Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 90: Partnering With Parents-Listening

March 08, 2022 Pam Harris
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 90: Partnering With Parents-Listening
Show Notes Transcript

Parents are so important, and sometimes they get concerned when their child isn't being taught math they way they were expecting. In this episode Pam and Kim discuss hearing parents' concerns and helping them feel heard and then helping them understand the math. We appreciate parents and we are better with them!
Talking Points:

  • We want invested parents
  • Parents need to be heard, and then they need to understand
  • The importance of listening to understand


Pam Harris:

Hey fellow mathematicians. Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam.

Kim Montague:

And I'm Kim.

Pam Harris:

And we make the case that mathematizing is not about mimicking steps or rote memorizing facts. But it's about thinking and reasoning; about creating amusing mental relationships. We take the strong stance that not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching, but that mimicking algorithms actually keep students from being the mathematicians they can be. We answer the question, if not algorithms and step by step procedures, then what?

Kim Montague:

So in this episode, we're super excited to kick off a new series.

Pam Harris:

So excited!

Kim Montague:

Uh-huh, where we share with you some of the ways that we made sure that we partnered with parents, rather than creating a division between home and school with regard to math education.

Pam Harris:

Yeah, so important to not divide, right? Like how do we partner with parents not like pretend that it's all us and not them? Or they're, they have one domain? And we have the other? Like, how can we actually work with together?

Kim Montague:

Yeah. And so some of the listeners may know that you and I actually met when you were a parent in the district that I worked in.

Pam Harris:

Sure enough.

Kim Montague:

And so the quick story is that Pam, well you know, is already "Math Pam", and she had done some work in secondary, and she had students or kids in our district. And she started working with (unclear) district. And over the next couple of years, kind of took over the district as far as math, education and training. And we had teachers who were, had different experiences and had done a different amount of training. And so we had parents, who had teachers who were kind of at different parts of their journey, right? And so there's a lot of questions, lots of questions from parents in our district.

Pam Harris:

Yeah. And we had worked with teachers. We had done a lot of really good work, like you said, teachers were all over the place, necessarily, because they've done different levels. And so were parents their, the kids were having different experiences. They were getting some versions of different messages, because teachers were all over the place. I remember a particular family that had two students. So because of that they had an older student. They had one teacher that had more or less experienced. And had a younger student who had a different teacher, who had more or less experience. And so the kids were sort of kind of getting different messages. And the parents, love it, were invested in their kids education. Like we like that. We want involved parents. We want parents who care, you know about their kids' and their education and how things are going and talk to their kids and are invested and involved. And so this one particular set of parents asked to meet with me. And y'all let me tell you, this dad was intense. Kind of one of those meetings where the mom was like, she'd put her hand on his knee, like, "Honey, you know." He was in my face, you know like, "Hey, you're not gonna ruin (he had two girls) you're not gonna ruin my girls education." It was kind of his message. He didn't say it that way. He was polite, and everything. He was clear that what he was seeing was not what he was used to, was not what he was clear with success. He was also to be fair, seeing some things from a less trained teacher, a teacher who hadn't done as much work with us who was trying some things and kind of emphasizing maybe not what we would suggest you emphasize. You know, when you try stuff, you don't always may be doing exactly the way that you would when you know more.

Kim Montague:

Yeah.

Pam Harris:

And so because of that things are a little muddy for the student. And so I took it, you know, I was like, "Tell me, tell me what you're thinking." And he would get all excited, his voice was raised, and then the mom would put her hand on it, you know, "Calm down." And he's like, "But this is important." And, and he was really clear, or she was excuse me, was, always was clear that it was important to her too, "You know, we really care about our daughter, and we're just, we're unclear why we're seeing this and she's frustrated." And I heard them out. It was so important to keep listening. And at the same time, we had decided to hold parent meetings.

Kim Montague:

Right.

Pam Harris:

We knew that parents were having questions. We knew there was confusion. I knew from my background as a T cubed instructor, Teachers Teaching with Technology. I had sort of lived through some of the math wars, especially that happened in California and some other places. And so I was aware that there were heightened emotions. I was very intensely aware that we wanted to keep parents well informed and on our side, not sort of left out in the cold so we couldn't have good conversations. Y'all I met with this set of parents. I invited them to our parent meetings. We actually had a series of parent meetings. I swear it was not until the third meeting that he started nodding. Like it was kind of like the first meeting, he was still sitting up tall and kind of like his back was up, you know, and it was really intense. And kind of the second meeting he was doing the math with us. And he was kind of leaning in a little bit. By the third meeting, he was nodding. He needed to be heard. And he needed to understand. And then he was on board.

Kim Montague:

Yeah.

Pam Harris:

Let me just say that, again, like, I had to hear him out, then he needed an experience where he could, like, dive in and actually experience the math. When we had parent meetings, we actually did math with the parents. And then, bam, then he was on board, and he became one of our biggest supporters. So in a huge way, let's talk about how we need to hear parents, and we need to help them understand.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, I'm going to jump in for a second because I also think that an important note to make is that when you sit, listen to hear and understand, we have to be really careful that we aren't automatically ready with a response. Right? We can be quick to defend because we know what we're talking about, we know what's going on. And then we just tell them how they're wrong sometimes, right? We were taking it in, but we already have a response ready?

Pam Harris:

Or while they're talking, you're thinking about your response, you're formulating how you're going to say it and you're not maybe really actually present listening.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. Right. So I think an important thing to notice or to think about is, how could they know, right? It's not their experience, and they don't understand math or teaching. It's not really their job. And so when we're listening, set aside some of that defense a little bit, so that we really are listening to hear and understand.

Pam Harris:

Yeah, and I got that back from that set of parents, they, once they were nodding and on board, they shared with me that it was really important. The reason they were willing to come to the parent meetings was because they felt heard during that first meeting, you know, they felt like I wasn't just trying to convince them, but that I actually listened to them. I heard their concerns, I repeated back, "I hear this is what you're saying." And that listening can be really important for, parents need to feel heard. This is important, right? This is their kid, this is their life, they're putting all their emotional energy, we hope into those kids to you know, help them grow, and all the things and it's tough. This is not a trivial thing. Parents are trying. And we want them involved. I can't stress how important Kim and I feel it is to not try to separate kids from parents. We don't ever want to say and sometimes I've heard where teachers will say, "Oh, you know, don't worry about it, you know, we'll do the math at school. Don't help your kid, don't you know," in kind of a well meaning attempt. We're trying to teach them strategy that parents aren't used to. And so in a well meaning attempt, we might be like, "Oh, you know, you're only going to do the algorithm at home, or you're just gonna to step by step procedures at home, or you don't really understand the math that we're trying to do. And so you just stay out of it, parent. Parent, you just, you know, don't worry, we've got it. We've got it." I, may I please respectfully suggest, don't do that. Like, don't tell parents, that they are not important in their kids lives, even if they don't know the math, like, let's like, don't make that assumption. And then for sure, don't suggest like, we're going to keep you separate from your kid. Because we're the be it, end all, we're the know-it-all, or the I don't know.

Kim Montague:

Well if even if. Sorry.

Pam Harris:

No go.

Kim Montague:

Even if those aren't the words that you're saying, maybe consider that that's the message that they're hearing.

Pam Harris:

Umm, yeah. Yeah, it's, thank you for saving me. I'm not suggesting any teacher is really being that cut and dried or that dismissive or that, helped me, that arrogant. I'm not suggesting that. I'm not suggesting you'd sound quite that bold, though I have heard it. But I think sometimes we could behave in ways that doesn't kind of honor the fact that we want to partner with parents, and that we're better together. I'm reminded Kim, as we're talking about an experience that I had. I was on NPR. It so cool, by the way, that was one of the coolest things I've ever done. So I was on Science Friday. And to do that, I went to a local radio station. The Ira Flatow, the host of Science Friday, it was I don't even know where, wherever they record that show. And he recorded where he is. And I was in the studio here in Austin. And so I had to go to the studio and they set me all up with the big mic in the earphone, you know like the whole setup. It was really cool. It was a fun experience. But right before I walked in the gentleman who was kind of in charge of the local site, and, you know, the whole recording, and everything, he met me at the door, and I had the whole security thing. It was really cool. Anyway, as we were sitting waiting for the recording studio to open up, he and I had a conversation. I was like, you know, "What do you do?" I'm expecting him to say, "Well, I'm the director of whatever." And he goes, "Oh, I'm the Heavy Metal guy." I was like, "What?" He's like, "Well, we wear a lot of hats. It's a small studio. And so I'm the Heavy Metal guy. I do the weekend show for Heavy Metal stuff." I think it was the weekend show. Anyway, he did something. I just remember, he was a Heavy Metal guy. "I'm a Heavy Metal guy." And then we kept talking and he says, "But I also do this part. Sometimes I fill in for," you know, helping me get acclimated and knowing what to do in the studio. And so as we were talking, it was interesting, you know, what are you here for? What's the topic and everything? And so I told him, you know, Science Friday, we're going to talk about teaching math, and how we can help students, you know, really mathematize, etc. And he said, I'll never forget this. So picture Heavy Metal guy, right? And he and he looked at me, he goes, "I don't understand why parents are upset about what our kids are doing in math class today. Because when I see what my daughter's doing, like on a number line, or" and then he kind of used some words that we don't typically use, but he said something like, "On the rectangles," we would usually say an array or an area model. "And when I see my daughter doing that, those are the relationships that I use in my head. When I do math, that's how I think about math. I don't think about math the way my teachers tried to get me to do step by step procedures. The way that she's using relationships. That's the way I've always thought about math." I thought that was fascinating. So sometimes there are parents, and I'm sure we have listeners today that are like, "Well, yeah, Pam, that's true for all of us." Well, maybe not, maybe you're not the Heavy Metal guy parent who's really clear that what his daughter's doing today is what he was always naturally doing in his head. You might be the parent like me, I was the parent that when my son brought home the worksheet in first grade that said, doubles plus or minus, I don't know exactly, doubles plus or minus one or something or near doubles, I don't remember exactly what it said. And it would literally have the kids do something like eight plus eight, and then it would ask a plus nine, and then it would ask seven plus eight. And I looked at that. And I was like, "Huh, well, that's kind of cool, huh?" It was this moment of like, "Well there are good relationships. Yeah, I never thought about that." Like, I mean, I was, it was so foreign to me. You just memorize the facts. That's me. Now, I'm not suggesting that's the thing to do. But that was my experience. I did not recognize what my son was either doing on that worksheet, or what he was doing kind of naturally in his head. And then my second son was doing the same kind of thing. When I met Kim and Kim was doing all the stuff, I did not recognize that stuff. That was not the kind of mental things I was, mental math to me meant lineup the digits and see if I could hang on to the crossy outies, and little ones and stuff. That's what my experience was. Maybe we have parents that relate to that. And if we have parents that relate to that, and I'm going to suggest that that might be the experience of the vast majority of parents that we deal with. Maybe I'm guessing a little bit here. But many of our parents had a different experience at school. We're suggesting today that we need to hear them out. And we need to honor the fact that they care about their kids, and they want the best for them, just like we do. And then can we help those parents understand what we now know about teaching math?

Kim Montague:

Yeah, that's the second time you said that about the teaching math portion. Because it's not just about mathematics, right? The language of mathematics. It's about teaching math. And we actually talked about this in Episode 13, Math for Teaching. I think it's an important point, because we have the study of teaching math layered on top of our mathematics knowledge that the parents don't necessarily need to have in their toolbox.

Pam Harris:

Yeah, I mean, they can be great parents without being experts in the teaching of math. They also could be mathematicians, physicists, engineers, people that deal with math a lot. And not have Math for Teaching, might not have the expertise of Math for Teaching, because that's not what they studied. That's not the sort of place that they are. Sometimes people have slightly different point, some of these people on social media will, or other places, will push back against me and they'll say, "Why are you calling algorithms evil?" And I'll say, "I'm not calling algorithms evil at all. They're they're really cool, actually, because they're the general solution." Now, I don't mean strategies here. I mean, algorithms, the general solution that computers need to have in order to solve problems. I mean, it's kind of cool when people can create those. But that's not how we teach mathematizing You don't teach kids to think like a mathematician, by having them do what only computers can do by just repeat rote memorized steps. So there's this bit about Math for Teaching. And like Kim said, Episode 13, if you want to know more about that we'd send you there. We'd also send you to the parent podcast that we did in Episode 55. So episode 55 of the Math is Figure-Out-Able podcast, we talked specifically to parents. In this episode, we're talking to teachers, educators, leaders, about working with parents. What does it mean to as we deal with parents? How can we partner with parents? We want to help all of us think through the role of teachers and educators in helping parents educate their students. And how can we partner together so that we can get the biggest bang for our buck? But you might be interested to check out episode 55 for you, too, as an episode that you can hand to parents. You can say, "Hey, parents, you know, we're doing this is a great episode that was created just for you as parents." So Kim, you mentioned earlier that when we're listening to teacher, excuse me to parents, that it's not just listening to get your response ready. But also, it might be about asking questions, so that you actually understand where parents are coming from, what they mean. Don't just assume when they start talking that you, "Oh, I heard this before. Okay, here, I've got my pat answer. I'm going to tell blah, blah, blah." Kim, I'm reminded about a story that you told me about, I think, you met a student's parents. Do you know which one I'm talking about? The parents kind of, it was early?

Kim Montague:

I knew you were going to ask me this. Yeah. So I had a lovely, lovely student, quiet, thoughtful, like, just like, charming, so kind. And I got a call about a parent meeting. And I can't remember how it got set up. But the word that came back was there really, like, upset. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, like what in the world is going on?" And so I got really nervous, and I was really like, like, worried about it. And all I knew was that they were upset with me. And like they wanted to sit down.

Pam Harris:

Fun, fun. Those are fun meetings, right? Yeah look forward to those.

Kim Montague:

And I thought, "Okay, like, what's going on?" And so we scheduled a meeting, and they came in, the mom and the dad came in, and we sat down. And I, you know, they started talking to me, and they were kind of expressing their concern. And I started talking to them. And the concern, and I kind of laugh now, because I know these parents, and they're lovely. And we have a good relationship even to this day. But their concern was that their son had come home and said, like, "You yell all the time." And I thought, "Oh, gosh, why I wouldn't want that to be the message that anybody got."

Pam Harris:

Yeah.

Kim Montague:

And the short of it is, they sat down, they met with me, they talked with me, and they said to me, "Oh, you're just not Lugo." And I said, "What?" I was teaching third grade at the time, and the second grade teacher that this sweet boy had had was the most,

Pam Harris:

A colleague of ours, right?

Kim Montague:

Soft spoken, unassuming, like, calm, quiet, calm. And they met me. And I'm all me, right? Like, I'm loud. And I'm kind of like hands going,

Pam Harris:

Animated, excited, energetic, fast talker.

Kim Montague:

And they were like, "Oh, he's used to Lugo." And we, he's just not acclimated yet. And they loved me, and I love them. But the point was, I could have been very, very defensive. And like, like, I was a little worried. I wanted to be well received.

Pam Harris:

Sure.

Kim Montague:

But they and I just had a different story. And so once we sat down to have a conversation. I did not go into it ready to defend myself. I didn't go into it ready to like, tell them that their son was wrong and I wasn't a yeller.

Pam Harris:

All defensive.

Kim Montague:

And I ask questions. I had them say their peace. And I don't think that's super foreign to teachers, right? Like we want parents to share their concerns. But I know that there have been times where I wasn't as open. And so this is a reminder to me as well as maybe to other people that listening to hear, I mean, sorry, hearing to actually hear them to actually listen, to deeply understand them is so important, so valuable to hear their perspective.

Pam Harris:

Yeah, absolutely. And part of what I love about the stories, for this episode specifically, is because you heard them out and ask them questions and kept talking. That's what allowed them to realize who you are and to realize, "Oh, you're just animated and excited and have energy. And you're just not like this." Like you said quiet, patient, calm. Miss Lugo, who he had had the year before, who y'all if I could just, I mean, we've been in the same room, we've actually presented together, right? And she is like the student whisperer. She is the quietest teacher I think maybe I've ever met, though Kim and I were talking we do know one other teacher who might give her a run for the money. But you could be in a room where the kids were all working. They were, there was talking and energy kids were getting stuff done. And she would literally go, "Okay, everybody, it's time to," and within like three words. the whole class was, like, quiet, like everybody would be silent. And then they would listen to her go, "Okay, get your stuff together. Because we're gonna," and I had been in the room where all of a sudden, I was like, "What is happening?" I mean, it was so like, they, she was just the student whisperer. And it was so foreign to me, Kim, I'm a lot more like you. I'm energetic and animated, and, you know, like, all over the place. So, so interesting that because you allowed them to answer your questions and to get, say their piece and to really express their concern. And as you had the conversation, they were able to get to know you enough to go, "Oh." Like, they almost answered the question themselves, "We get it. Okay. Okay. He's just doesn't, he's not used to you yet. You are, you're wonderful, delightful, whatever, it's gonna be okay." And sure enough, he was, he, right? It evened out pretty quickly. He got to know you. And then you guys had a fabulous, I think two years together. Didn't you loop with him?

Kim Montague:

We did. And I will say that even as a teenager, his mom would text back with me and say, "Oh, he still he still loves you. Still a favorite." So, yeah, it's a good relationship.

Pam Harris:

So cool. So teachers today, we just kind of wanted to start talking about how can we work with parents? So important to hear them out and to help them understand what we mean by teaching real math.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, really, to get parent's perspective. And in the next few episodes, we're going to dig in how to help parents understand what's going on in our math classes.

Pam Harris:

So two things hear, help understand. Today we did the hear next time, let's talk about helping understand. If you want to learn more mathematics and refine your math teaching so that you and students are mathematizing more and more, then join the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement and help us spread the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able