Monday, February 10, 2014

Amazing Department

My mathematics department is very focused on student learning and improving student learning which has created a climate of innovation and change.  This focus comes in part from our former superintendent Dr. Wendy Shannon (2000 to 2012) and our principal Mike Duffy (2000-2014).  Dr. Shannon developed a culture of innovation within our school through a focus on continuous improvement, and Mike Duffy holds a philosophy of removing roadblocks to allow teachers to do what is best for kids.  These two forces have shaped our philosophy as a department.  We do not care about teaching, which is focused on what the teacher is doing or saying.  We care about student learning and improving student learning because it is all about our students.

Department Characters
Our department is made up of five very unique individuals.  We all have a passion for improving student learning.  It is these unique perspectives and our great mutual respect that have been instrumental in our students’ successes and our department’s transformations. 
1.      Rob Warneke  (20 years of teaching experience) He is our big idea guy who is very much a processor and synthesizer of ideas; in addition to Rob having those big ideas, he will sit back and listen to the rest of us during our PLC discussions about improving student learning then he will start to talk and sum up all our random discussions in a nice succinct talk with the rationale to support it.  He is also one of the data coaches for our school.  
2.      Andy Pethan (2 years of teaching experience) He was our year-long student teacher during the 2011-2012 school year who we then hired on full time to teach with us.  He is our in-house technology guru and nerd with great ideas and drive.  His non-traditional engineering degree and software background bring an interest in the real world applications of mathematics.  He also developed his own textbook free open source statistics curriculum (  He is also one of the digital learning coaches for our school.
3.      Darren Nelson  (19 years of teaching experience) He is the master of the scope and sequence of our curriculum.  If you ask him where topic X is taught, he responds, “Oh that is taught in Algebra 2 lesson 5.3 and Geometry lesson 8.9.”  When it comes to a lot of the wild ideas we have, typically he just responds, “That sounds good, I will try it.”  
4.      Jen Green  (18 years of teaching experience) She is the Energizer Bunny of our department (part of her energy is from her addiction to coffee).  She often thinks of a good idea or hears a good idea then jumps in and tries it that same day in her classes.  She also offers us a different perspective since she is the only female in our department, and in addition to being a mathematics teacher, she is also an English teacher.  She is also one of the digital learning coaches for our school.
5.      Troy Faulkner  (21 years of teaching experience) I am often an observer of the great PLC discussions, partly because I am the only upper level mathematics teacher in our department.   I am very much a task master when it comes to getting our department to get things done.  Sometime I push my department characters, but they are often pushing me.  I have the attitude of let's just get it done but get it done and right the first time.  I am also a data geek and the other data coach for our school.
We know each other’s strengths and our own weaknesses.  If I struggle with Y but Jen excels at Y, I have no problems asking Jen for help and she is more than willing to help, and the next week, the roles might be reversed.  That is the way we all are with each other.  Everyone willing checks his or her ego at the door because we have such a strong collective goal of improving student learning and our own teaching in order to get the kids where we want them.

As a department and individuals, we have the attitude of no matter what kind of students you have coming in, you need to modify and adjust so that you can help them learn and you can improve you class proficiency.  We cannot do that alone, but by working together and playing off each other’s strengths, we can do our best at maximizing learning for all our students.  We all have very supportive spouses.

I do not know why we are all here together or why we have such great chemistry, but I am grateful for them and the dynamic we have.  They make me a much better teacher, and I hope I have influenced them in the same way.  My department played a role in our high school winning the National Blue Ribbon Award for high student achievement in 2010, and my department won Intel’s Schools of Distinction Award for high school mathematics in 2011.

Most of my blogs are to encourage others to try something new and different, but this one is to just pay tribute to my great department members and the amazing work we are doing together.