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Astronauts practice. Actors practice. Iconic basketball player Michael Jordan practiced. He practiced so that he was well-prepared to apply his skills in the big game. But for teachers, this idea of practice is almost taboo. We will make all of our copies to “prepare” for tomorrow’s math lesson. But, practice? Give me a break, teachers don’t practice in front of their colleagues.

This photo of Michael Jordan is taken from Google images.

How can we support a shift in thinking so that school cultures are a place where we can practice without judgment? Can we encourage a culture of practicing professionals where error is normalized and mistakes are opportunities for growth? Practice isn’t about perfection. It’s just about getting better.

At a recent Eureka Math Institute for Leaders, I was personally challenged to practice a Fluency component of the curriculum with a colleague. As a curriculum writer for Eureka, this was uncomfortable. I wrote it. I should be able to deliver it. Flawlessly. As I looked around a room full of Type As, there was a sense of discomfort. Colleagues hesitantly paired off to practice, but nobody was itching for critical feedback. (Okay, maybe a few.)

And so I played the role of the teacher in the following Happy Counting Exercise:

Happy Counting by Twos (3 minutes) 

T: Let’s count by twos, starting at 0. Ready? (Point up rhythmically until a change is desired. Close hand to indicate a stopping point. Point down to count in the opposite direction. Continue, periodically changing direction.)

 S: 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 (switch) 8 (switch) 10 (switch) 8 (switch) 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 (switch) 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8 (switch) 10 (switch) 8, 6, 4, 2, 0. 

My colleague (playing the role of student) struggled, but it wasn’t about him. It was about me. My signal was sloppy. Quite frankly, it stank.

My partner said, “Okay, I’m going to push you to work on your signal. I’m having trouble with the closed hand. Instead, when you are about to change direction, how about you turn your thumb just a little more slowly, so I have a second to make those adjustments, especially when counting back.”

After his feedback, I called my shot. “This time I’m going to eliminate the closed hand and emphasize the shifts in counting by going slower. This will give you a split second to think.”

We ran the sequence again. Better.

After affirming my efforts, he asked, “Can I give you another push? This time, try to really emphasize crossing the tens. Do a couple of ups and downs over 8 and 10 and 18 and 20.”

I called my shot again, adjusted, and ran the sequence.

So much better. I have to admit, the deliberate practice felt good. The feedback was sincere, honest, and directly impacted my students’ success. This idea of pushing one another to our best practice is a paradigm shift that the Eureka Math community is embracing. Every day is a big game in the classroom, and while we usually don’t have the luxury of practicing each component of a lesson, this new shift in preparation is changing our effectiveness as teachers. Even 3 minutes of deliberate practice is time well spent. There were days when all Jordan practiced was his jump shot…and that worked out rather well.

Watch Eureka Math writer, Melanie Gutierrez, do a counting by 2 exercise with Grade 1 students at NCTM. 

MaryJo Wieland is a Pre-K and Grade 2 writer for Eureka Math.