White Knuckles

I will never forget the image of Michelle sitting outside Jami’s office. She was clutching the arms of the chair, her knuckles white.

Michelle was a very dedicated math teacher who had been in the school district for many years. She loved math and tried to impart that love to her students.

But she also only felt safe coloring within the lines. She found comfort in the predictability of a math curriculum. One section led to the next. It was orderly. If she followed the curriculum and followed the rules, she knew that all was fine in her world.

She had no idea why Jami had asked for this meeting. Had she done something wrong? She was worried, and her knuckles showed it.

When we sat down in Jami’s office, Jami shared her idea. Could we find a three-week unit in any of her classes that could be used for an experiment? Michelle’s eyes began to dart all over the place. What if the experiment didn’t work? How could the kids find the time to recover if the experiment failed? How might she be judged?

It took Jami almost an hour to walk Michelle back from the cliff. But then Michelle shared a story about how, early in her career, she had integrated math with a forest survey and it was a wonderful experience. She then agreed to the experiment.

We decided that we would do the pilot in Michelle's trigonometry class sometime in the next month.

Later I asked Jami why she chose to do this pilot with Michelle. Jami slyly smiled and said it was because she knew Michelle would be terrified. If this worked, the other teachers would know. If Michelle could do it, anybody could.

Not too much pressure.

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