How We Teach is the Message

Math Specialist as Modeler or Model Illuminator


Leading Teachers to Impact Student Learning, Part 2: Math Specialist as Modeler or Model Illuminator

This blog post is the second in a series based on a talk I have given at NCSM 2016, AMTNJ 2016, AAMT 2017, and the T3 International Conference 2017 about growing teacher leaders and the many roles that mathematics specialists play in this work. In this post, we explore the idea of Mathematics Specialist as Modeler and/or Model Illuminator and discuss the role of ignition in creating and sustaining our motivation for growth. Refer back to Part 1 here. See Part 3 and Part 4 of this blog post to continue the story.

So, how do we help teachers in our care transform into their teacher leader selves?

Teachers to Teacher Leaders

This brings me to a second important role that I believe we play as math specialists: that of MODELer or MODEL ILLUMINATOR.

Modeler or Model Illuminator

First, here’s Clara again. My husband—best dad ever—is recording this. He had been working in the garden and Clara insisted on “helping.”

Clara Gardening

What do you think my husband (not pictured) is wearing right now?

Clara Gardening

A hat. Boots. Knee pads. Gloves. (Clothes, as well, of course.) But Clara—at all of a year and a half in this video—had to be just like dad. We are born imitators.

How does this apply to education? Back to The Talent Code: Daniel Coyle discusses the importance of ignition—a small, ephemeral, yet powerful idea—something that creates and sustains your motivation for growing—the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be.


Coyle describes how once you see someone like you doing the work, it inspires you and ignites you, and makes you believe that you can do that same thing yourself. We are born imitators. And through the process of imitation, we begin our process of growth.

As such, I believe an important area of our work is to model and/or illuminate models of teachers as teacher leaders—to showcase examples of teacher leadership in action, to show our fellow teachers what is possible—and to possibly ignite their growth in the process.

Edith Wharton said: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Spreading light

Sometimes we can be the candle—the modeler—showcasing, sharing, or modeling a best practice. Other times, it is more valuable to be the mirror (the model illuminator) showcasing someone like our teachers who is doing the hard work that our teachers want to do. Remember: we are born imitators who are ignited by seeing people like ourselves doing the work that we want to do.

What additional roles do we play as math specialists in the pursuit of increasing student learning? Read on to Part 3 in the Leading Teachers to Impact Student Learning blog series to explore this topic further.



Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. New York, NY: Bantam.

Wharton, E. (1902). Vesalius in Zante. (1564). North American Review, 175, 625-631.

Michelle Rinehart


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