford, MS and buy it there (even if they have to special order it). The book may cost a little more but the money stays local and local bookstores in your community are a good thing.