Last week, I attended the AMTE conference. AMTE stands for the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators and is a fabulous group. I have been a member for 3 years now, but this was my first attendance at their conference.

One take away (and I had more than one) was from Samuel Otten, (twitter: @ottensam) host of the MathEd Podcast and Zandra de Araujo, both are assistant professors of math education at the University of Missouri. The team gave a fabulous presentation on why we need to nudge teachers, and not expect radical transformation of teachers. They are right on the money, in my opinion. Radical transformation is hard, but incremental steps are easy. Think about changing my diet. If I say, “tomorrow I will become a vegan” that will take huge amounts of energy and effort. However, if I say, “tomorrow I will start eating an apple every day” that is easy, and a great first step. Day 2 I swap out regular milk for soy milk, day 3 I swap out breakfast, etc. Small, incremental steps are easy to adopt and lead to the same results.

Think about Steven Leinwand’s 10% rule. No teacher should be expected to change more than 10% of their practices in a year. However, every teacher should be expected to change 10% of their practices in a year! Small, incremental changes.

During their presentation, they put up this image.

Don’t get hung up on the percentiles or quality of instruction axis. There is no scientific basis for this graph, just a gut check, a collective grasp of what do we think is the distribution of teachers at each level of quality. But, we believe there is a distribution of teachers who are at the low end of quality of instruction, and some at the high end, and some in the middle.

And we have been talking about radical change in the quality of instruction since 1989 when NCTM published the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards. That is 30 years of conversation about changing math instruction.

30 years.

At that point, we really have to admit, that the real leaders of mathematics education are those teachers who are on the low end of the Quality of Instruction scale, whether they are 25% or 75% of the teacher population.

That group has been driving and leading the discussion on Quality of Instruction for 30 years.

We don’t discuss the gains we have made in changing mathematics instruction, we constantly talk about and research the lack of gains. They are the real leaders.

That is really sad!

They also showed what happens when we stop talking about radical change, which only moves the right side of the graph higher, and does little to move the left.

Moving the left side of the curve requires nudging teachers. Introducing small changes, that build over time. If we really want to change the shape of the curve, we need to stop expecting radical change, which only a small number of teachers adopt. We need to gently add to the skills and abilities of all teachers.

This was a powerful presentation. I only cherry picked 2 slides out of the entire thing. He gave a much stronger argument, using a variety of approaches.

Thank you Samuel and Zandra!