4 Ways Districts Can Support Teacher Capacity

Empowering educators to effectively help students learn and achieve

Research says that teacher competency in math affects student achievement. Yet, few elementary school teachers are math content specialists.

Michigan State University, in collaboration with the PROMISE organization, conducted a survey of thousands of teachers in the middle U.S. to learn more about their content-specific knowledge, and what they’re currently teaching. The study found that only 3 percent of K–4 teachers and only 8 percent of Grade 5–6 teachers have a math specialization from college.

If you’re an administrator (or an elementary school math teacher) these numbers may not surprise you, but they should inform how you plan for and implement professional development (PD) in your district. The fact of the matter is that math teachers—especially in younger grades—tend to be generalists. And, without a strong foundation in math, they often lack the comfort and confidence they need to effectively reach and teach their students. It’s not teachers’ fault. We need to equip them with better tools and resources to support their own professional learning.

In a recent edWebinar now available on demand, DreamBox senior curriculum designer Kelly Urlacher suggested four ways district administrators can help support teacher capacity and empower educators to better meet the needs of all learners:

  1. Professional Development: Because some elementary teachers struggle with mathematics knowledge, they may harbor low self-images of themselves as mathematicians. Teachers need and deserve a safe space to meaningfully engage and learn—at a time, pace, and place that’s right for them. District administrators can give teachers access to innovative, job-embedded, PD that truly helps deepen their content knowledge in mathematics, while also informing their classroom curriculum and lessons.
  2. Mentorships and Coaching: Teachers flourish when they have the opportunity to work with an experienced content expert and fellow educator—someone who knows what it’s like to be in their shoes and can provide actionable feedback. A recent Gates Foundation study found that only half of teachers reported receiving coaching in the last year, and less than a quarter received it on an intensive basis (weekly or more). Don’t overlook the value of peer coaching and collaboration to build trust, hone teaching skills, and ultimately drive better student achievement.
  3. Directive Feedback Loops: Instead of just listing all the actions you see in the classroom, try to align activity to goals. Provide practical observations to give your teachers the support they need to reflect, grow, and improve.
  4. Resources: Of course, there’s never enough funds, time, or resources to get everything you need to help improve student achievement and support student growth. But, before you decide where to invest, talk to your teachers first. Find out from them exactly what they have, and what they think they need to succeed. To quote the Gates Study, “Teachers know best.”

Successful districts really do rely on PD to support teachers in an increasing capacity and we’ve found that when teachers feel more comfortable and confident in math they help drive better student achievement. Professional development is an important way for you to connect with your teachers and help them improve outcomes. To learn more about how your district can empower teachers to implement instructional approaches that effectively enable all students to learn and achieve at a high level, watch the edWebinar recording of Close the Achievement Gap: Targeted District Strategies to Support All Learners now.

Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

Jenny Lee is a passionate product marketer at DreamBox Learning. A lifetime learner, Jenny is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business. In her free time, she enjoys outdoors adventures with her dog Allie, and chasing creative whims through visual art.
Jennifer Lee