Teacher Leadership in Mathematics Education Reform
The mathematics education reform movement began over a decade ago with a few principles and some general notions about what mathematics teaching could be like. These notions and principles, based on a body of research into children's cognitive processes, recognized that students are capable of powerful mathematical thinking but that conventional instruction, rather than building on their intuitive understandings, centered, instead, on memorization of facts and computational procedures.
During the past ten years, the mathematics education community has produced a number of documents, such as the NCTM Standards, that make recommendations for the reform of mathematics teaching. In addition, a number of new mathematics curricula designed to embody the reform recommendations now exist to serve as a tool for reform. Finally, a number of teacher development projects have been designed to support these reform efforts.
It is clear that projects designed to support teachers in the reform of their mathematics teaching practice involve creating communities of inquiry that allow for deepening one's mathematical content knowledge, examining how students come to understand important mathematical ideas, and forging a new mathematics teaching practice that builds on these new understandings.
These models of professional development in mathematics are now available to reach increasingly large numbers of teachers seeking to improve their mathematics teaching practice. Teacher leaders play an important role in making these opportunities widely available.
A number of the Center's teacher development projects have included teacher leadership components that allow teachers participating in the project to take on leadership roles. In addition, some of the products of these projects have been used in other settings to build teacher leadership.
DMI Leadership Institutes, held in the summer at Mount Holyoke College, are designed for teacher educators, staff developers, teacher-leaders, and others who support teachers' professional development. In a community of peers, participants inquire into the goals of professional development for elementary and middle school mathematics, reflect on the kinds of structures and activities that can support those goals, and become familiar with DMI as a tool to forward the mathematics agenda at participants' sites.
The DMI Network was a project that was designed specifically to support the development of teacher leadership. The project's major tool was the Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) professional development curriculum produced by the Teaching to the Big Ideas project. The project provided professional development for teacher educators through summer institutes and an electronic network. An apprenticeship program allowed selected teachers from DMI seminars to learn to take on this role of teacher leader for themselves, thus expanding the group of teacher leaders prepared to offer DMI seminars at various sites across the country.
In the fourth and final year of the Teaching to the Big Ideas project, participating teachers provided professional development for colleagues in their building by offering seminars based on the Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) curriculum. Prior to offering the seminar, teacher-leaders participated in a summer institute designed to help for their leadership roles. During the year, they met monthly to discuss their leadership work. Many of these teacher leaders have continued to offer DMI seminars. Susan Jo Russell is preparing a paper about this work; see the web page titled Research into Use and Impact of DMI.