Christina Grassi ’20 M.A. is passionate about learning—inspiring her fourth- and fifth-graders to learn, challenging herself to learn and coaching her peers as they strengthen their teaching strategies. She has studied the science behind creating effective math lessons, and she is putting it into practice at Garnet Valley Elementary School.
In her second year of teaching in Garnet Valley School District, Christina decided to enroll in Immaculata’s M.A. in Educational Leadership Program. She noted that the all-online classes were accommodating for a teacher’s schedule. “I could do things on my time, when I felt energetic enough to complete something!” she said, laughing. She also appreciated the seven-week accelerated classes, allowing her to focus on one course at a time. “The program is manageable,” she commented, adding that taking a few summer courses allowed her to complete the M.A. and the math coaching endorsement in just a year and a half.
In addition to the convenience, Christina appreciated the learning opportunities afforded by small classes. “The tight community with other educators stood out to me,” she remarked. “I was eager to hear other perspectives from different districts and teachers with greater levels of experience than I have.” Many of Christina’s professors had served as principals or vice principals, “in the heart of education,” she reflected.
Christina’s studies at IU coincided with her decision to partner with another teacher to write a new fifth grade math curriculum. “I thought it would be a good experience to gain some professional development,” she said. “I was able to be a leader and help teachers reflect on math instruction.”
Christina gained further leadership experience through her coaching principles course. “I knew I wanted to be a leader within my district, and that class gave me the tools I need to help me reach that goal,” she said. The course provided tips on good coaching communication, and Christina applied that knowledge as she coached her colleagues, collaborating with them to plan lessons, review data to improve student performance and try new teaching strategies.
Through a math instructional strategies course, Christina expanded her teaching toolbox with innovative ideas, such as math running records. In this method, teachers observe students one-on-one as they solve math problems to see what strategies students are using. This helps teachers see where students are in their thinking processes, how fluent they are with math facts and where they are struggling, and it provides clues about what can help students make progress.
Traditionally, math teachers have invited students to watch and then imitate them to solve problems. However, Christina explained, educators are now shifting to a math workshop model in which teachers often observe what problem-solving strategies students use. “Sometimes change can be scary,” Christina acknowledged, “but if you take baby steps, and lead with positivity, success will come.”
In her coaching classes at IU, Christina learned to affirm teachers who are trying new things to help their students. She finds it rewarding to coach teachers who are more experienced than she is so that she can learn from them herself. “I love gaining different perspectives from different people,” she said. “We’re all in this together, so the more that we support one another in professional learning communities, the more we can help our students succeed.”