Every now and then something that just plain ought to happen actually does. This week-end produced just such an event. At the fourth annual gathering of WaToToM (Washington Teachers of Teachers of Mathematics) our guest of honor was Marj Enneking from Portland State University, to whom goes a lot of the credit for the very existence of WaToToM. She is the one whose highly contagious enthusiasm about Oregon's ToToM succeeded in convincing Jim King and me that Washington was really missing something by not having one of its own -- and the rest is history. So when she said she could come to this gathering, I ceased to have any worries about the program aspect and could settle down to worrying about the weather. And not even too much about that,because the Sleeping Lady Resort now offers charter bus service for any group as large as ours that braves the passes at this season.
I was about to launch straight into a what-we-did-when type account, but the more I think about it, the more I think I should at least start with a what-we-did-why account. More specifically, why did 26 people with overflowing calendars and massive lists of commitments carve out this week-end to spend together? Well, of course the picture post card snow scene out every window and the phenomenal meals in the dining hall did no harm. They weren't central though. What was central was the same thing that so pleased me at the very different retreat I described in my previous newsletter: community. For years people teaching teachers in different parts of the state have been as cut off from each other as K-12 teachers in different school districts are. Starting three years ago with WaToToM #1, we have been whittling away at that isolation, and the progress is palpable. Only three of us have been at all four gatherings, but several have been at three and even more at two, and we all arrive knowing that we will enjoy the company of the people we already know and with the generally self-fulfilling expectation of enjoying the new people, and the rock solid expectation of learning a lot from and about all of the above. And that learning is forging more and solider links among all the institutions represented (in this case, all the four-year state universities except Central, including UW-Tacoma and Bothell and WSU-Vancouver, two private universities and one splendid and well-represented community college.)
All right, it's time to settle down and be more specific. Friday night's now traditional opening was the assignment of locating someone unfamiliar, finding out enough about him/her to perform an introduction to the group, and discovering something unexpected in common. The latter category tended this time to specialize in obscure geographic connections, though one pair held out for a shared taste for rhubarb (hmmmm.) Saturday morning's warm-up got a little closer to home -- people kindly consented to be guinea pigs for the game sequence I had set up for the Math Day luncheon. And very informative it was, both in terms of unexpected interpretations (many!) and time consumption (much!) Also in terms of suggestions people came up with, many of which will find their way to Math Day.
With that we turned to more serious business. For the rest of the morning, Marj described the history and accomplishments of Oregon's ToToM and various organizations which have in effect spun off from it. The rest of us managed an occasional question, but mostly our jaws were too firmly resting on the floor to allow for much articulation. ToToM originated some 25 years ago with a Task: figuring out how a particular pot of teacher-teaching money should be allocated around the state. Tackling that task unearthed, of course, a bunch of others, and the group continued with varying levels of intensity but a consistently low level of formality until relatively recently, when the need to have its voice taken seriously in certain circles finally led them to select a chair. Or maybe it was a president, Marj wasn't altogether sure (definitely not a conversion to full scale hierarchical structure!) Part of the reason for formalizing was that their existing level of collaboration led to their being funded for a much higher level through NSF's support of the Oregon Collaborative for Excellence in the Preparation of Teachers, which is now going strong. You can find out about that, along with other things linked to it, at http://www.mth.pdx.edu/ocept.
A stunning array, as I said. So much so that in some ways I'd say it took us nearly 24 hours to react to it -- but I'll get to that. Before that came lunch and the Big Break for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or hot tubbing or napping (I haven't had the nerve to check whether any of my fellow skiers is as stiff as I am!) Then a really lively session led by three middle school teachers. They started with their answers to "How did you get to where you are?" One was headed for high school teaching but started off in junior high to increase at least slightly the probability of being distinguishable from her students -- and got hooked on teaching kids that age. The others -- both of the others! -- had prepared to be music teachers and followed a path whose complexity defies reproduction to wind up in the math classroom, but in both cases well and truly hooked on math teaching. Launched by that set of stories the conversation veered cheerfully about among the issues of what preparation is required, what should be required, what would be gained or lost by narrowing the requirements for middle school teaching, what can be done to help current middle school teachers (all three said really nice things about CCML that had enough detail so I don't think it was just because I was sitting there beaming.) Oregon has come up with some really great looking courses specifically aimed at middle school teachers, which is something I would love to emulate.
Clearly a conversation that could have gone on for several more hours, but time for dining arrived and to our astonishment we found that we were hungry again, so we did that. Then we re-gathered for a "What's new at your institution?" session. In this case, three institutions had so much that was new that we never heard from the others -- that will happen next year. The first was Green River Community College. They had already wowed us last year with early reports on their Project Teach and now reported a huge number of new developments. At the heart of it is their realization a few years ago that a vast majority of Washington's budding teachers begin their post-secondary education at a community college. On that basis they have developed a set of courses and a special associate degree and a partnership with Central Washington University and a whole bunch more things. Again, you can get details at http://www.ivygreen.ctc.edu/projectteach Meanwhile over in Pullman, WSU has some really exciting programs going on involving developing courses within the math department and in conjunction with other departments -- lots of different cooperative elements. I don't think they're web paged yet, though. The third item of the evening was Seattle's SST project (not, alas, supersonic teachers, but Supporting and Sustaining Teachers, which has a lot to be said for it.) Of that you will hear more next week after I have spent yet another week-end at yet another retreat.
Sunday morning was to have been a time to fire questions at Bev Neitzel from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Unfortunately, Bev got really sick at the last minute, and no one could sub in for her. So I started the morning by giving a pretty thorough description of CCML (http://cml.washington.edu). Then we spent some time generating questions which I contracted to fire off to Bev and relay her responses to. And then, as the sand in the hour glass got down to a few grains, we began really to respond to the content of Marj's message: we are in a position to accomplish something, but that something isn't going to be accomplished unless we decide what it ought to be. Ideas whirled and spun and glittered and finally settled into a form: we are all very much interested in the issue of what requirements the state imposes on teachers, both for entering and remaining in the profession, and on what we as institutions do and/or ought to require. But before we can start to begin to have a coherent discussion of that, we need to assemble a lot more information about the courses we all teach and who takes them and how they relate to other courses and requirements. So we undertook in the course of the year to collect all that information from all of our institutions and put it on our web site (which actually does exist, but I'm not quite sure where, being still somewhat susceptible to Web Anxiety.) That way we can start WaToToM #5 not merely with a Task, but with the means to begin to start to do something about it. Or at least to have a really rootin' tootin' conversation about it, which is in its own way a start.
That, of course, means that I can't finish with a really resounding conclusion. So instead I will finish with the splendid logo which was produced by Mike Naylor of WWU after last year's gathering, and which has been lurking ever since on the aforementioned web site: --