My name is Kari Kokka, and I was a high school math teacher and coach at Vanguard High School, a Title I public school in New York City for ten years (2001-2011). Currently I work at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity where I do both Performance Assessment work and am also working with a group of Bay Area teachers to co-design a 6th grade math Project Based Learning curriculum. I am also a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education studying STEM teacher retention.
I was fortunate that my principal at Vanguard believed in distributive leadership. Our only problem was the lack of rigor in the mathematics program.
In 2001 a group of math teachers joined the Vanguard community and committed ourselves to make the mathematics program more rigorous, introduce AP calculus, and increase our students’ mathematical skills and understanding. In order to prepare our students for AP Calculus we doubled the instructional time in mathematics, introduced Complex Instruction (a form of group work that incorporates roles, multiple abilities approaches, and status treatments) for our heterogeneous classes, and worked collaboratively as a team to meet our goals. We also needed to design Performance Assessments for our students, a graduation requirement for all students in all subject areas. As the math coach I helped organize our weekly math team meetings to work productively as a team to achieve these goals. We presented about our teamwork at the Coalition of Essential Schools National Fall Forum in 2004, titling our session “Not Only Students Engage in Cooperative Learning!: The Role of Lesson Study in Professional Development.” Our math team successfully introduced AP Calculus to Vanguard in 2007. I strongly believe that one of the keys to productive teacher professional growth is the use of teamwork and collaboration.