S2 Ep13: Secondary Approaches with Mary Davis and Denise Thornton

Updated: Jul 21


In part 3 of our 3-episode series on professional development and supporting systemic educational change, we talk with Mary Davis and Denise Thornton from Charles A. Dana Center’s Leadership Team at The University of Texas in Austin, TX. Join us for a conversation on systemic change in mathematics and science education at the secondary level.


The Charles A. Dana Center is a research-based professional organization of educators that work to dismantle barriers in the education system to ensure all students have equitable access to an excellent education, with emphasis in mathematics and science education. They develop and deliver innovative curriculum and professional learning to help change and support educational systems, structures, and policies. Their purpose is to evolve education systems and curriculum to impact student’s experiences while also nurturing students’ intellectual passions to achieve new levels of success.


Mary Davis and Denise Thornton engage teachers and leaders with the processes and tools designed by the Dana Center to support mathematics achievement of all students and create conditions for ongoing professional learning and continuous improvement. They develop and refine tools and resources for educators and leaders to advance evidence-based practices in leadership, content, instruction, assessment, and learning. They design, plan, and facilitate development experiences for teachers and leaders—both in person and virtually.


Using the context of the systemic and expansive work Mary and Denise have done with the DoDEA schools (schools for students living on military bases around the world for those of you not hip to military acronyms) and the state of Louisiana, they shared their thoughts and expertise on:

  • The importance of long-term engagement between teachers, leaders, and professional learning experts to build organic and sustained growth that is developed with local educators and able to continue without outside experts.

  • The need to value and integrate the expertise teachers bring to the conversation in professional learning.

  • The value of using research-based and field tested tools to foster the professional dialogue needed to critically examine pedagogy, instructional structures, and student outcomes.

  • The critical importance of vertical alignment as a part of the discussion of systemic change in a school or district. The ripple effect of skipping a learning standard or differing interpretations of a learning standard are significant.

  • The evolution in the use and effectiveness of virtual professional learning as a part of building and sustaining systemic growth.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

  1. The Dana Center at the University of Texas-Austin is an incredible organization that has positively influenced thousands of schools and districts and millions of students.

  2. Information on the DoDEA project and the Louisiana Department of Education work that Mary and Denise discussed can be found here.

  3. If you are interested in learning more about how DoDEA schools work or have an interest in finding out what is involved in teaching at a school on a military base, click here. (Also make sure to listen to our second episode this month as our guest is a teacher at an international school in the Netherlands.)

  4. The state of Louisiana has been a national leader in supporting the systemic growth of their schools in math and science. More information can be found here.

  5. The Dana Center does phenomenal work with teachers to develop a local understanding of vertical alignment. If you are looking for a document to start your thinking, Student Achievement Partners have put together a great coherence map for the Common Core math standards.

  6. As we have in previous episodes, we had a discussion about the implementation of digital learning tools. The tools mentioned include: Padlet, Google Jamboard, Desmos Activity Builder, and CASIO Classpad.net.

  7. At the end of the episode, we referenced what may be the best sauced barbeque in the world. If you are ever in Central Texas, go to the Salt Lick. I highly recommend the burnt ends with a 50/50 blend of the regular and spicy sauce.



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