O'Connor looks to encourage math discourse as principal of new school

Molly O'Connor
Molly O'Connor

By Sarah Rosenberg, CSMCE student intern, Spring 2022

As she finished her third year as principal of Bennington Elementary School in 2022, Molly O’Connor looked back fondly on the skills she took away from her experience in the 2014-15 ESU 3 cohort of Primarily Math, both as a teacher and as an administrator.

“Primarily Math positively impacted my instruction in many ways. What stands out most is my strong understanding of how students learned mathematics,” O’Connor said. “I learned so much about best practice and intentionality of instruction.”

This upcoming fall, the Omaha native will be taking on the role of principal at Stratford Elementary, a new school in Bennington. She said she is excited to bring all she has learned from NebraskaMATH courses into the new role.

“Understanding how students learn mathematics, how important math discourse is, and incorporating purposeful math planning are all things I hope to bring to Stratford Elementary,” O’Connor said. “All of our work with guided math and providing instruction at the level of all students will be important in our success.”

O’Connor began her career in education as a fourth- and second-grade teacher at Hitchcock Elementary for five years. She then moved into an administrative position as the administrative intern at Rockwell Elementary for three years. This role showed O’Connor the level of impact she could make.

“I have always wanted to be in education, teaching kids. What I realized I loved just as much is working with adults and helping them continue to grow and improve. As a building principal, I get the best of both worlds,” O’Connor said.

In working with other teachers at Bennington Elementary who also went through the program, the school was able to refine their curriculum using techniques learned through Primarily Math.

“Math has been an exciting content area for us recently,” O’Connor said. “Many of our teachers have embraced math discourse, allowing for multiple methods of solving problems, and being intentional about group students based on mathematical understanding. They have found the importance of foundational skills and identifying how students learn and understand math to target missing skills.”

Beyond working with teachers at her own school, O’Connor likes to utilize the network of teachers she has built in order to encourage others to participate in the program.

“Knowing the program myself has allowed me to encourage others to apply, go through the program, and support the implementation of what they’ve learned. When I hear someone is interested, I am the first to help with a letter of recommendation and support the application process,” O’Connor said.

Looking ahead, she said the concepts she learned during the Primarily Math program will help her in her new role. Having applied her skills as principal of Bennington Elementary, O’Connor is ready to take the lead at Stratford.

“Bennington Elementary has done a phenomenal job of making math a focus in terms of intentional grouping and offering instruction based on the trajectory of learning,” O’Connor said. “I hope to continue that practice and encourage math discourse in all classrooms.”