MitPY 9: Team Games

This MitPY is from commenter HollyBolly, who asked on the previous MitPY for some advice on diplomacy.*

Can you guys after all the serious business give me some advice for this situation: on a middle school Pythagoras and trig test, for a not very strong group of students. Questions are to be different from routine ones provided with the textbook subscription. I try “Verify that the triangle with sides (here: some triple, different from 3 4 5) is right, then find all its angles”. After reviewing, the question comes back: “Verify by drawing that a triangle with sides…”

How do you respond if that review has come from:

A. The HoD;

B. A teacher with more years at the school than me but equal in responsibilities in the maths department;

C. A teacher fresh from uni, in their20s.


*) Yeah, yeah. We’ll stay right out of the discussion on this one.

15 Replies to “MitPY 9: Team Games”

    1. Hi, Marc. I’ll have to admit, my gut reaction was the same as yours. However: 1) It’s hardly trivial to change schools; 2) Don’t pretty much *all* schools in Victoria have similar mandatory review crap? 3) If they don’t have mandatory review crap, they probably have their own, special crap.

      Maybe HollyBolly was just crying out to hear back a voice of sanity. But, assuming they were genuinely look for advice, what is the practical advice? I’m genuinely curious about the diplomacy issue here: how does one deal with colleagues screwing up your work? (My solution is to not have colleagues …)

  1. Firstly, my sympathies. Any question which includes the phrase “verify by drawing” is going to be problematic.

    But as to offering some ideas which *might* help:

    1. Ask if you can find the middle ground: “You are told that a triangle with sides 7, 24 and 25 is a right angled triangle, either show this is true or show that it is not true. You *may* find it useful to include a diagram in your response.”

    2. If it comes from the HoD and your HoD is an idiot (which does happen) then maybe follow point (1) but in an email so you have a record of your objection if it ever comes to that (I’m a teacher with 5+ classes, no position of responsibility but a few years of experience and I do this with all colleagues I don’t totally trust or anyone in a position of responsibility; I’ve rarely needed the proof, but it does me feel a bit more secure at times)

    3. If it comes from a brand new teacher, this is actually perhaps more difficult as sometimes, teachers who have not been institutionalized can have great ideas and I want to encourage them to share said ideas… maybe something along the lines of “I like your idea and I like your reasoning…” (both lies, btw), “I just wonder if these students will properly understand it written this way, how about…” might work.

    And finally, whatever the final outcome, these things tend to pass. They come again each year in different forms though, so if you don’t yet have a liquor cabinet, install one.

  2. With any of the alternative audiences you could perhaps try “Oh I thought the converse of the Pythagoras Theorem was in the syllabus. If not then maybe we could permit the student to use a drawing”. This gives the fool an escape route that their comment was based on the syllabus, not their ignorance. They may scurry off to look up “converse”.

  3. I don’t have experience teaching, but too much experience when it comes to talking sense to power … never easy. And I think that’s the difficulty in all those examples (even if the power’s in different guises).

    First, express gratitude for the feedback. Any feedback is better than none. Even if you “win” this debate, you should genuinely want the feedback to keep coming.

    Next, be upfront that you disagree and you’d like to discuss it to understand why they made the suggestion they did. Even if they have missed the target, you can bet their intentions are good and they had their reasons to suggest the change. Where you want to get to is a position where you understand their intent and you address it – without sacrificing what you know is important.

    This is not a problem, this is an engaged colleague and an opportunity to establish a fruitful working relationship that could pay dividends time and time again.

    Frankly, I disagree with the suggestion to lie or get-it-in-wriring … both examples of below the line behaviour that should be avoided like the plague.

    Now, maybe after all this, you discover the counterparty is wrong and unreasonable and pigheaded. Then you need to start thinking about things like escalation of the issue, losing this battle to preserve the relationship, having a third party mediate the discussion, or other alternatives … but 99% of the time this won’t be the case.

    1. I remain in favour of getting feedback in writing. Whether it be written comments on a draft or comments in an email, I prefer to not have to try and remember everything someone has said when re-drafting (or perhaps writing a similar assessment a year later).

      The idea of discussing it is a noble one, but schools are time-poor places at the best of times.

    2. Stephen, without suggesting your general approach is misguided, it is simply false to suggest that any feedback is automatically better than none. I also don’t see anything whatsoever “below the line” about RF’s suggestion to try to have the discussion in such a situation be conducted in writing. Finally, at times it is clearly preferable to lie, and/or is largely unavoidable, as evidenced by your own suggestion. To express gratitude for appalling feedback will usually be dishonest.

      1. I guess for me, lying is automatically below the line. (I actually just don’t have the mental power to maintain multiple counterfactual versions of the world in my head! 😥) Next time I speak to the person I need to remember what I said about the feedback, did I say I liked it? Did I tell them I didn’t? Too hard.

        And I am truly grateful for all feedback … just that it’s coming (high and low quality feedback is better than silence).

        I just don’t think you need to be so strategic when everyone basically wants the same outcomes.

        I do take the point though that I am probably being naive, given my lack of experience in this working environment.

  4. Hi HollyBolly. Interesting dilemma. One that all of us are constantly challenged by. Here are my opinions:

    1) Always acknowledge feedback. Even if it’s dumb feedback. This costs nothing and shows professionalism and respect (the giver of the feedback has given you his/her valuable time to read and respond to what you’ve written).

    2) Feedback and the response to it should always be in writing so that their is a historical record. If nothing else, it’s evidence for:
    i) your annual review that you’re both doing your jobs and working as part of a team.
    ii) it counts as professional practice for V(ampires)IT purposes. There are other good reasons (see RF’s earlier comment)

    3) If the feedback is dumb, don’t say that it’s dumb. Simply thank the person for his/her feedback, say that you’ve decided not to use it and GIVE REASONS why. Again, it’s about professionalism and respect. (Remember – you might give feedback someone else thinks is dumb. You would want to feel listened to and would want to know why your feedback was rejected). Plus, you don’t want to get a reputation as not being a team-player.

    4) Treat everyone equal when it comes to the reasons why you’re not going to accept their feedback. Whether the feedback comes from a Head, a ‘senior’ teacher or a first-year-out, your reasons won’t change. But HOW you give those reasons might (should) differ in each case.

    5) Working with colleagues is a fact of life in any workplace. It can be rewarding and it can be frustrating. It can be very hard to do all of the above and some people might argue that you shouldn’t have to. But these are simply my opinions – and the wonderful thing about opinions is that you can listen to as much or as little of them as you want. Remember, opinions are like ass-holes, everyone has one.

    If you’ve read this far, then it’s time for the ‘pay-off’. Just a reminder of what’s got us to this point:

    “I try “Verify that the triangle with sides (here: some triple, different from 3 4 5) is right, then find all its angles”. After reviewing, the question comes back: “Verify by drawing that a triangle with sides…”

    Here is what I would do: I would acknowledge the feedback and then propose the following re-wording:

    Given that the triangle with sides ‘some triple’ is a right-triangle:
    (a) Draw the triangle and label its sides.
    (b) Use an appropriate theorem to prove that it’s a right-triangle.

    Ask the feedbacker whether part (a) is what s/he had in mind. Say it’s a great suggestion because:
    i) it’s important to know whether or not a student understands that the hypotenuse is the longest side on a right-triangle.
    ii) it assists answering part (b).

    BUT NOTE …. There’s a problem with the above question UNLESS students know that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 \Leftrightarrow right-triangle.
    Typically (and unfortunately) only ‘Right-triangle \Rightarrow a^2 + b^2 = c^2 is taught in most schools. Do you see the distinction.
    Note: Teaching a^2 + b^2 = c^2 \Rightarrow right-triangle’ is a simple proof by contradiction.
    So perhaps the feedback is doubly useful because it might also influence how you teach Pythagoras’ Theorem.

    Feel free to include the above ‘But note’ in your response to the feedback – a decision might be made to delete the question as a consequence.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents of ass-holes *ahem* I mean opinions.

    PS – Despite Marty’s *, he can be very diplomatic (I’ve had first-hand experience on numerous occasions).
    PPS – Sorry for ruining your image, Marty.

  5. I think that the best approach in this scenario is simply to scrap the question entirely, and come up with a new question.

      1. Marty,

        You make me recollect an old proverb:
        “no fish will be alive eventually in absolutely pure water‘.
        Notwithstanding, it is also hard to endure water at certain contamination level.
        Your suggestion is too strong, but can be extremely straightforward at certain stages.


        You totally illustrated some admirable philosophies and principles of sophisticated human skills.
        I remember once you were saying to me – “rectifying your colleague’s mistake(s) in a diplomatic manner”
        Which is in very similar situation to the scenario described in this post.


        What I am saying here might not be as useful as all other people, but I might be able to add on a few things from a different angle:

        1. Who doesn’t like softened tones in any sort of communications? By “softened” I do not mean putting yourself in a subjugated position, but in a modest and learning position. In your situation, it is highly recommended to always acknowledge the person who provided feedback for you.

        2. When teaching parallel classes, it depends on which school we are working at. Different schools have different cultures: certain schools may have teachers doing things more independently and individually, while other schools may also have two teachers sharing one big class, etc. If we are the first case, then we can have our total arbitration to decide what to use/not to use in *our* own classroom. If it is the second case, we should follow what we have been suggested (instructed), but keep all communications documented in place. In case any conflicts arear, we alway tend to keep any sorts of evidence “in the favour of us”. (Red five accurately pointed this out in his comment)

        3. Be it HoD, experienced parallel colleagues or fresh colleagues, the rule of thumb can be – we show gratitudes towards different voices, and use humor to make the atmosphere harmonious if necessary.

        4. After some years experience in the field, I found that it is always true for us to keep things simple – don’t think too much, because thinking too much may bring some adverse side effects, sometimes. Just try to think positively as much as we can, and bring more laughters to the colleagues around us. Less office politics, more joy, passion and genuine mindsets.

        Hope my nagging could answer your question in a small way.

        P. N.

        1. P.N., I wasn’t serious. But the suggestion that a fine question be thrown out, simply because of a clown colleague, got up my nose. You might be surprised how diplomatic I can be.

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