College of Education and Human Development

Mason faculty co-authors book on math coaching

July 28, 2023

Dr. Courtney Baker, Academic Program Coordinator of the Mathematics Specialist Leadership program at George Mason University’s School of Education within the College of Education and Human Development, is co-author of a new book titled Proactive Mathematics Coaching: Bridging Content, Context, and Practice. Co-authoring the book was Dr. Melinda Knapp, a colleague of Dr. Baker and Assistant Professor of Education at Oregon State University - Cascades. The book is a culmination of an eight-year effort and introduces readers to the “Proactive Coaching Framework” which helps educators who are tasked with designing a professional learning experience for their colleagues or school district administrators with the objective of improving the quality and effectiveness of K-12 mathematics instruction. The book embraces the research-based “Principles to Action: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All,” which sets forth a core set of essential mathematics teaching practices developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2014).

Dr. Courtney Baker
Dr. Courtney Baker

The first part of Dr. Baker’s book guides readers through four phases of the Framework that are intended to help mathematics coaches and leaders assess the instructional needs of their K-12 communities and develop a strategy or approach for meeting those needs. The book's second part includes seven chapters, each devoted to a specific Mathematics Coaching Practice describing the diverse ways in which that practice can be applied to the situation or need at hand. At the center of the Framework are 33 questions that encourage mathematics coaches and leaders to consider their own individualized experiences and the K-12 context within which those experiences are shaped. These might include unique aspects of their school culture or teaching initiatives that may have been implemented at their school in the past. According to Dr. Baker, these questions represent the integration of both the Mathematics Teaching Practices and Mathematics Coaching Practices, grounded in research, and are drawn from the real-world teaching experiences that she, Dr. Knapp, and other educational professionals have encountered in their own careers.

Proactive Mathematics book cover

The guidance provided by the book could be applied in any number of settings and coaching scenarios. “There are many teachers in a school but there may be only one mathematics teacher leader or one mathematics coach. Some schools do not have anyone serving in these positions. And some schools may share one position,” Dr. Baker explained. “Individuals in these spaces, in math leadership positions, are often the only ones working in this capacity at their school or school district. Sometimes they may be classroom teachers. Or, within a broader context, they may be the only mathematics coach or leader in their state. Each of these coaching relationships presents a unique set of dynamics requiring different approaches to mathematics coaching and leadership. We wanted to create a book that honored the multiple pathways of teacher leadership in mathematics and in doing so we really wanted someone from each of these identities to be able to see themselves in the role of making changes for equitable mathematics teaching and learning in their school.”

Dr. Baker emphasized that the use of the 33 questions of the Proactive Coaching Framework can help individuals think about long-term goals, short-term goals, and how those interact with multiple stakeholders within the school community. She notes that this is especially important because K-12 mathematics coaches and leaders frequently find themselves having to juggle myriad competing demands—whether it be providing extra help to students, creating math instructional support materials, preparing for a meeting with school or district administrators, or even performing bus duty. “You get pulled in all these different directions,” Dr. Baker commented. “It’s the nature of a job in education to react to the needs of others and it can make you question whether you are having a positive impact or influence within your school community in ways that are being expected of you or in ways that you intend.”

In her other observations, Dr. Baker stated that the questions in the Framework “really get you to think about how you are connecting what we know about mathematics teaching and learning to the context of your school and to ask how we can honor the knowledge that the stakeholders in a school community already have, and also build on the direction that we want to move forward in. In doing so, especially in situations where the mathematics leader has multiple responsibilities encompassing teams, individuals, and schools–that individual is taking a proactive approach in helping the school community build common goals and vision.”

Dr. Baker then discussed how some of the cases featured in the book address the issue of dismantling structural obstacles in a school that can impede student access to rich problem-solving instruction in mathematics. “This book takes some of those structures that you might see in a school and provides some context around this type of scenario that a math coach or leader might need to negotiate,” she stated. Dr. Baker described one case, based on a real-life situation, where a coach notices that there are students in a secondary school remediation class. Team members at the school are advising the teacher to focus instruction on only a few mathematics concepts because they think that the students are so far behind, they will never be able to adequately grasp all five math concepts. The teacher is trying to figure out how best to get her colleagues to think differently about how these students can learn so that they are not “tracked” in a lower-level math sequence that would deny them a more meaningful mathematics learning experience. “Each case is a different positioning of a leader,” Dr. Baker stated. “Each case is tackling a different issue. Each case uses a different coaching practice...the reader can pick and choose from the different chapters and cases and build their own toolbox for mathematics coaching and leadership.”

The book, published by NCTM, was the subject of a workshop conducted by NCTM on July 25, 2023, that quickly filled after it was announced. NCTM will now be holding a 7-session online book study, "Unveiling the Proactive Coaching Framework," that will focus on each of the Mathematics Coaching Practices described in Dr. Baker’s book with an analysis of specific cases. Information and registration are available on NCTM’s website.

Dr. Baker and her co-author, Dr. Knapp, will also be doing a live Q&A on NCTM’s Instagram page on September 12th. Individuals who would like to participate should come prepared with their questions or they may send them in advance. Click here to learn more.

For more information about Mason’s Mathematics Specialist Leadership program, please visit our website.