Developing Math Coaching Expertise

by Mary Mitchell, Author, Math Solutions
March 24th, 2017

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Over ten years ago I moved from being a classroom teacher into the role of being a math coach. My first assignment included two elementary schools, which meant I was supporting approximately 36 teachers. My only experiences with school leadership were through learning opportunities like participating in a large National Science Foundation grant to build teacher leaders and attending facilitator trainings (from a variety of sources). I also had a little bit of experience leading professional learning as a part-time consultant for Math Solutions. I had no formal training for being a math coach. It was all self-study. Scary, huh?

“Building the Plane as You Fly It”

During years one and two, the district directed me to try a variety of structures for my coaching. Ranging anywhere from being assigned to three specific teachers for most of the school year in one building, to approaching teachers in the other buildings about what services I could provide and crossing my fingers that someone would take the bite. I learned a lot from these two years, but the growth in teachers and student learning varied greatly.

As year three approached, I now had some real coaching experience under my belt to reflect on successes and challenges and what was needed to make a greater impact. I learned to partner with my teachers by setting goals for student learning. The change in course was so great, that math classrooms at every grade level were affected. Students even stopped me in the hallways to talk about math class.


Coaches across the Country

Over the last seven years in my work at Math Solutions, I’ve been exposed to teachers and coaches across the country. It’s been interesting to hear coaches share their experiences with and feelings about their preparation for coaching. There are some commonalities related to what coaching skills and knowledge most coaches have and those they do not have to be successful as coaches.


Coaches’ “Haves”

Coaches’ “Haves-Nots”

• Classroom Experience • Coaching skills – relationship, communication, questioning
• Passion about teaching and learning • Philosophy – beliefs and values about coaching
• Desire to make a difference • Math content knowledge
• Knowledge of effective pedagogy • Tools for coaching
• Structure for coaching
• Building leadership support



What do coaches need?

Having a passion for teaching and learning and a desire to make a difference are certainly important qualities of an effective mathematics coach. However, most coaches need coaching skills that will help them build strong relationships, communicate effectively with their partners, and ask questions that result in action. While classroom experience and knowledge of effective pedagogy are also on the list of traits of individuals we would enlist to become math coaches, structures and tools for coaching ensure that the coach is set up for making an impact on student learning.


Building a common vision for coaching

  • Is our coaching making the desired impact on teaching and learning?
  • What professional learning opportunities have you provided for coaches?
  • What common structures and tools do your coaches use to support their coaching work?
  • What coaching skills would your coaches say they want help building?


Mary MitchellMary Mitchell designs and provides K–8 professional development for district-level administrators, school-based math leadership teams and teachers across the country. Her main priority is the students and teachers that she serves. Find Mary on Twitter at @marymitchell.


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