As a high school math teacher, I made a promise to myself that I would always uplift and encourage my students when they struggle. I’d remind them that math is a process and learning is a part of the fun. I’d try multiple strategies and ask them “Where do you think we should start?” to provide them with autonomy in their learning process. As I moved into coaching and leadership roles, I was intentional to bring these practices to the forefront of my teachers and leaders minds.
At the beginning of the school year, I often opened up professional development sessions with an activity called “Math Autobiographies.” These autobiographies serve as an opportunity to recap on one’s math journey. This activity fosters deep conversations behind why people do or don’t like math, or why they refuse to use certain words in a math class. During the exercise, I would often hear people say, “I became a math teacher because I HATED math and didn’t want students to experience the same things I went through.” It was very rare that I’d hear, “I loved my math experience!” It’s an unfortunate truth, but it did get me to thinking how important it is for teachers of math to be able to confront their math identity in order to ensure they are able to promote student efficacy in math instruction.
One of my favorite books to use during some of these sessions is Impact of Identity in K-8 Mathematics: Rethinking Equity-Based Practices. This book really dives deep into not just the language we use but how to ensure students see themselves as not just doers of math, but real mathematicians. The authors give intentional and actionable steps for “Leveraging Multiple Mathematical Competencies as well as Affirming Mathematics Learners’ Identities.” While there are other topics covered within the pages, these two speak to me specifically when it comes to mindset and building student efficacy. It’s the little things, like the use of words. The difference between saying, “This is going to be hard” and “While this will be challenging, I know we are going to master this concept,” can drastically impact a students mindset towards math.
I'm passionate about mathematics because there is more than one way to solve a problem, which means math instruction can be one of the most creative experiences a person is exposed to. The question to ask ourselves now is how can we be intentional in creating classroom environments that foster a positive mindset towards math. By digging deeper, we can support our students in becoming future math educators!