by Laurie Speranzo with Joe Dostilio, DeAnn Huinker, Kristin Klingensmith, Margaret “Peg” Smith, Mary Kay Stein, Beatriz Strawhun
It is a gift to work with people who want to create sustainable change! Victoria “Vic” Bill led the IFL’s math team for over 25 years. She pushed constantly for better tools, instructional materials, and assessments that would allow teachers to hone their practice and for students to be honored as doers of mathematics. This year we lost an inspiring leader, creative colleague, dedicated educator, and respected friend. Here, those who had the opportunity to collaborate with Vic over the years share how the ways in which Vic worked are lessons for us all.
1. Create accessible and applicable tools, and
2. Be relentless in the pursuit of what works.
Over her years with the IFL, Vic had the opportunity to engage with the researchers at the Learning Research and Development Center. Margaret “Peg” Smith and Mary Kay Stein worked with Vic on both tool development and on professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators.
Peg speaks to how one crucial tool came about: “Mary Kay and I kept going back and forth with Vic on the Task Analysis Guide (Smith & Stein, 1998). And Vic said, ‘I need something that’s one page!’ So, I created something. Mary Kay would do something. And then Vic would say, ‘No, this is not right!’ We went back and forth with her, and finally she said, ‘Okay, this will work.’ And it hasn’t changed one iota since that initial creation. That was a really lovely example of how she really pressed the researchers to try to come up with something practical to use with teachers.
Vic was really big on the use of tools – the tools that we created. She was a firm believer that tools are carriers of knowledge and theory, and that having a tool helps scaffold your work on something. And so, by both creating tools and relentlessly encouraging teachers to always look back at them, we really left teachers with a way of moving forward once we were no longer there, because they still had the tools. The tool were the physical residue that was left behind; teachers had a toolbox of things to go back to.”
To read more about the collaboration among Vic, Peg, and Mary Kay, check out their interview with the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators.
Joe Dostilio, IFL math fellow, speaks to the power of Vic’s tool development process, “For years, the math team discussed the idea of writing guides to pull together important elements of lesson and unit planning. While Vic and the math team had many discussions and brainstorming sessions, over the years we never got around to developing the guides as various projects and partnerships pulled us in different directions. Then, before her retirement, she rallied her math team to create our Math Planning Essentials Guides (MPEs). She believed deep down that the MPEs would be used by educators to plan for lessons to engage students as mathematicians in rigorous mathematics. She was just plain relentless in working with her math team to create and develop resources and tools for educators. Vic’s energy and drive was truly inspiring.”
3. Talk the [Accountable] Talk, and then
4. Reflect on your work.
Whenever the opportunity arose, Vic loved to collaborate with others in a district together, providing teacher professional development (PD) sessions to teachers, coaches, and administrators.
Beatriz Strawhun, IFL math fellow, shares, “One of my fondest memories happened during a PD session I was cofacilitating with Vic. I thought I was prepared for my sections of the session. But after getting off a plane and meeting her for dinner, what seemed to be an inquisition began: ‘What will you hear from teachers that will signal they got it?’ Vic asked me, among other things. I had not even thought of this. My prep for the session, which I thought had been thorough consisted of timing and groupings of participants and some questions I thought I would ask, but all those facilitation moves had to do with me and only me. I had not reflected at all on the participant experience. Vic’s questions were not asked because she was testing me in some way, but rather because they were true questions for her as well. She wanted a thought partner. My prep for a session has never been the same.”
Peg also speaks of her work in district with Vic: “In the early 2000’s, I’d done teacher education work, but I hadn’t done PD for large groups. I would do something and then Vic would come over and should say, ‘You should ask someone if they can repeat what somebody else just said.’ And I began to realize the power in doing that. She lived what she believed in; she didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk.”
As chair of the math team, Vic required that all fellows regularly share practice as a means of both reflecting on their own work and also getting evidence-based feedback from colleagues. She held herself to the same standards both in the preparation of and reflection on her own work.
Peg recalls, “When traveling, Vic would get off the plane and she will have prepared for at a level that was beyond anything I’ve ever conceived of. She would write all over a case or have notes on a transcript. She said she needed to do that in order to be able to do what she did. The level of preparation was just astounding!”
Kristin Klingensmith, IFL fellow, shares the impact of the reflecting, refining, and revising process Vic put in place: “Final might mean done for now, but for Vic and the team she lead, it does not mean done forever. The running joke was (and still is) which version of final are we talking about, Final 1, Final-VB, Final-Final, and even FINAL-updated. Regardless of which version of final we were working from or discussing, we knew it was just one of many that would show how our thinking evolved over time through inquiry and reflection. The desire and need to grow and refine thinking, practice, and tools, has led to ongoing revision. Our work is never done, for the benefit of those we serve–educators and students– we can always be better tomorrow.”
5. Capture examples of great work from which others can learn.
Teachers and students are at the center of the work at the IFL. Vic thought constantly about the most impactful learning experiences that could be provided to teachers in order to influence classroom practice. She wanted to ensure that the question “but what does it look and sound like?” was able to be addressed.
Peg speaks to the work that Vic did capturing best practice in math classrooms: “We were able to use the videos from the IFL archives to create the Taking Actions books (NCTM) and Principles to Actions Professional Learning Toolkit (NCTM). I think those videos have had an amazing impact on people, and they relate to them. But I think that what most people don’t know is Vic made almost all of those. When you think about what it took to even make those videos, and what she was trying to do, she was really creating a permanent record of instruction that we could all learn something from.”
DeAnn Huinker, mathematics education professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, co-authored the elementary version of the book Taking Action (NCTM, 2017) with Vic: “I quickly learned how amazing she was as a collaborator. A core feature of the book are artifacts from classrooms, most of which came from Vic. She had an endless supply of rich classroom experiences from which we drew vignettes and student work samples for the book. It was so clear that she loved spending time in classrooms pressing and guiding students toward deep understanding of the mathematics. I can recall on more than one occasion when I would find a few gifts from Vic in my email inbox in the morning with another draft section written or some new classroom artifacts to consider. I still wonder when she slept as she always made time to revise and improve a section of the book or to tackle the next needed section. I could not have asked for a better writing partner.”
Mary Kay Stein shares how instrumental Vic was in a making sure classroom practice was as the forefront of a state-wide coaching study in TN: “When we first received funding to study teaching in Tennessee, I went to Nashville to recruit teachers for our study. As usual Vic ‘opened the doors’ for us to visit PD sessions and classroom lessons. This image sticks in my head: Vic stooped next to a teacher working through a mathematical problem. She was so intent; she was so focused, she was so patient. She cared! Vic was one of a kind.”
Vic Bill led work at the IFL with forethought, planning and reflection, and by listening to what teachers and students needed. She was intentional and supportive in her leadership and exemplified ways of working that can be employed by others as they endeavor to make and support change!
There are more lessons to learn from Vic and her colleagues. Check out these publications.
Teaching & Learning
Smith, M.S., Bill, V., & Ziegler, J. (in press). Supporting productive struggle in mathematics classrooms. New England Mathematics Journal.
Smith, M., Bill, V., & Sherin, M. G. (2019). The 5 practices in practice: Successfully orchestrating mathematics discussion in your elementary classroom. Corwin Mathematics and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Smith, M., Bill, V., & Raith, M. L. (2018). Promoting a conceptual understanding of mathematics. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 24(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.5951/mathteacmiddscho.24.1.0036
Bill, V. & Smith, M. S. (2008). Characteristics of assessing and advancing questions. University of Pittsburgh: Institute for Learning.
Smith, M. S., Bill, V., & Hughes, E. K. (2008). Thinking through a lesson: Successfully implementing high-level tasks. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 14(3), 132-138.
Huinker, D. & Bill, V. (2017). Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices in Grades K–5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
McConachie, S., Hall, M., Resnick, L., Ravi, A. K., Bill, V. L., Bintz, J., & Taylor, J. A. (2006). Task, Text, and Talk: Literacy for All Subjects. Educational Leadership, 64(2), 8-14.
Goldman, P., & Resnick, L., with Bill, V., Johnston, J., Micheaux, D., & Setiz, A. (2004). LearningWalk℠ Sourcebook. Pittsburgh, PA: Institute for Learning, Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh.
Resnick, L. B., Bill, V., & Lesgold, S. (1992). Developing thinking abilities in arithmetic class. In A. Demetriou, M. Shayer, & A. Efklides (Eds.), Neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development: Implications and applications for education (pp. 210-230). London: Routledge.
Resnick, L. B., Bill, V., Lesgold, S., & Leer, M. (1991). Thinking in arithmetic class. In B. Means, C. Chelemer, & M. S. Knapp (Eds.), Teaching advanced skills to at-risk students: Views from research and practice (pp. 27-53). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
[Accountable®] Talk in Mathematics
Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. Smith, M., Bill, V., & Resnick, L. (2019). From ritual to explorative participation in discourse-rich instructional practices: A case study of teacher learning through professional development. Educational Studies in Mathematics. 101(2). 273-289.
Bill, V. & Speranzo, L. (July 2017). Using talk to make sense of mathematics: Teaching Children Mathematics NCTM.
Bill, V. L., Leer, M. N., Reams, L. E., & Resnick, L. B. (1992). From cupcakes to equations: The structure of discourse in a primary mathematics classroom. Verbum, 15(1), 63-85.
Correnti, R., Russell, J., Stein, M.K., Yu, B., Thomas, A., Matthis, C., Bill, V., Speranzo, L., Booker, L., Schwartz, N. (In Review). Main effects of mathematics coaching on teaching and student achievement: Coaching differences for building theories of how coaching influences teaching. Cognition and Instruction
Stein, M.K., Russell, J.L., Bill, V., Correnti, R., & Speranzo, L. (2021). Coach learning to help teachers learn to enact conceptually rich, student-focused mathematics lessons. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education.
Russell, J. L., Correnti, R. C., Stein, M. K., Bill, V., Hannan, M., Schwartz, N., Booker, L., Pratt, N. R., & Matthis, C. (2020). Learning From Adaptation to Support Instructional Improvement at Scale: Understanding Coach Adaptation in the TN Mathematics Coaching Project. American Educational Research Journal , 57(1), pp. 148–187.
Russell, J. L., Correnti, R., Stein, M. K., Thomas, A., Bill, V., & Speranzo, L. (2020). Mathematics coaching for conceptual understanding: Promising evidence regarding the Tennessee math coaching model. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 42(3), 439-466. https://doi.org/10.3102/0162373720940699
Russell, J. L., Correnti, R., Stein, M. K., Bill, V., Hannan, M., Schwartz, N., Booker, L., Pratt, N., & Matthis, C. (2019). Learning from adaptation to support instructional improvement at scale: Understanding coach adaptation in the TN mathematics coaching project. American Educational Research Journal. 57(1). 148-187.
Bickel, D. Bill, V., Matsumura, L., Petrosky, A., Russell, J., Schantz, F. & Zook-Howell, D. (2017). Content-focused coaching for continuous improvement in literacy and mathematics. Pittsburgh, PA: Institute for Learning, University of Pittsburgh.
Bill, V. & Speranzo, L. (July 2017). Mathematics learning goals serve as a guide. Teaching Children Mathematics NCTM.
Bill, V., Booker, L., Correnti, R., Russell, J., Schwartz, N., & Stein, M.K. (2017). Tennessee scales up improved math instruction through coaching. The Journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education, 17(2), 22-27.
Russell, J. L., Stein, M. K., Correnti, R., Bill, V., Booker, L., & Schwartz, N. (2017). Tennessee scales up improvement in math instruction through coaching. The State Educational Standard, 17(2), 22–27.