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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What to Expect When You are Applying: Math Coach

Recently, I have had several folks ask me about my role as a math specialist and what exactly it is that I do at work.  I have also had several folks contact me through my Facebook page with questions about roles and responsibilities as a math leader.  This week I will be sharing some of the different roles I play as an elementary math specialist.  Because I work in a small school, I have several roles to play.  In larger schools it is often the case that one of these roles is a full job.  Yesterday I gave some details about what to expect as/from a math interventionist.  Today I want to share with you another of my roles.

Math Coach

Building Relationships

If you are going to be getting into teacher's classrooms and really making a difference for them and their students than it is vitally important that they find you helpful and they trust you.  Building strong relationships with the teachers you are going to be working with is the foundation that the rest of this role is built on.  Present yourself to teachers as someone who is helpful and ready to work together.  Be a good listener and try to understand where other folks are coming from!  Being the neutral party that everyone gets along with can really pay off for a math coach!

Start With Teachers Who Want Your Help

So many teachers are used to closing their classroom door and doing the best they can with the knowledge and experiences they have.  They might not be ready to make a change or might be terrified of any number of things associated with your presence in their classroom.  There will also be teachers who are eager for your help and guidance.  These are the teachers you should start with.  If you work with the folks eager for change, you create a positive climate and shared experience.  As other teachers in the building see changes in instruction and climate, they might be more open to changes.  I have found that some of the teachers who were most reluctant to give my ideas about constructivist teaching and letting kids figure out their own strategies are now some of the ones who embrace the ideas the most.  You might have a small group of teachers that you feel like you really haven't influenced even after many years but you can't let that overshadow the work you do with others.  Focus on the positive.


Find the best way to communicate with the teachers you are working with.  Follow up conversations with emails and reminders.  If I meet with a teacher to co-plan a series of lessons, I take notes on my computer or tablet while we are meeting.  Then I email this to any teachers who were part of the discussion.  This reminds folks what we talked about and makes sure we are all on the same page.  If planning time happens more than a few days in advance, I send out reminder emails.  Take the time to follow up with extra communication and things will run much smoother for you.

Resource Manager

As the math coach in the building, you will be expected to know a lot about various resources.  This might mean physical resources such as manipulatives and books and it also means virtual resources and ideas.  A teacher might come to you with questions about teaching fractions.  A parent might ask how they can best help with homework.  You are expected to be the expert on all things math related and having knowledge of resources that are available in  your school and online can really help answer these questions.

Professional Reading

A great way to stay up on what resources are available is to do a lot of professional reading.  This can be a lot of different things but might include reading several math teaching books (I try to read 1 per month!).  You get the knowledge from these books and you put them on your shelf at school.  If someone asks a question, you can point them in the direction of one of these books.  This also could mean reading math blogs and other online resources.  I love how the format of blog posts allows me to share information in small pieces.  When I find a blog post I think a teacher would benefit from or find interesting, I send them a link in a quick email.  I find teachers are much more likely to read a short blog post than an entire book!  Sometimes a few short blog posts around one particular subject qets their interest piqued enough to ask for a book recommendation.

Embedded Professional Development

As part of my math coaching role, I do a lot of embedded professional development.  This can vary greatly but is good math practice broken into little chunks.  I might model a number talk or explain the research behind a particular method for teaching fractions.  I follow up my words with links to blog posts, books or other resources.  I also am often asked to lead lesson studies or professional learning communities around particular topics.

In-service Days

When my district has an in-service or teacher training day, I am often asked to provide professional development to the teachers, administrators and/or paraprofessionals around various math topics.  This used to be one of the most challenging aspects of my job because getting up in front of adults and teaching them something used to be terrifying to me.   With practice, this has gotten much easier and now I really look forward to getting to do in depth professional development with the adults in my district.

Communications with Administration 

As the math expert in your building you will need to spend some time communicating with administrators about your schools' math program and what you and the teachers you work with need in terms of professional development, time and materials.  You will probably be asked to attend several additional meetings each year around these issues.

Create a Math Community

Creating a school culture around math may be part of your responsibility.  Organizing family math nights and communicating with parents about how math is taught in your school might be part of your job.  You also might have to showcase assessments, construct bulletin boards or attend school board meetings.  Getting your math message out to the community can be a great way to build long term support for your position.

For more ideas and some specific suggestions, head over to math solutions to check out this article!

Are you a math coach?  I would love it if you shared your tips and experiences in the comments section below!  Got a question about being a math coach?  I would love to try to answer it!  Leave it below!  


  1. I am in my first year as a K-5 Math Coach and your description above is exactly all the things I do. It is a lot to balance, but I love every aspect of the job! I have been meeting weekly with the Educational assistants in each gradelevel to teach them our "newer" ways of teaching math concepts and what they can do to help our struggling learners when they are in intervention groups with them. I am the manager of our 3-5 building's Math intervention time with Do the Math intervention kits. I love the variety of all the things I do - working with children in classrooms, working with teachers and educational assistants for professional development (nothing beats their smiles and moments of "this makes SO much sense!"), analyzing data from our progress monitoring tools, and even hosting a Math night at our K-2 school which was a huge success. It truly is my dream job!! I highly recommend it for anyone who has a passion for Math!

    1. I meant to sign my post above.....
      Ann Elise

    2. Thanks for sharing your experiences Ann Elise! I am so glad you are loving the job!

  2. That was a really interesting post, Tara! I admire all curriculum coaches. You have an important job and are very appreciated:)