I am the Chief Evangelist for…

I have given myself a new job title and I would like you to join me in adopting the same title for yourself.  I am an Evangelist.  I want you to be an Evangelist too.  If you are reading this than most likely the job title you claim is ‘mathematics teacher’.  I am not asking you to lose this identity, but to embrace the power that comes with the additional title of ‘evangelist’.  I was already an evangelist and I did not know it.  You are too.  There is power in giving a name to what we do so that we can learn more and do it even better.  Let me back up a minute and tell you a story or two before I ask you to step into your new job tittle and the responsibility that comes with it.

A month or two ago I was reading my email in line in the grocery store when I exclaimed out loud “OMG, I just got an email from Dan Meyer!”.  I looked around and no one around me cared. Ha!  Luckily, most of the people who find my blog can identify with me in knowing what a big deal this is.   I only started my blog 8 months ago and outside of MN, most math people have had no idea who I am.  Dan Meyer was contacting me on behalf of Desmos to provide a 30 minute keynote at the Twitter Math Camp Desmos pre-conference that would happen just 2 miles from my house.  They wanted someone local to speak on anything I wanted, but if it was tech related, even better.  I immediately agreed to do so. I immediatelyamy and brian had an idea mulling around in my brain related to what I am most passionate about, my students, my family and issues related to equity and access.

A little over a year ago my sister Amy got engaged to my now brother-in-law, Brian.  When I my sister first told me about Brian she said he worked in marketing and brian linked init was complicated (we are both in education) with something to do with lead management.  A long time later I noticed his title on Linked-in.  Brian was a ‘CHIEF EVANGELIST‘.    When I first learned about his title, I had no idea what an ‘evangelist’ was.  Frankly I had misconceptions of the title that had nothing to do with buisness and had everthing to do with Christianity & church. Perhaps you too visualize the same thing I did.


After doing some research and talking to my brother-in-law Brian I now know that the term ‘Chief Evangelist’ was coined years ago by Guy Kawasaki who was Apple’s Chief evan defintionEvangelist for their new Macintosh computers in 1984.  The title ‘chief evangelist’ is a very common job title in the marketing profession and in many silicon valley tech companies.  I started reading more and learned the title comes from the Greek word ‘evangelism’ meaning “to proclaim the good news”. I learned ‘evangelism’ is to explain how your product can improve lives.  From my brother-in-law, Kawasaki and others I learned what evangelists do.  After reading & learning I realized….I am an evangelist.  I am not a marketing evangelist, I am a mathematics evangelist.

About a year ago I quietly gave myself the job title of ‘Evangelist’.  By quietly I mean I told no one.  What I did find myself doing is saying things like “I am an evangelist for Number Talks” or “I am a Desmos evangelist”.  The word ‘evangelist’ became the word I interchanged with passion and/or ‘elevator message’.   For most of my 25 years of teaching/leading I’ve beedo you know what you should do gifn mocked (lovingly I believe) for vigorously pointing at everyone I know and saying “You know what you should do?”.  I’ve developed messages about mathematics and mathematics teaching for tons of different audiences.   At this point in my career I can usually anticipate what the concerns of an audience are and prevent comments & questions by giving my 30 second to 5 minute blurb on what I believe.  In my state of Minnesota I am described as passionate.  This is true.  My career is based on learning about, becoming better at and telling others about my passions.  As of summer 2016, some of my current passions are represented below.

evang 1

One thing I know for sure is if I name something – in this case ‘evangelism’ – I can both name what I already do well and can identify how I can get better.  There is power in naming something.  I am a Chief Evangelist.  I want YOU to join me in taking this title for yourself.  I want you to join me in working to get better at our messaging about what math is and what great math teaching looks like.  Let’s not wait for others to tell us what math should be, let’s control the message

So what does EVANGELISM look like if you are a mathematics teacher?

  1.  We need to define WHO we are evangelizing to.  I would argue that all Mathematics
    teachers have 4 groups we advertise to:  Students, Parents, Teachers (both math and other subjects) & Leaders (Principals, Coaches, district leaders, community leaders). Each of these groups requires slight differences in the messages we send.
  2. We need to create opportunities to evangelize.  I don’t just wait for opportunities to evangelize to appear (though I am ready when they do).  I work hard to do things that will cause students/teachers/parents/leaders to ask me about math.  I do this in many ways.  One is in my classroom set up – specifically in how I set it up not only for students but for all the adults that will walk into my room.  I have 2 non-fail ways to get both adults and students talking about math in a way that I can swoop in and give a 30 second message about math.  One is my Math Wall of Shame (read more about it here) and my Calculator Museum (I will blog about this soon and add a link here when I do).  Both attract almost everyone to start talking about math.  I also wear something everyday that many people ask me about  – my Mathy badge in which I have intentionally placed 20 things that have 20 different 30 second evangelism speeches (I only give 1 or 2 at a time).
  3. WHAT will you be an evangelist for?  This is easy.  What do youevan for value most in math education?  What are you passionate about.  I don’t care what others want to talk about, I always have a message I will give in addition to answering whatever they want to talk about.  If someone asks me about math, or math comes up I will give an Elevator Message about what I want them to care about.  I will evangelize in 30 second to 5 minutes if you give me time.  Remember that list of things above that I am passionate about?  Those are the things I am currently an evangelist for.   I am 100% clear on my list, but I encourage you to make a list of 1-5 things you will evangelize this year.

what to doAs teachers we were never trained to be evangelizers.  The good news is we have some natural skills that we can develop.  I am dedicating some time this year to improving my evangelism skills.  I am doing this by learning from non-educators.  One I’ve started with I mentioned before, Guy Kawasaki (the godfather of Evangelism).  Here is one article I’ve started with:  ‘The Art of Evangelism’ by Guy Kawasaki (from the Harvard Business Review).  In his article he gives a list of things to do in business to be a better evangelist.  (list to the left).

One I’ve excelled at and now is named for me is ‘Get Out’.  I am pretty sure I’ve become a leader for math in my district and state because to stay sane in the job, I have left my classroom everyday multiple times and found other adults to talk to. I highly encourage all teachers to do the same.  Get out and talk to other adults everyday.

‘Unveil your passions‘ – I don’t just talk about math, in fact I talk about other things first.  Currently I will tell you about my nephews or what I am baking.  I work to connect with others, build relationships before I evangelize.

Follow-up‘.  If I tell a principal about something I am doing in my classroom or a parent about ‘Notice & Wonder’, I will follow-up with them with a link to this 5 minute video.  The simple (& really short) email or text after I’ve told them to watch something has increased the impact and effectiveness by 100 times the impact things I just say.

The last several items on the list – Offer Value, Be Interesting, Take Chances, Keep it brief, Be a mensh, Add drama, Tempt with headlines, Use hashtags, Stay Active – are all of Kawasaki’s advice for Social Media.  As I read through each, I thought of ways I could improve my involvement in the #MTBoS community.  How I could use my time on Twitter to impact the pricipals, school and community memebers that follow me – not just the math teachers I’ve used as my main focus.  I can get better.  I am sure you can too.  If you want to read the article I started with, click the link above or download this word doc I created and printed out for my desk.  Article The art of Evangelism


There is a lot more out there to help you become a better evangelizer (videos, books, article….etc).  You can only get better if you practice.  In the next few days I will be posting how I evangelize Desmos (at least one way) to students and parents.  I will link here when I do as an example to you.  I HIGHLY encourage you to think about how you will use your first parent/teacher conference to evangelize.  When parents arrive to my table each year they are expecting to hear about grades – I have a different agenda (though I do briefly talk about grades) and enter the conference with 3-5 short messages I most want them to know.

Thank you to the Desmos team for letting me do a Keynote as part of #DesCon16.  (Here are my slides: Desmos Keynote ).  Thank you to the #MTBoS and Twitter Math Camp participants for your kind words in support of what I had to say.  Thank you.  I hope you take the challenge to name yourself as an evangelizer.

REQUEST:  I’ve been told I am pretty good at delivering Elevator Messages – which is just me Evangelizing – by principals & district leaders I’ve worked with.  I know leaders will only give me a couple of minutes of focus, so I’ve worked hard to give them simple & short messages about math.  That said, I could get so much better if I practiced.  I have great messages about ‘what is math?’, ‘what does good math teaching look like?’, ‘why should your teachers be using Desmos?’, ‘what should you do with your most struggling students?’(Here is one I recommend for MEMORIZING FACTS)….and many others BUT I have so many others I could get better at.  SO, here is my ask of you. Ask me a question you want me to develop an Elevator Message around (to use as I evangelize). Who is teh audience you want to direct the answer to this question to?  I will video tape my short message and blog about it.  I can only get better with practice.  I am happy to share my journey with you and would welcome your feedback.  Tweet me at @saravdwerf or comment below or email me at sarav@mpls.k12.mn.us


Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 5 comments