School leaders play an integral role in setting the stage for a positive, inclusive mathematics learning environment. Here are five ways that administrators can promote a math-positive culture:
1. Recognize and Support Effective Math Teaching
In a school with a high-quality mathematics program, every student has the opportunity to learn challenging, worthwhile, engaging, and relevant mathematics (Seeley, 2016). A high-quality math program gives every student the opportunity to become a “math person” (p. 25).
Content: Math content has a blend of computation, concepts, and problem solving for all students.
Habits of Mind: Math focuses on students learning to think mathematically and make sense of what they do.
Teachers: All students are taught by a professional teacher who likes mathematics and knows math deeply. Teachers reflect on their practice and continue to develop as experts in effective math teaching practices.
Teaching and Learning: Students have the opportunity to work on engaging problems, productively struggle, discuss their thinking, and learn from mistakes to develop mathematical proficiency.
Assessment: Effective formative assessment, which allows teachers to monitor and help students improve their learning, as well as maintain focus on their goals, occurs on a on a daily basis.
Teacher Evaluation: Leaders use multidimensional teacher evaluation systems that reward instruction that helps students develop proficiency as mathematical thinkers.
Outreach: School leaders and teachers involve and communicate with families to share the math program, including purposes and intended outcomes; and share what families can do to help all students become mathematically proficient thinkers.
2. Promote a growth mindset in math….in both teachers and students.
If a teacher believes that students are limited in terms of how far they can go, the teacher is likely to set low expectations and fail to adequately challenge students. A teacher’s mindset affects plans for daily teaching as well as interactions with students during class (Seeley, 2016).
Both teachers and students can benefit from learning about growth mindset and the potential to become smarter as they tackle challenging mathematics (p. 5).
3. Recognize that being “smart” in math does not have to do with speed.
It’s a common misconception that someone who’s “good” in math is someone that can compute quickly and accurately.
There are many ways to be smart in math: Students can see relationships among numbers or quantities, be creative problem solvers, or solve problems in non-routine ways. Other students may be good at visually representing problems (Seeley, 2016).
A note on fluency: We need to be careful not to equate fluency with the ability to quickly complete timed tests on fact recall. Fluency means a student can accurately, efficiently, and flexibly apply a fact or procedure when needed. Fluency builds on conceptual understanding and depends on connecting ideas from different parts of mathematics to perform computations (p. 9).
All students should have the opportunity to access mathematics from different entry points and become successful math students.
4. Ensure that the five strands of mathematical proficiency are being addressed.
- Understanding: comprehending concepts
- Computing: performing procedures efficiently, flexibly, and accurately
- Applying: using math to formulate and solve problems
- Reasoning: explaining and justifying using logic
- Engaging: making sense of math and seeing it as useful
5. Be a facilitator of change.
- Invest in teachers: This includes professional learning, providing additional requested resources, and scheduling time for collaborative planning.
- Rely on your math experts: This includes Math Specialists, Department Heads, or Math Team Leads
- Create opportunities for collaboration: Find ways to offer time for teachers to collaborate. Professional learning with colleagues can serve as a powerful stimulus for growth.
- Protect your teachers: To the extent possible, work to keep outside initiatives from interfering with daily teaching and learning.
- Understand the change process: Change is a process, not an event; and change takes time. Establish a reasonable timeline for reaching goals and commit to stay the course.
More information can be found this Research Brief: What Does Good Math Instruction Look Like?
Seeley, C. L. (2016). Building a math-positive culture: How to support great math teaching in your school. Alexandria: ASCD.