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Case Study: Bringing Together
Mathematical Strengths in Kyiv

Project Lead: Justin Gregory Johns

Type of Partnership: Teaching & Learning

School: Pechersk School International, Kyiv, Ukraine

Dates: Spring 2021 - Present

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Overview

Perchersk School International reached out to Vision to Action educational consultant Justin Johns in the spring of 2021 to partner on building a more well-aligned primary mathematics program. The previously adopted math standards were being implemented inconsistently, and both the teachers and new elementary leadership were eager to focus on embedding them properly. Fortunately, there were already many teachers providing high-quality mathematics instruction at PSI. This project, then, became about bringing the faculty together with a common vision, ensuring a cohesive mathematical experience for students across the grades at PSI, and engaging in collaborative teaching and reflecting as a faculty.

 

The PSI primary leadership team met with Justin for several virtual planning sessions and decided that five weeks of on-site professional learning and facilitation was the best course of action for accomplishing the desired goals for this partnership. These weeks would be spread across the 2021-22 school year and consist of a variety of in-classroom experiences, workshops, and team planning sessions. 
 

Create a common vision for primary mathematics instruction at PSI and elevate the already high-quality teaching and learning.

We plan to accomplish this through:

  • developing systems to ensure coherent vertical articulation of the curriculum and faithful implementation of the agreed upon standards

  • collaboratively creating unit planners that align with the PYP framework

  • coaching teachers as they create opportunities for students to thoughtfully engage in the Standards for Mathematical Practice

  • creating opportunities for teachers and teaching partners to joyfully share their practice with each other

  • collectively celebrating the faculty members’ own mathematical skills

OVERARCHING OBJECTIVE

A Closer Look . . .

The graphic below illustrates key actions at different phases of this project and how we envision the path ahead. As we develop common internal math assessments, we will build data collection systems to monitor student progress. 

Connections to Our Core Commitments

 

Driven by Principles and Beliefs

Prior to the launch of this partnership, PSI teachers knowledgeable in high-quality math instruction created a PSI Philosophy of Mathematics Instruction statement. Many current primary homeroom teachers were unaware of this document. We began our work together by attempting to bring this belief statement to life, connecting it to the school guiding statements, and using it to plan our goals. Throughout this project, we often stepped back to reflect on what PSI as an organization believes about collaborating or consensus making and used these emerging beliefs to guide our work.

Committed to Shared Responsibility

The success of this partnership would not have been possible without the shared responsibility and distributed leadership of the many educators involved. Early planning sessions involved Justin along with Jan Humpleby (Primary Principal), Erika Olsen (Assistant Primary Principal/ PYP Coordinator), Cindy Beals (Director of Learning), and David Gocentas (Primary School Math Lead). Different configurations of this group met frequently for virtual lunches, each time making sure we had exactly the right people involved in the conversation. Commitment and excitement levels were high after Justin’s first visit, as ten teachers volunteered to join a math team to help keep the work moving forward. These teachers brought so many mathematical strengths to the table; the result of them coming together and beginning to move in the same direction was powerful.

Engaged in Collaborative Planning & Goal Setting
In order to be transparent and inclusive of all interested members within the PSI community, the Vision to Action team created an extensive Google sheet containing links to all notes and slides from every meeting, every planning session, and every document we created together. This helped the director, principals, coaches, coordinators, and teachers be on the same page and able to contribute as different groups met for virtual planning sessions.

Developed Through Partnership Support Options

During some of our earliest sessions, teachers generated “wish lists” to articulate their current needs. This helped ground all of the work that followed firmly within the context of the current reality at the school and allowed us to make informed decisions about the various types of experiences we wanted to engage in together. We focused on the teaching and learning of mathematics through Learning Labs, full-day professional learning workshops, and half-day sessions with grade level teams. These half-day sessions were such a joy to be a part of because each team constructed their own agenda from different optional tasks that they believed would most positively impact their math instruction. 

 

Embedded in a Culture of Reflection

Throughout this partnership, decisions were made only after thoughtful reflection. 
Lessons were co-planned with the intention of addressing areas of interest from teachers’ self-reflections, and surveys after visits were used to shape future sessions. As mentioned above, team reflections helped structure how their collaborative time was spent, and at one point, an entire section of a full-day workshop was significantly adjusted based on the reflection of an Early Childhood teacher during our mid-workshop check-in. 

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OUTCOMES

  • A thorough math audit was conducted, carefully looking at resources, language, and tools used across all primary grades. This began the process of constructing Math Whole-School Agreements. 

  • The mathematics curriculum was mapped across Early Childhood through Grade 5; teachers reported an improved understanding of their grade level topics and instructional sequences.

  • An interconnected system for documenting math standards and units within existing PYP Units of Inquiry was created.

  • A strong math team was formed with three sub-committees to address the following: 1. spreading internal knowledge through study groups, 2. researching and choosing a core instructional resource, 3. continuing the development of whole-school agreements.

  • PSI teachers created their own overview of the Standards for Mathematical Practice to help provide all stakeholders with a common language regarding the habits and dispositions of productive math learners.  

  • Teachers  reported more frequent intentional uses of teaching moves to engage students in rich mathematical discussions after a successful round of mixed grade level Learning Labs. 

  • Stronger understanding and alignment of mathematics instructional practices by primary teachers. 

Sign me up!

Reflections from the Team

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Justin Johns

Vision to Action Project Lead

It was beautiful how quickly PSI welcomed me into their community as we crafted a vision for the direction of the primary mathematics program. I knew we were onto something special when so many teachers volunteered their time to keep the work moving forward after my first visit. We strategically surfaced issues of aligning language, mathematical representations, and resources while joyfully celebrating small successes along the way as teachers experimented with new instructional moves. I remember packing up at the end of a long day at PSI and thinking that I wished a friend or family member had been there to see our work that day; I often walked out the campus gates feeling so proud of what we accomplished together. PSI is a special place filled with special people. There were already so many amazing things happening there, so it was a privilege for me to be a part of the process of bringing it all together.

Our work with Justin went very smoothly as he was well organized, knowledgeable and had a way to get everyone motivated to engage in a non-stressful manner.  He regularly met virtually with different members of the leadership team and primary mathematics committee in planning the sessions he led.  Through this, he was well informed on the needs and interests of the different members of the team, which positioned him well to personalize sessions to meet the needs of the different groups attending.  By inviting those present to collaborate on the agenda and share their goals, Justin put everyone at ease so they felt comfortable fully engaging, knowing that the session was personalized to their needs.  Having been part of many of the planning sessions, I will note that his extensive knowledge, transparent communication style, and organizational skills ensured all sessions would go smoothly.  In multiple sessions, the need for a pivot in approach became apparent to take advantage of a circumstance that arose, and Justin adeptly adapted to tailor to the needs of those present.  His relationship-based style and willingness to be flexible in what we were doing enabled team members to be vulnerable, step outside their comfort zones to share and show their remarkable growth in our time together.

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Cindy Beals

Director of Learning

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Debbie McWhorter

Grade 3 Teacher

One thing I really enjoyed about Justin’s style is that he wasn’t telling us what we should be teaching, he was giving us tools to make informed decisions for ourselves. Co-planning lessons together was an enjoyable process because we were able to throw ideas back and forth and carefully consider different outcomes based on what direction we went. I found that the process challenged my own comfort zone about how to give students opportunities to extend themselves, and I realized it is possible to go really deep with a short, seemingly simple prompt. The linguistic framing of whole-class discussions during our Learning Lab impacted my instruction beyond math and into all subjects. Volunteering for the math committee after Justin’s first visit was a no-brainer for me because our work together was inspirational and made me realize just how much I love teaching math. 

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This project was forced to be paused in Phase 2 due to the current war in Ukraine. If you are interested in ways you can support Ukraine, visit PSI's detailed resource page here.

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