Resources mentioned in this episode:

Elementary Mathematics Specialists: Influencing Student Achievement by Patricia Campbell and Nathaniel Malkus

Teaching Children Mathematics journal by NCTM

2019 Virtual Math Summit Registration 

Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 19.  Today we are investigating The Impact of Elementary Math Specialists.

Today’s insight comes from an article published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in their journal Teaching Children MathematicsTypically, you can only access their articles if you are a member, but this is one that you can access for free.  The article, Elementary Mathematics Specialists: Influencing Student Achievement by Patricia Campbell and Nathaniel Malkus summarizes a 3 year study of the affect elementary math specialists had on students’ scores on standardized tests.    

The short version is that the elementary math specialists had a significant impact on student achievement, but only after 3 years.  Some of the schools in the study only had a specialist for 1 year and they did not see the student achievement significantly increase.

On page 204, they write

 “The impact of these specialists on student achievement did not occur simply because some individuals were appointed to fill positions. Rather, three crucial features characterize their assignments: knowledge, time, and nonevaluative collaboration. They were highly knowledgeable, having completed mathematics content and leadership/coaching courses that allowed them to learn coaching practices, to deepen their knowledge of mathematics and effective teaching practices so they had defensible ideas to share, and to develop their identity as a coaching specialist. Such courses gave the specialists opportunities to consider why and how to build relationships and interact respectfully with both teachers and administrators.

The specialists were based full-time in their schools without a classroom of students. Even so, no significant change in student achievement took place after a one-year placement of specialists. The specialists’ impact on student achievement emerged over time. It is important to recognize that the eventual increased student achievement scores did not occur because a specialist was prompting teachers to adopt the surface features of an instructional model or to deliver scripted lessons unquestionably. Rather, achievement increased as the specialists developed into on-site leaders who could encourage teachers to reflect on instructional practices and to learn over time, as the specialists supported professional interaction, appreciated efforts, served as mentoring coaches, and addressed concerns.”

Yes, it would be amazing if every elementary school could have a math specialist like the ones in this study.  But the reality is that they won’t. So, I’m wondering…could there be a math teacher leader who takes on that role?  If your school doesn’t have a math specialist could the roles of a math specialist be somewhat filled by a math leader?  Someone that others in the school know “that’s the person to go to if you have a math question.” How many of our schools at least have that?????

Yes, ideally it would be amazing to have a dedicated math specialist who doesn’t have a classroom of students and can do the full coaching and collaborating with teachers.  If you can’t do that, I’d like to propose that we at the very least have that “someone” in the building that everyone knows has that math understanding.

If you are listening to this, then I’m going to assume it’s you.  You come to this podcast each week. You watch my videos over at  You are reading all the books this summer that you can about the teaching of math. I just want to encourage you and say you are doing the right thing.  You may never get the opportunity to have the formal job title of Math Specialist but you are doing amazing things and provide such a valuable resource to the other educators in your school.  Keep up the good work. You are making a difference and it might not be seen in a year or two but as the article states, it takes years.

I’m going to link to another place you can increase your math content knowledge and math coaching knowledge: The Virtual Math Summit.   We have 39 sessions over 4 days all focused on the teaching and learning of elementary mathematics and some sessions specifically for coaches to give you leadership and collaboration ideas. Because I really do see the power of having those people in the schools who have built their mathematics knowledge in the elementary grades.  WE need those people who are the “go-to” math people. 

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As you start off the school year, I want you to keep in mind what is really important as we're trying to teach mathematics to our students.