Justin Dinnall, a math teacher at Kirby Middle School, will never forget the impact his own high school math teacher had on his life and career trajectory. “He was the second black male teacher I ever had and I felt connected with him in a way that allowed me to take school more seriously and allowed me to see myself as intelligent. He made me feel like I could be a mathematician,” said Dinnall.
After graduating from high school, Dinnall set off on a journey into education. Though he enjoyed math he possessed a deep fondness for the social sciences. As he progressed through college, he envisioned sharing his love of history by helping students make meaningful connections between the past and the present. Ultimately, Dinnall’s own past changed his future trajectory.
"I thought back to my experience as a ninth grader. Recognizing that there’s a shortage, there’s a deficit in math knowledge, and just understanding the impact that I can have especially being a black male teacher, gave birth to a passion for mathematics."
- Justin Dinnall
Across the country, a growing number of students don’t have teachers who look like them. In 2016, the Department of Education reported that only 7% of teachers were black and black men made up less than 2% of teachers. Reflecting on the impact that having a teacher who looked like him had on his own life, Dinnall saw only one pathway. “I thought back to my experience as a ninth grader. Recognizing that there’s a shortage, there’s a deficit in math knowledge, and just understanding the impact that I can have especially being a black male teacher, gave birth to a passion for mathematics.”
Embracing His Calling
Dinnall used to be a high school teacher. Today, he works to bridge the gap between middle school and high school math, by deeply developing students’ skills and foundational algebraic knowledge. He tells his students, ‘This is what ninth grade is going to ask of you,’ to ensure that they are prepared for advanced concepts and the rigor that comes with high school math. “There’s a lot of fundamental understanding students need to solve equations in ninth grade algebra so I make sure that I’m honing in on those pre-requisite skills,” said Dinnall.
For Dinnall, the most rewarding part of being an educator is witnessing his students build persistence and perseverance in math. Their tenacity has been a source of inspiration for the math teacher. “Math already provides a challenging environment for students to test their belief in themselves. So to see them coming with a certain mindset about fractions or other concepts and then to watch their confidence grow has been super rewarding,” said Dinnall. Kirby principal, Marian Williams, has seen students' math dispositions change greatly over the school year. “Every time I observe his class, you just see those best practices that really help kids learn,” said Williams. She recalls a student telling her that being in Dinnall’s class was the first time she was able to grasp new math concepts the first time they were introduced. “He makes sure that he monitors each student's response for accuracy. And so, he's giving in the moment, real time feedback while they're working on problems. It just sets up an environment where all kids are invested in learning.”
“Every time I observe his class, you just see those best practices that really help kids learn.”
He admits that the past year has been challenging, but it has also renewed his passion for education and given him a deeper appreciation for Green Dot’s focus on collaboration. “Having educators share materials and then present different models of how to get students to discuss and engage, I think has been the biggest win for us, because planning lessons virtually is just another ball game.” Throughout distance learning, he was able to refine his practices and acquire new strategies by partnering with math teachers within his school and across the network. “He's willing to try new things in his teaching, he's willing to take a step back and say, ‘Hey, I could do that better or that is an area where I could push my students,” said Clare Stolarksi, Green Dot Math Curriculum Specialist. After collaborating with another Green Dot math teacher, Dinnall began implementing Q&A sessions at the end of each lesson and he immediately noticed a difference. “We bounce ideas off of eachother, what works and what doesn’t work. And you just feel like you’re not alone in trying to conquer virtual learning.”
Green Dot curriculum specialists support our teachers in expanding their impact and becoming more effective in the classroom. In her role, Stolarksi develops curriculum, provides professional development, and engages in coaching relationships with teachers. During distance learning, she has worked closely with teachers on refining their craft and lesson planning practices. She promotes reflection and prompts teachers to ask themselves: “Are my lesson plans to a point where I know what question I want to ask my students and I know exactly what answer I want them to get?” Normative collaboration and a deeper focus on planning has aided our teachers in meeting students where they are in this new learning environment. “I think it's also helping our teachers get a much deeper understanding of how a conceptual and very rigorous curriculum like illustrative math can build that understanding for students and really push their math to the next level.”
Our culture is deeply rooted in collaboration. We’ve continually invested in establishing structures such as “All Green Dot Days”, which provide educators with opportunities to deepen their pedagogical and instructional expertise alongside professionals across the network. Within each of our schools, leaders and educators have typically worked together on classroom practices and systems to improve overall teacher effectiveness and boost student outcomes. We believe that only through collaboration will we fulfill our mission to prepare all students for college, leadership, and life.