Understanding the (not so) New Math


I will confess I am a social media junkie and like to participate on a daily basis.  I encourage our teachers to use twitter accounts to share classroom happenings and I put effort into keeping our Pleasantdale School twitter account and Facebook page up to date. I have always had an unwritten rule about social media, that I follow not matter what.  I do not allow myself to jump into negative discussions.  I do not feel that social media is the place to voice our misunderstandings and would rather go to the source and try to educate myself before jumping on a negative band wagon that I may not understand.

Earlier this week, however, I came across a Facebook post about the “new” math.  Now I put quotations around “new” because I personally feel it is “not so new”.  I understand why people call it new, because it is different approach to teaching and learning math than most adults have experienced. The Facebook post I am referring to is one many of you have probably seen.  It shows a simple math question being answered in one step and then goes to compare the same math question being solved in multiple steps, using what might be an unfamiliar strategy for many of us.  The post goes on to imply that the long drawn out answer is what makes our “new” math so ridiculous and nonsensical.  It also implies that all aspects of all math classes involve long drawn processes, rather than a simple algorithm solution.

Now, most of know that things in the media or, as an extension, social media, can be portrayed just a bit biased or out of the context of the big picture.  In seeing the post I felt myself being drawn into the discussion.  I explained my understanding and experience of math in the classroom on a daily basis.  I quickly, however, jumped out as the discussion continued on in a negative direction.  I could see that no one was wanting to consider any other perspective than the one they already had.

As a child my experience with math was a very negative one.  I would start each new year, with my new scribbler doing well with the first review unit.  I like my notebooks neat and clean and would line up my questions in neat and tidy rows, feeling confident.  However, my confidence was more often than not, soon dashed.  I did not understand numbers and my memorization of basic algorithms only took me so far. Soon my tidy notebook was a mess of erased spots, scribbles and re-written numbers.   I could not transfer my understandings from one context to another and soon found myself repeating the same memorization process while being secluding away from the rest of the class with others like me. Somehow repeating the same methods of learning, over and over again, never really worked.

My experience was so negative that when I was choosing where I wanted to go after high school I actually tried to find a future career that would not require me to do any math. I remember flipping through college brochures trying to find some career in which I could work with children but never have to teach them math.  Thankfully, my confidence in math did build as an adult and although I did not directly start my career to be a teacher and a principal, I was able to achieve these goals and I realized, as an adult, I could in fact understand and do math.

Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication
Grade 4, Understanding Multiplication

This story and confession leads me to why I wanted to write this post, rather than continue in a negative Facebook discussion.  I think that there are many parents, community members, and others who still wonder why we are teaching math in this “new” way.  I think we have tried to educate others about the need for our students to understand numbers and not just memorize algorithms in order to be successful in using math in many different situations.  I also think that we need to continue to do so.

I have countless moments of awe when I am hanging out in math classes with students.  As a matter of fact, my own math confidence continues to grow as I watch our student work in math classes demonstrating, for me, ways to break down and understand numbers I have never considered before.  I can relate to the struggle a non-confident math student goes through and it is a wonderful thing watching them reach understanding by allowing them to use other strategies and straying away from only memorizing basic algorithms.

Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School
Representing numbers, Mrs. Mukendi, Oxbow School

One of the best explanations for our need to use “new” math strategies , that I have seen, is in a video Why is Math Different Now?  Posted by Dr. Raj Shah who is the owner and founder of Math Plus Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  I hope you will take a few minutes and an open mind to watch his explanation and consider his thoughts.

The things I think I would like to share about math in the classroom today are the following:

  1. There are many ways to arrive at an answer to a math problem, not just one.
  2. It will perhaps surprise some, that the “old” way of doing math is still a strategy taught to our students and used in the classroom every day, but it is not the only one.
  3. It also may surprise some to know that we do, in fact, continue to drill the basic math facts that provide the foundation to all other math.
  4. Many of the problems that will face our children, are not one-step, one solution kind of problems.  We will need our children to understand there are many solutions to most problems and have the skills needed to consider those multiple solutions.
  5. The thing that has the greatest effect on a child’s confidence in math is the attitude of parents or caregivers to the subject.  Positive talk about math, new or old, is very important to student success.
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers
Grade 5, Patterns in numbers


I think raising children and teaching are two of the hardest, but most rewarding things that we are blessed to be able to do.  I hope we will not keep adding new things to our already busy lives, but I hope we will never keep trying to get better at the things we already do.  If you are wondering about reasons we have moved to the processes involved in “new” math in the classroom today, please do not hesitate to talk to a teacher.



Reaching Out to Our Parents



This fall when we re-organized our School Community Council (SCC) for another year, I was struggling to try to find a member who wanted to step up to be chairperson for the committee.  Our past chair had worked tirelessly for two years and was wanting a break.  I can’t say I blame her because the two years she was chairperson we raised over $90,000 and installed 2 playground projects.  That is enough to make anyone want to step down.  She did an awesome job and is still a committee member.

The weird thing about not having a leader of our committee is that it might lead you to believe that our parents are not engaged in our school and I don’t feel like that is the case at all.  Time and time again when we need something, our parents are there.

I have talked often about the importance of a strong team.  We have plenty of research to tell us that when a child has support from many adults in their life, they have a much easier time developing physically, emotionally, spiritually and academically.  It really just makes sense.

photo (4)
Kindergarten Fall Fun


In reflecting on the things we do to make parents and families feel welcome as a valuable part of our team, it is easy to see we are well on our way, but are we doing everything we can do?

I think we can safely assume that all parents want what is best for their children or we should assume that.  It may not be the same in every family and it may not manifest itself in the same way in our building.  Taking into consideration differences in families and lifestyles, I think most parents give as much as they can.   Perhaps if we want to improve our parent connection, we need to be more specific about what we want and we may have more parents willing to take a chance on investing in us more often.

According to a great book, “Beyond the Bake Sale” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davis, “…parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children, and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning?”  (p.34)

That is a mouthful, but in my mind, the ideas behind it are very simple.

1.  We need to reach out to parents in many ways, personal ways, engage in conversations and build relationships by calling and communicating about our students many times and not just when we are having behavioral or academic issues.

2.  When we want our parents to help us out with something, we need to be very clear about what we are wanting them to do.  Knock off the “teacher speak” and give suggestions and directions and reasons why.

3.  We need to believe in their ability to help us out.  Parents come from all walks of life with all kinds of experiences and all kinds of knowledge to offer to us and their children.

Right now we have some parents helping us out every day with our early literacy project we have titled ROAR (Really Outrageous at Reading).  We need every adult body  we can get so we can divide all of our grade one students into small groups and have leveled literacy every day.  We know this benefits our students and we also know we would not be able to do it, as well, without the parents that are helping us out.

ROAR Reading Groups


At our SCC meeting in November we left with the challenge to reach out to another parent, explain what our committee was all about and bring them to the next meeting.  We had a number of new members attend our meeting in January and I went home that night with a new chairperson for our committee.

What I hope we can create now is a true partnership where we ask for and appreciate feedback.  Where we reach out with questions and information expecting the same coming back at us.  I hope we can listen without being defensive when parents are being advocates for their children.  I hope we can increase our communication, especially the positive, because the positive conversations may make the more difficult ones easier in the future.  I hope we can see the advantage and build the trust needed for parents to feel like they are truly an equal part of our team.

What we need now is parents to take a chance on us.





What I Learned in 2014





I started the school year in September kind of beat up and shell-shocked from a very stressful year that ended in June.  I had allowed the stress of the year to consume me and it took a toll on my enthusiasm, health and desire to do my job well.

Over the summer I spent my time healing, reflecting and coming up with a plan to approach the stresses of my job in a healthier way that did not consume my life.  I had to try not take things personally and concentrate on the things that we could control in our building rather than the negative feedback we were getting from a few parents and students.  My mantras for this school year that I try to remember are:

  • I can’t make everybody happy.
  • I can’t solve everyone’s problems.

Even though the mantras do not seem very positive, they have allowed me to realize my limits, to allow my, very capable, staff to do things without my control  and they have led me to a much happier school and home life, with a lot less stress.

I have mentioned many times , about my awesome, hardworking staff.  We have been able to create a team that works together and involves all 25 of us,  from our bus driver to our custodians.  We  started this year with a number of new staff and have learned to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths.

Our team has branched out this fall to not only include our staff and students, but we now have a number of parent volunteers helping us on a daily basis, especially with our school goal to improve our reading scores in the early years.  Parents and extended family are a valuable part of our team and when we all work together we truly can accomplish great things for and with our students.

The Christmas break has allowed me time to think about the fall and be grateful for the things we have been able to accomplish as a school team including our parents and community members.  Since I have become part of the administration @PDaleSchool I have been amazed at the generosity and support of our community.

January is a time of renewal and goal setting.

There have been many things I have learned this fall, but I have come up with 4 important things I have learned,  that I would like to continue to develop and practice.

1. Listen…

I have been guilty in the past of jumping to conclusions about situations before I have stopped to listen to what people are really saying to me.  I have been trying to keep my mouth closed until I have truly listened and considered the perspectives of others.   I have come to realize that although, I may not agree with what someone is saying to me or how they are saying it to me, the perspective of others is important.  Many times all I need to do for staff, students and parents is listen and take their concerns seriously.

I hope I can continue to develop my listening skills according to the wise words of Woodrow Wilson,

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

2.  Don’t judge what I do not know…

I have been frustrated many times as a teacher and principal, when I feel like we are being judged by a moment in time such as a quick walk through or one piece of data.

One quick snapshot rarely tells a story. 

One of my teachers reminded me of this early in the fall.  I realized that what I see as I am wandering around the building and spending time in classrooms are also snapshots and do not tell the whole story.  When I am having quick conversations with parents or I am privy to only one small part of family situations, I should not be judging on these snapshots.  Jumping to conclusions is never fair.

3. Lack of time is not an excuse…

I do not need to explain to anyone who is a teacher or who has spent time with a teacher the intense business and commitment that the job requires.  It is easy to be negative about change and growth, using lack of time as an excuse not to buy in.  I have realized the necessity of reflecting on how I am spending my time and whether or not it is really being used in the ways that will benefit, me, my family, my students and my staff.  If I do not have time for important things like people, professional growth, students needs, etc. then perhaps it is up to me to re-evaluate how I am spending my time.

4.  Tell our story…

Last year I read a book on digital leadership by fellow principal and leader Eric Sheninger.  One of the things he describes in his book, which I have written about before,  is school branding. Basically the idea stems around the importance of not leaving our school story up to someone else to tell.  If we do not tell our own positive story, we run the risk of allowing someone else to paint a picture that might not be as positive.  I have really tried to take this idea to heart and believe in the importance of it for the following reasons:

I need my teachers to be proud of the things they are doing every day with our students.

I need our parents to know what is happening every day with their children so they can be confident and assured we are helping them learn and grow on a daily basis.

I need my superintendent and other school division leaders to know that we are working hard to do what is right for our students and to support the school division goals. 

I need our community to know that what we are doing so they will continue to give us their support. 

As we start on the journey of the gift of another year, I hope that I can listen more,  judge less, accept challenges without the excuses and continue to tell our positive school story, because it is worth telling.

What do you hope to do in 2015? 


We Are Smarter Together


Every year as I watch my son’s hockey teams start their season it is the same thing.  For the most part, his team consists of a different group of boys each year. They do not start off playing as a team.

It seems as if each player is trying to prove themselves as the best goal scorer or the best defenseman or the hardest hitter.  After they get a few games under their sticks, they come around to the idea that hockey needs to be a team sport and at that point we start seeing some well-played hockey games.

At the beginning of the school year we had a number of changes in our school staff.  At our first staff meeting, before the school year began, we were all getting to know each other, and maybe at that point,  we were trying to prove ourselves to each other as the boys on the hockey team do, but more likely we were all wondering how we might get to know each other well enough and fast enough to construct the strong team we all know is necessary to do what is best for our students.

B13jXS-CcAAS0hX As an administrator, I am constantly in awe of the strengths and abilities of the people I work with, but at the beginning of each year I feel a bit unbalanced as we try to figure out each other’s strengths and build the trust necessary to work as a team.

I strongly believe in teamwork.  I also strongly believe that each member of the team is equally important.  We cannot run a school and educate and support our students without each member of our team including our bus driver, our custodians, parents, teachers and support staff .

B1TVOmBCEAAdi0q It occurred to me in the past couple of weeks  that without me even knowing it the strength of our team is building around me and I can see it everywhere I look.

We recently completed our first term reporting and student-led conferences.  Certainly a busy and stressful time for everyone. As I walked around the building on our conference nights talking to students and visiting with parents I had a feeling of celebration of the learning of our students.  I had so many positive conversations and I credit the strength of our school team for happy students and families.

This year we have spent a great amount of time building our Student Support Team.  This team consists of our RTI teacher (Response to Intervention), our LST teacher (Learning Support), our school counselor, the vice-principal and myself. Individual classroom teachers are also included when needed.   We talk about academic needs, behavior, attendance and many things directly related to how we can support individual students and families. B0FislzCMAEQQvf We have been having student support meetings for a number of years, but this year, under the direction of our school division, we have been able to make our meetings much more focused with accountability and follow-up that only benefits our students. We are now tracking all of the students in our building and truly working as a team, to ensure we are doing our best to meet the needs of our students.

It has been an interesting process and involves everyone in the building.  The best part for our students is that we are getting to know them well.  We are starting to really know their stories, we try to be aware of their ups and downs and their individual needs.

The importance of a strong school team cannot be understated.  I see the benefits to our students every day. Long gone are the days when we can come to school, close our classroom doors and do our thing.

What I see in our school everyday is…we are smarter together.

Attendance Does Matter


There seems to be so many reasons why our students miss school and in some cases, school attendance is becoming a chronic issue.   Everything from being sick, having appointments, attending sporting events, taking family holidays and many other reasons,  seem to be contributing to a growing idea that school attendance does not matter.

Although we realize that our students can’t always be at school every day, and we can’t expect sick children to come to school,  I have to wonder when the attitude changed that school attendance wasn’t important.

I know when I was in school myself, it seemed to me that my parents did not let me miss school unless I was throwing up.  I can remember more than once, my mom or dad telling me that if I just got up or just got moving or just had a shower or just ate some breakfast, or just a number of other things, they were sure I would feel better and would be able to attend school.

I can also remember this same attitude backfiring on me once or twice as a parent when the school office administrator would be calling me or my husband by 10:30 to come and pick up a sick kid.

Our family holidays were always planned around our school breaks and most of our appointments were done either after school or on our days off.  Our extra-curricular sports did not take us out of school with the frequency that students are out for these activities today.

Now in saying that, I am the first one to also admit that very little about education is the same as it used to be.  Our classrooms do not look the same, our teaching methods and learning assessments are not the same, and many other things about public school today looks different from it used to.  It is no longer possible to assign some pages out of a text-book to be completed when a student is missing school.  So much of our day is spent in interactive, collaborative activities that cannot be repeated in the same way outside of the classroom.

With the exception of a few chronic cases, I had not even given much thought to attendance until recently when our school division brought it into focus, because it does have such an impact on the academic success for our students.  It did make me stop and think about my attitude toward attendance and whether we as a school community could do something to turn around the idea that  school attendance does not matter.

When I started looking at some of the statistics related to attendance, I knew that we needed to come up with a plan to improve attendance in our school.

Did you know…

  • By 6th grade, chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.
  • When students improve their attendance, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.
  • Poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of third grade.
  • The academic impact of missing that much school is the same whether the absences are excused or unexcused.

These statistics and much more information related to attendance can be found at http://www.attendanceworks.org/

There are many things we can do to start on the road to improved attendance.  Education and engagement of students families is the first step.  I look forward to the challenge ahead, because Attendance Does Matter.



Strong Relationships for Student Success




We have just completed another round of 3-way conferences and in some cases teachers are still meeting with a few parents who needed rescheduled times. As I was leaving the school on Wednesday evening when conferences were finished,  reflecting on how things had gone, and feeling very weary, I must admit,  I also felt lucky to have a teaching staff that always has what is best for students in mind  and lucky to have the parents that try to advocate for their children.

Even though the process requires very long hours of preparation and dedication, the importance of the relationship building and communication are priceless.

I have had quite a few conversations with parents lately who have called me with concerns, or in some cases I have had to contact them due to behavior issues.  The one thing I  tell those parents, and wish I could tell all of our parents, is how grateful I am when they are strong advocates for their children.  I wish all of our students had strong advocates.

I am always grateful when parents come to me with a concern or question and appreciate the effort they are putting in on behalf of their children.  We may not always understand the motivation behind their concerns, but, in that moment they are reaching out to forge a relationship that will benefit their child.

Relationships take time, effort and determination.  As a parent myself I can be confused  by what my son’s teachers expect from me. Do they want me to be involved, even if it comes on my terms and in my way?  Would they rather I left decisions regarding my son’s education up to them and did not interfere? or are we both seeking a balance?

I think we are not always very clear about our expectations for our parents.  It is easy to become discouraged when we reach out and they are not responsive.  Before making quick judgments, take a moment to remember we do not always know what our parents are dealing with and what they are bringing to the table.  What we interpret to be lack of interest or caring or criticism for the things we are trying to do, can in fact be something totally different.

I have been lucky to forge very critical relationships with teachers and principals as I have followed and supported my three children through school.  My youngest son is now in grade 10 and I continue to seek out ways to communicate and  be an advocate for him.  I have met teachers who were not interested in relationships and found this disappointing and discouraging.  However, the majority of teachers I work with, and reach out to, are working hard to find ways to create a positive learning team.


I just finished reading the book “Beyond the Bake Sale,” by Henderson, Mapp, Johnson and Davies.   The basic premise of the book is about creating better relationships with our parents and not just relying on superficial things like bake sales and fundraising.  It is one of my goals to create a culture in our school where parents feel welcome in the building and truly feel an important part of our team.

One of the things stood out for me in the book was  “…we know that parents are more motivated to support their children’s learning when they receive clear invitations and support from teachers and other school staff to be engaged, are confident about their ability to help their children and are clear about what they should do to support their child’s learning.”


I was having a conversation with my staff  this week after we attended a division professional development day where all the schools in our school division shared the math action research projects we have been working on this year.  Many of the presentations we listened to had a portion about connections and relationships.  This made me feel very positive about the direction we are moving in our school division and especially in our individuals schools.


If we continue to make an effort to welcome, honor and connect with our families, I believe our parents will respond by becoming loyal members of our school community and will take every opportunity they are able, to participate in their children’s education in ways we never thought possible.

Sound like a win-win situation to me!


5 Things I hope Our Parents Know


One of the things that I have learned over my years as a teacher and school administrator is the importance of parents and home support in the success of children.  I spend a great deal of time thinking and reflecting on the things we do, in the hopes of improving home school communication and relationships.  These are 5 of the things I hope our parents know…

1.I hope you know we feel thankful you trust us with your children every day. I remember the feeling I had when I sent my oldest daughter to kindergarten. For the first 5 years of her life I had been able to plan for her, shelter her and let her experience things within my control. All of a sudden I was turning her over to another team of people for many hours of her day. I had feelings of apprehension and I am afraid I did not handle her transition into school as well as I might have. The transition did not seem to get much easier for me as I sent child number two or three.  Now that child number 3 is in grade 10 and I have been part of a school team for a number of years, I have realized  it takes many people to raise a child and a strong team of people is what every child needs.

2. I hope you know we want to work as a team.  We know the importance of teamwork in the success of children.  When we make phone calls or send notes home, they are not meant as criticisms, but rather part of our desire to work as a team to help your children and our students be as successful as possible not only  in their academic growth, but also their physical, emotional social and spiritual growth.  We also try to remember when you contact us about your concerns and questions that you are not trying to criticize us, but rather you are being the advocate that all children need. I hope we come across as willing to listen and address your concerns. If we do not, don’t give up, because we are human and trying to do our best.

3. I hope you realize we understand how busy you are. We understand how busy life can be-most of us are working parents too or we were certainly raised by working parents. We understand that some of the things we ask you to do for us and your children add to the business of a full day. I certainly have to admit that studying for science exams or helping with ELA homework has come at times that I have found very frustrating and have had to dig deep to find the energy needed. We understand that sometimes you will not be able to meet our expectations and that is ok, because sometimes we may not always be able to meet yours.

4. I hope you know we are trying our best. I never have to doubt the hard work I see in our school every day.   It makes me proud as a principal when I see that everyone is trying their hardest to do the best we can for children.  In know that despite our hard work, we will make mistakes sometimes and I hope that you will be patient as we try to make things right.

5. I hope you know we appreciate everything they do for us. I am amazed by the generosity and support of the parents and families in our community. We are constantly receiving donations of time, money and effort. We cannot thank you enough and some days it is what keeps us going when things get busy and frustrating like they can at times.

Together we CAN accomplish great things, so keep calling, keep writing notes, keep asking questions. You are the most important part of your child’s team.

We Need You…


It is nice to be back to a sense of calm after what seems like two weeks of frantic meeting of deadlines and obligations.  Report card prep, reading through the reports and student led conferences are rewarding but exhausting activities.  I am forever in awe of my staff who takes it in their stride and always manages to finish the process with sharing stories of success that lie behind why we all continue to teach-student success and parent appreciation of our efforts.

I spent our two nights of conferences visiting with parents and touching base with as many middle-years parents as a could.  I do not usually meet with parents individually in my office on conference night unless the request comes from them, but this year I am wrestling with how to bring down a level of chaos and disrespect that is building in our middle years.  Earlier in the week I spent time talking with students and listening to their perspective about what was happening in our school.  I think it is important for students to know that the principal wants to listen to them and takes their input seriously.  I found out some very interesting things and was pleased at the maturity and insight of most of the students that I talked to.

I had many good visits with parents last week as I explained some of the things the students and teachers has expressed to me, as well as some of the things I have observed.  It is nice to be reassured that most of our parents were concerned and wanted to help in any way they could, just as I expected they would be.  I expressed to them that the best way they could help us was through supporting and being involved with their child.

I am a strong believer in teamwork when it comes to the growth and learning of children.  The stronger the team between school and home the better chance our students have to grow and develop into the confident, caring and informed change makers our world needs to have. Although we do not need research to tell us this, extensive research has shown the direct correlation between parent involvement and student success.

We all know we cannot change what has already happened.  It is the same as spending too much of our precious energy trying to control what we cannot control.  We need to concentrate on being present and creating change that will have a positive affect on the here and now and benefit our students going forward.

So I guess I just want our student`s parents to know how much we appreciate the effort they put in to the creation of our team.  Do not ever be afraid to question, to bring forth concerns or to offer your help and perspectives.  We need you to continue to be involved and we appreciate the things you do.