Never Alone

by Christine Hansen

Never Alone, PinkOn any given Monday after school, you’ll find me hanging out with some teacher friends. We celebrate our successes, discuss our frustrations, and offer strategies to help. We support and encourage each other, share ideas, and plan our upcoming lessons.

However, you won’t find us meeting in a classroom, teachers lounge, or anywhere in person. In fact, I’ve never actually met these teachers! What do we have in common? We are all users of the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum. We get together through a weekly Twitter chat moderated by Open Up Resources Community Manager, Brooke Powers. It is a lively thirty minutes of sharing what’s working, what’s really challenging, and how to help each other. Many of us are first-year users of the curriculum and we’re looking for help from second year users.

I teach at a small school and am the only math teacher for seventh and eighth grade. I have a wonderful district math coach that helps me, but the curriculum is new for her as well. In the beginning, I felt very alone in learning and implementing this curriculum. In fact, for much of my career I have felt alone, regardless of curriculum. When you are the only teacher in a particular subject area, there isn’t someone to chat with in the hallway about a student work sample, an assessment item, to celebrate a great lesson, or to offer advice when your students aren’t doing as well as you know they can.

Maybe that is one of the reasons that I have fallen so into sync with the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math Community. For the first time in my teaching career, I am truly not alone. I know that there is a group of teachers gathered around the same curriculum that I am using, ready to jump in and share their expertise with me at a moment’s notice. In fact, one of the first things they did in the Community was recruit “gurus” for each grade level that were second year users of the curriculum to help people like me who were still adjusting to implementation.

Some teachers can go down the hallway when they need to borrow a resource or get advice from another teacher. That isn’t an option for everyone, so Open Up Resources also started a Facebook page as a way to share resources. They added individual groups for each grade level. I’ve never had a Facebook page, but I started one just so I could join the Facebook group. If I need an additional resource or have a question, I just ask on Facebook, and usually, someone has something to share.

Speaking of resources, seventh-grade guru, Morgan Stipe, made the most amazing seventh grade Google Slides to go along with lessons with bright colors, GIFs and Bitmoji’s. She openly shares these slides, which I know took many hours to make. Some teachers would look at this as an opportunity to make extra money selling this resource. But that is the magic of this curriculum and community—people want to share and help each other.

What I think is especially unusual about all of this, is that this is a free PLC around a free curriculum. Districts aren’t paying for all of this teacher support. OUR decided to develop this free outreach program because it would be good for teachers. I’ve never heard of a curriculum that provides community and teacher support like this without finding a way to benefit financially.

The Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum is designed to be inclusive of all learners in the classroom. The opening activity in a lesson is accessible by all levels of learners. Other activities are partner- and group-based, so students can get support from each other. Even the student workbook is printed in a pleasing font with lots of pictures—it’s welcoming, not intimidating. All of this works to develop a community in the classroom for the students. Now, Open Up Resources has expanded that work to develop a community so teachers can be welcomed and not intimidated.

As teachers, we all want what is best for our students. I think part of the drive to build a strong community and help each other is because we know this curriculum is good for all students. I want to do what I can to help other teachers bring it to their students.

If you’re looking for me, you can find me Mondays on Twitter at 8:30 ET at the hashtag #OpenUpMath. I look forward to the Monday Twitter chat because that’s when my Twitter friends fill my bucket for the week. If you’re looking for an amazing way to connect with this community in person, check out the HIVE 2019 conference. Open Up Resources has even built out a “Community Pathway” so that teachers can learn from the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math Gurus in person at this three-day event.

Every week, I can see my practice growing thanks to the support system I’ve found in this online community. I may not have all the answers, but we’re all in this together and we are certainly never alone.