Grateful. Humbled.

My name is Sarah Caban and I am a district math coach. Phew. You have no idea how difficult it is for me to say that out loud.  It has always seemed like such a loaded statement.  I rarely say it.  Usually, I default to “I teach math.” or “I teach math with other teachers.” I always worry, if I say “district math coach”, what do people hear?

Do they hear DISTRICT math coach and think “oh, she must know all the math – high school – we should probably ask her to solve some complicated Calculus problem. Yikes. Don’t say District.

What if I just say MATH coach?

“She must be a “math” person.  She probably doesn’t make mistakes.  She knows her facts, she does them fast.  She is THE math person. We should probably blame her for all this Common Core nonsense.”  Ahh!  Don’t say Math.

Okay. Let’s go with COACH.  Hmmm. What might people say?

“Oh!  Lacrosse? Soccer? Track?  That’s great.  Good for you.”

Then, I try to explain, “well, I am an instructional coach.  I coach teachers.”

“Oh. Coach teachers to do what?  Play lacrosse?  Soccer?”

Me, hesitantly: “Coach teachers to teach math?”


I have had this elusive title for 5 years.  One would think I had come to terms with it by now.  Identity is complicated, particularly when it comes to teaching math.  For more on this, read Hannah Mesick’s post about Jumping Into the Ball Pit.  Thanks for being a mirror, Hannah.

As part of my job, I attend weekly administrative team meetings.  Last spring, as a team, we read the book School Culture Rewired. I was simultaneously reading NCTMs’ Principles to Action. Our superintendent gave us a homework assignment:  Identify a part of our culture that we want to change and explain how we would cultivate  that change.  I think she just wanted us to sketch out some thoughts, but I saw an opportunity.  I decided to write a proposal.

I focussed on the professionalism section from PtA. This was my purpose:

“It must become the norm for teachers to believe that they have a professional responsibility to collaborate with their colleagues and open their practice to collective observation, study, and improvement. In short, we must move from “pockets of excellence” to “systemic excellence” by providing math education that supports the learning of all students (and teachers) at the highest possible level.” – NCTM Principals to Action

How would I work towards achieving this purpose?

  • Invite K-12 teachers do math together this summer.

What would we do? 

  • Read Principals to action
  • Read Progressions documents
  • Watch Shadowcon talks and Ignite talks– choose a couple – reflect on calls to action
  • Understand progressions of learning
  • Plan (DO MATH) and practice  implementing tasks (ANTICIPATE HOW OTHERS MIGHT DO MATH).

I submitted this proposal to my superintendent, along with a budget, which included teacher stipends and copies of Principles to Action for each participant.  My superintendent approved it by the end of the day. She was thrilled and supportive.  She asked me to please send her the dates ASAP so she could make sure she attended at least one of the days.  Also, would I consider inviting Special Education staff to join us? Absolutely.

There are about 60 classroom teachers in our district, K-12.  This includes math interventionists, special educators, and G/T teachers. It doesn’t include ed. techs or specialists. Twenty teachers signed up for three days of summer math.  Note to self: next time include ed.techs and specialists (gym, art, music).

Wow.  Twenty teachers, representing K-12, including interventionists and special ed. Awesome.

Now what do I do?  I felt pretty overwhelmed.  How do I makes sure that every minute of these three days moves us towards “collective observation, study, and improvement”?

It has been over two weeks since the completion of the these three days. I have been trying to figure out how to describe the experience.  I am not know for my ability to think linearly.  I am more known for swan diving into rabit holes. In the next several blog posts, I am going to attempt to describe the incredible journey that I experienced with 20 fearless, curious, and creative educators.

Stay tuned.