We have all heard the claim that any big change a school district might want to make will require 3 to 5 years of concentrated effort.

- You want better scores? 3 to 5 years.
- You want to fundamentally change what instruction looks like in your classrooms? 3 to 5 years.
- You want to close achievement gaps? 3 to 5 years.

I’ve heard the claim too. However, it never occurred to me – or at least I’ve never thought about it deeply – what the heck is actually supposed to be happening during those 3 to 5 years? I guess I imagined Day 1 some district leader announcing “We will make such and such change!” and then magically 3 to 5 years later it comes to fruition.

**What a simplistic view I had!**

While at the National Council of Supervisors of Math (NCSM) conference, I learned about transformative learning and I have been thinking about it a lot! In this blog pot, I’ll share my understanding what transformative learning is with respect to math teaching, the ten phases adults go through during transformative learning, and how this applies to the mathematics coaching we Math Coordinators do at Merced County Office of Education.

## What is transformative learning?

Transformative learning is a theory of adult education that emphasizes deep, structural shifts in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the adult learner. It involves the adult questioning and critically reflecting on their beliefs, assumptions, and perspectives that ultimately lead to a significant change. This often brings up feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment when teachers are confronted with the realization that some of their beliefs and assumptions are not accurate.

Jack Mezirow’s ten phases of transformative learning outline the process through which a teacher experiences a deep change in their perspective leading them to meaningful change in practice.

## The ten phases of transformative learning

Here is a brief description of each phase and how it relates to our role as mathematics coach:

### Step 1: Disorienting Dilemma

**What it is:**

This initial phase involves encountering a situation that challenges current beliefs or practices. A disorienting dilemma is a situation where the teacher realizes that what they thought or believed in the past may not be accurate.**Math Coach example:**

The math coach guides teachers through data discussions or empathy interviews of students so the teacher realizes that their students are consistently underperforming on problem-solving tasks despite the students supposedly understanding basic math concepts. This discrepancy raises questions about their instructional methods.

### Step 2: Self-Examination

**What it is:**

The teacher reflects on their teaching practices, questioning what might be contributing to the students’ struggles.**Math Coach example:**

The math coach provides opportunities for teachers to wonder if their reliance on traditional lecture-based teaching is limiting students’ ability to apply concepts in unfamiliar situations.

### Step 3: Critical Assessment of Assumptions

**What it is:**The teacher starts critically evaluating the assumptions behind their instructional strategies.

**Math Coach example:**The teacher realizes they’ve assumed that students will automatically transfer procedural skills to problem-solving tasks without explicitly teaching problem-solving strategies and models. The math coach provides relevant research for the teacher to read to further question their assumptions.

### Step 4: Recognition of a Connection Between One’s Discontent and the Process of Transformation

**What it is:**

The teacher acknowledges that their dissatisfaction with student outcomes is tied to a need for change in their own teaching approach.**Math Coach example:**The math coach delivers in-class demonstrations allowing the teacher to recognize that embracing more inquiry-based learning could be part of the solution.

### Step 5: Exploration of Options for New Roles, Relationships, and Actions

**What it is:**

The teacher considers different methods for improving instruction and student engagement.**Math Coach example:**

The math coach provides in-class demos and coaching to support the teacher in exploring strategies like collaborative group work, use of manipulatives, and integrating story problems into math lessons.

### Step 6: Planning a Course of Action

**What it is:**

The teacher creates a plan for implementing these new strategies in the classroom.**Math Coach example:**

The teacher decides to start incorporating story problems where students work together on problem-solving tasks, with the teacher facilitating whole-class discussions rather than lecturing. Formal instruction by the teacher comes after the discussion. The math coach works side-by-side with the teacher in the classroom to provide support implementing the new strategies.

### Step 7: Acquiring Knowledge and Skills for Implementing One’s Plans

**What it is:**The teacher engages in the professional development provided at the school site to learn more about the new instructional strategies.

**Math Coach example:**

After learning about a new instructional strategy, the teacher invites the math coach to provide demonstrations of the new strategy with actual students in the classroom.

### Step 8: Provisional Trying of New Roles

**What it is:**

The teacher begins experimenting with the new methods in their classroom, while still adjusting to their new role as a facilitator.**Math Coach example:**

The coach provides in-class coaching for the teachers to support them as they learn how to facilitate whole-class conversations in which students discuss different problem-solving approaches. The teacher learns how to guide the conversation through strategic questioning.

### Step 9: Building Competence and Self-Confidence in New Roles and Relationships

**What it is:**

The teacher gains confidence as they observe students becoming more engaged and performing better on problem-solving tasks.**Math Coach example:**

The teacher notices students are taking more initiative in discussions and are better able to explain their reasoning, reinforcing the value of the new approach.

### Step 10: Reintegration into One’s Life Based on Conditions Dictated by One’s Perspective

**What it is:**

The new teaching strategies become a regular part of the teacher’s practice, and their transformed perspective on instruction is fully integrated.**Math Coach example:**The teacher consistently uses inquiry-based methods and seeks ongoing opportunities to refine their approach, now viewing math instruction as a dynamic process focused on student discovery rather than solely delivering content.

These phases help illustrate how transformative learning can guide teachers to critically reflect on and improve their instructional practices, ultimately leading to better student outcomes.

## What transformational learning means to school districts

It is unrealistic to expect these ten phases to occur with teachers while isolated in their own classroom. If school districts really want to see the kinds of changes necessary to ensure that all students are empowered by the opportunities math can afford, * districts need to provide ongoing and sustained coaching that allows teachers* to progress through the ten steps of transformational change.

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