When All Really Means All: My Personal Journey

I have changed a lot in thirteen years of teaching. From a wide-eyed first year agriculture teacher ready to change the world to my early days of teaching math when I assigned the ever popular 1 through 20 even, followed by 1 through 20 odd the next night for homework, I am thankful for the many ways in which my community of educators has helped me grow and change.

One of the things that has stayed consistent, however, is my belief that all has to mean all when it comes to kids and education.  Every student has the ability to learn and do math at a high level, and I have truly tried to make all means all the mission statement of my classroom.  Unfortunately the other thing that has stayed consistent is the lack of materials and resources that made all means all attainable for me as a teacher. Like all teachers, I have made it through curriculum adoptions, computer programs that promised the world, the newest research trends that promised great gains, and ever-increasing demands to move kids further and faster.  

The problem remained though that one group always seemed to be left out.  If I moved one subgroup another got left behind, if it managed to serve all GAP kids my high achievers growth was left stagnant, if it served the high achievers my most struggling learners were left feeling defeated and hating math.  Eventually, as I wrote about earlier this year, I gave up on depending on curriculums and developed my own materials that finally moved ALMOST everyone. My mission however remained all means all… not all means almost all.

It was almost four years ago now that the Kentucky Department of Education asked for volunteers to do a one unit pilot for a group trying to get funding to write a free middle school math curriculum that would better support students’ conceptual understanding.  The words free and conceptual were enough to pique my interest and I said sure. The materials were in very draft form at that point, but I knew at the end of that pilot unit, when I saw some of the highest scores I had ever seen on that particular unit test, that something special was going on with this curriculum.

Three years ago, someone suggested I apply to review a free math curriculum that a nonprofit called Open Up Resources was developing with the phenomenal team at Illustrative Mathematics – the same folks behind the unit I’d loved I  signed on for the year-long review process. I started “borrowing” some of the activities to try with my kids and they loved them. I knew after reviewing the first units that I had to do whatever I could to bring these materials to my school building – and we were able to!  I will forever be thankful to my 6th and 7th grade colleagues for taking a leap of faith and jumping into to Open Up Resources with me last year. It was a big change for all of us. We were excited and scared, but we did it.

Something amazing happened this year.  My mission was finally fulfilled. All finally meant all.  With the help of the amazing, free curriculum from Open Up Resources,  ALL 100+ students in my room grew leaps and bounds. Kids came into the year ranging from a 1st grade math level to and 8th grade math level, and left between a 3rd grade and college math level.  All students averaged almost two years of growth while my GAP students such as English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities grew well over two years, making a great start at closing the achievement gap.  Those 100 kids turned into mathematicians this year. They reasoned, they discussed, they modeled, and they grew. All meant all, and it was magical.

As a teacher, I grew so much, too.  I thought I understood conceptual teaching, but this year took it to a whole different level. I noticed this shift in my instruction almost immediately, and even found myself blogging about it in September. I would say things before I taught the unit like “why in the world would they teach it that way?” and then by the end of the unit would be saying, “why in the world hadn’t I thought to teach it that way before?”  With the support of beautifully-crafted curriculum, I learned how to be better at eliciting student thinking, how to give stronger and more meaningful feedback, and how to have an even more student centered classroom.  I will always be thankful that I got to grow right alongside my kids this year.

Justice & power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, & whatever is powerful may be just. (2)

I had a magical year in so many ways and for so many reasons. But this spring I was faced with a difficult decision.  My district went through a districtwide textbook adoption and selected a more traditional textbook for use K-12, which meant I would no longer be able to use Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum in its entirety.  I struggled a lot with what that meant for me. I am a teacher to the depth of my core, but also hold firm to my mission that all means all. And believe wholeheartedly that Open Up Resources curriculum is the way to achieve that high level of learning for all students.  So I made one of the hardest decisions of my professional career and chose to leave the classroom next year.

I am deeply excited about my next chapter: I’m joining Open Up Resources to develop an educator community around their excellent free curricula – starting with the 6–8 math curriculum authored by Illustrative Mathematics.

I am passionate about access and equity; so is Open Up Resources.  I am passionate about making sure all kids and schools have access to aligned and high quality materials; so is Open Up Resources.  I am passionate about connecting teachers and sparking them to have meaningful conversations around math education materials; so is Open Up Resources.  I am passionate about propelling kids to greater success in math; so Open Up Resources. All means all at Open Up Resources, and I am so excited that they are giving me the opportunity to join their team as Community Manager.

I also know that excellent curriculum can empower excellent teaching – but it isn’t easy teaching. The math curriculum stretched and improved my practice, and I grappled a lot with how to get that right. I found myself connecting with teachers around the country about the work – via Twitter, and when the Open Up Resources team helped us to connect in web chats – and those connections made me more confident in the shifts I was making. I believe that a national community of educators on the same journey can accelerate everyone’s success with the Open Up Resources curricula, and my own experience tells me that this will be incredible for our kids.

This wasn’t a decision I took lightly or made quickly, but for now it is the best way to continue to fulfill my All Means All mission.

I am excited about what we have the opportunity to do as teachers in the Open Up Resources Community.  We can all be a part of something so much bigger moving forward. Teachers from around the country gathered around a free curriculum that supports all learners sharing resources, ideas, struggles, and successes… I truly think it can be the largest, most engaged, fun, and meaningful community education has ever seen around a teaching & learning movement.  We have the power to really work together and do something special around this work, and I am so excited to have the opportunity get to that with you.

Justice & power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, & whatever is powerful may be just. (3)

5 thoughts on “When All Really Means All: My Personal Journey

  1. Wow! I know how hard the decision to leave the classroom is for someone as passionate as we both are about taking care of “our” kids. But i am thrilled at the larger number of kids who have the opportunity to benefit from this next stage in your journey.
    Congratulations! It has been wonderful to share our IM adventure with you. I am excited for the many teachers who now have a chance to have that experience.
    And bravo Open Up – quality hire!

  2. Brooke,
    Thanks for sharing your story. Sorry to hear about the curriculum change in your district. It sounds like you have some pretty convincing data that supports the Open Up Resources effectiveness. I am curious as to what type of measurement tool you used to measure your students growth? Do the teachers get any input on the curriculum decision? I teach at a middle school in Wyoming and when we change curriculum each grade level gets to decide what curriculum we want to use. Our district use to use the MAP test to measure growth but they have since dumped it (MAP) and now they use the state assessment to “show growth”, which can only measure growth in certain areas. I took a quick look at the Open Up Resources and liked what I saw. Thanks again!

    • Hi Dale! Thanks for reading and commenting! I wish teachers got input on the curriculum decision here but they really do not. I am in a large district so there was a “curriculum committee” but it was on of those things that seemed to be decided for us before the committee ever met. It makes me sad!

      We also used MAP to measure growth along with our state assessment. Since this post we have gotten our state assessment data and our students that used Open Up Resources knocked it out of the park! I am so passionate about how it turns kids into mathematicians and not just rule followers!

      If I can ever help you please let me know!

  3. How/where do you connect in web chats on Open UP????? Currently using for 6th Grade Math. Using your slides every day!!!

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