Q&A: Instructional Support

by Math Solutions Professional Learning Team, August 25th, 2014

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Carolyn Felux provides advice for supporting new teachers in their math instruction.

Q. I am thinking about the coming school year and anticipate I will have quite a few new teachers. We are thinking about ways to support new teachers in their math instruction. Can you help?

A. We went to Heidi Aranda and Elizabeth Sweeney, elementary school administrators, for help in responding to your question. Both are longtime friends of Math Solutions Professional Development. They described assistance their schools provide to new teachers in the areas of instructional support, materials, professional development, and encouragement.

Instructional Support

At Elizabeth Sweeney’s school, PS 234 in New York City, New York, each new teacher is linked up with a go-to person for math. These math leaders cover narrow grade spans of K–1, 2–3, and 4–5 and provide specific content and instructional support for new teachers. They are available to meet before or after school to help new teachers with planning.

At the beginning of the year, in September and October, new teachers’ classrooms are covered so that they can observe lessons taught by their go-to persons for math. Every effort is made to set this up so that the new teachers can observe a lesson before they have to teach it in their own classrooms. This way they can see how to approach the lesson and get a sense for what the children can do. Elizabeth finds that teachers really appreciate that support. And while providing coverage for the new teachers can be challenging, she confirmed the effort is worth it. Regular coverage for observations stops by end of October but remains available to new teachers by request.

In both Elizabeth’s and Heidi’s schools, common planning times and grade-level meetings provide new teachers and veteran teachers opportunities to plan together and make informed and deliberate instructional decisions.


After making sure new teachers are matched up with another experienced teacher or curriculum support person, Heidi Aranda, Principal of Ochoa Elementary in Tucson, Arizona, suggests beginning with a materials inventory. The inventory should include everything new teachers will need to teach math—manipulatives, adopted program materials, district curriculum and assessment documents. Also include state and district standards documents that give direction for decisions about teaching content and process standards.

Heidi also makes sure that new teachers have support to plan and set up the first few weeks of school with a special focus on the use of manipulatives. This support helps new teachers deal with questions such as What manipulatives will we use? How will they be stored? What procedures will be used to distribute, collect, and keep them organized? and How can students be introduced to the materials in a structured and productive way?

Professional Development

Both Heidi and Elizabeth were clear about the role of professional development in supporting new teachers and had specific ideas to share:

  • Have conversations with new teachers about their views on mathematics and how children learn it. Share your views and expectations.
  • Reserve some slots in math professional development opportunities that your district may offer in the summer and encourage new teacher participation. This can be crucial in communicating your school’s approach to mathematics instruction.
  • Find ways to adjust your schedules so that professional development can occur in your school. Experiences such as planning a lesson or investigation, exploring instructional games for math, examining student work, and observing and discussing lessons are all valuable school-based activities for professional development.
  • New teachers as well as veteran teachers find these resources helpful—So You Have to Teach Math? Sound Advice for K–6 Teachers, by Marilyn Burns and Robyn Silbey (Math Solutions Publications, 2000), and So You Have to Teach Math? Sound Advice for Grades 6–8 Teachers, by Cheryl Rectanus (Math Solutions Publications, 2006). These two books pose questions teachers often ask themselves about math instruction and provide the support and direction they need to teach mathematics well.


And finally, Heidi and Elizabeth recommend visiting new teachers’ classrooms regularly to reinforce that they are part of a larger and supportive instructional community. Let them know what you see in their instruction that contributes to the vision your school has for math instruction.


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