Overcoming Innumeracy Part 4: How Do We Talk to Leaders About Mathematics?

The goal of this four part blog series is to consider the following questions:

  • What is it about the way we talk about mathematics that promotes the acceptance of "I can't do that"?
  • What might we do to shift the conversation?

In an environment that sometimes feels driven by results and accountability, how does a classroom teacher talk to school leaders (and/or district leaders) about mathematics?

While there is a hierarchy of responsibility, leaders are still colleagues in education; perhaps the previous blog post may be beneficial to your conversations, as there may be some anxiety around mathematics that exists for them.

Talking to leaders about mathematics as a classroom teacher may seem intimidating. However, in the best interests of students, what I feel is most important is that the conversation happens. Leaders need to know what is happening in classrooms. They need to be apprised of shifts in pedagogy. They need to speak eloquently about areas of strength in mathematics in their schools and districts. They need to be specific when requesting supports and professional learning for mathematics educators. As a classroom teacher, you have the ability to share these details with your leaders: directly with your school leaders, and via your school leaders with your district leaders.

It may be as simple as inviting your school leader into your classroom to view a lesson, and perhaps schedule a debrief after so as to share in a reflection process. It may mean making an appointment to review a resource that has come across your desk, so that the school leaders are in the loop with respect to the direction you are taking your mathematics classroom. It may mean requesting that there be a balance in literacy and numeracy discussions at staff meetings. It may mean being prepared for data analytics conversations with respect to results. It may mean being vulnerable and honest during professional growth conversations when describing areas of opportunity for yourself and requesting professional learning opportunities. Regardless of your approach, you have the ability to advocate for your students, your colleagues, and yourself by ensuring the conversations take place.

Often, conversations with leaders are easier to engage in when there is a third point of reference: it is not about their knowledge, or your expertise, but rather it is a conversation about an objective resource around which to have a discussion. ARPDC has a multitude of these resources that may be referenced when initiating a “Can we connect about this?” type of discussion.

These types of discussions can be particularly fruitful when considered with questions such as

  • What can we learn from this resource?
  • How might this resource inform our practice?
  • Who else needs to be familiar with this resource? How might we go about making that happen?
  • How might we leverage this resource for student learning?

In my experience, leaders appreciate support from their staff (e.g. presenting solutions when identifying a problem); having a set of questions prepared with the resource when sharing it provides a lens through which the leader is then ready to have a conversation with you.

Having questions in advance to guide the conversation may be pertinent when considering resources that may seem “revolutionary” or “out there” when it comes to teaching mathematics, as they push the understanding of the mathematics classroom from the ones in which we learned to something that may seem very different. For example:

However, these resources support Alberta Education’s shift in teaching and learning mathematics.

This shift, these changes, will be supported by leaders who have a deeper understanding of the whys and the hows of teaching mathematics. It is not that they need to be mathematics teachers themselves; it is that they have to feel confident in the competence of the teachers they have hired and in their ability to discuss mathematics learning in their schools and districts.

The support that leaders may need, especially if they are not familiar with teaching mathematics themselves, may be recognizing what to look for in the classroom. Again, as a mathematics teacher, you have an opportunity to share resources and request feedback based on these resources as you open your classroom to your school leaders. Generating conversation based on these thirds points of reference may provoke deeper conversation about mathematics learning in your school. Examples of such resources include, but are not limited to:

As a mathematics teacher, it is understandable that you wish your leaders understood what you were doing in your classroom and why. The impact of your teaching, when only viewed through the lens of a single set of provincial results, is limited. I encourage you to engage your school leaders in learning with you, through conversations about resources as that objective third point of reference. May you find yourself with an abundance of observation and conversation with your leaders as you are making a difference, each and every day, to overcoming innumeracy.


Alberta Government. (2020). Accountability pillar overall summary. Retrieved from https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/e78c13ce-4f05-4772-ac36-76548c346197/resource/fe0251e0-c6f6-4291-87f7-f185cdbdb16c/download/edc-accountability-pillar-summary-3-year-plan-2020-05.pdf

Alberta Government. (n.d.). How does today’s mathematics classroom differ from what I experienced? Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/481818/_alberta_ed_fs_differ_eng.pdf

Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. (n.d.). Engaging all students through numeracy. Retrieved from https://arpdcresources.ca/resources/numeracy/documents/learning-guide-engaging-all-students-through-numeracy.pdf

Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. (2016). K-12 mathematics programs of study poster. Retrieved from https://arpdcresources.ca/resources/math_pos_poster/

Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. (2016). K-12 numeracy guiding document. Retrieved from https://arpdcresources.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ERLC-K-12-Numeracy-Framework.pdf

Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. (2014). Numeracy learning guide. Retrieved from https://arpdcresources.ca/resources/administrators_learning_guides/documents/numeracy-learning-guide.pdf

Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia. (2013). Seven mathematical processes. Retrieved from https://arpdcresources.ca/resources/seven_mathematical_processes/

Government of Ontario. (2011). Paying attention to mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/studentsuccess/foundationprincipals.pdf

Learning Exchange. (2018). Leadership - Rita Angelotti - Building a math foundation [Video]. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/249716640

Meyer, D. (2010, March). Math class needs a makeover [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_class_needs_a_makeover#t-86291

TedxTalks. (2016, February). TEDxRainier - Dan Finkel - Five principles of extraordinary math teaching [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytVneQUA5-c

Wolfram, C. (2010, July). Teaching kids real math with computers [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/conrad_wolfram_teaching_kids_real_math_with_computers#t-233573

Author: Jennifer Ferguson