How I Build Math Mindsets into My School Culture

When I joined my K-8 school community a few years ago, our students were, on average, in the 18th percentile in math achievement. These days, despite all the disruptions and traumas they’ve experienced during pandemic learning, our students are demonstrating mastery at and beyond the 40th percentile, with more and more students in the 90th percentile. I’ve led this growth by making instructional shifts on two levels: our classroom culture and our school culture. In my previous blog post, I shared my two classroom-level strategies. In this one, I’m excited to share the two building-level strategies that are working for my students:

Scheduling schoolwide intervention and enrichment periods:

My team and I used to schedule MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) interventions within class blocks to provide individualized instruction for students who were facing academic challenges. We thought this was a great idea – until our students’ feedback told us otherwise. We realized that if a student is struggling to master a new math unit, and if we keep pulling them out of math class to work on the last unit, it’s easy for them to start thinking, “I’ll always be behind in math.” Or if we keep pulling them out of an elective, they might start thinking, “I’m getting punished for falling behind in math.” Those students are already having a hard time staying positive and embracing productive struggle, so those are the last messages we want to send them!

That’s why we added a new block to our schedule: our intervention and enrichment period. When that period begins, students who are excelling might move to a different classroom to work on a project with a TA, while the students who need more review time might keep working with their teacher. For students who can benefit from tier-two and tier-three instruction, it’s a time dedicated to their growth. And for students who don’t need that support, it’s an opportunity to collaborate on projects and go deeper with their learning. This lets us send the same empowering message to all of our students: They’re all capable of incredible growth, and we’re going to provide everything they need to grow. 

Providing inclusive after-school support:

We took the same inclusive approach to building our after-school program: Instead of framing it as a remedial resource, only for students who are experiencing academic challenges, we’ve structured it as a growth resource that every student can take advantage of. Teachers, TAs and instructional specialists sign up to provide after-school support, depending on capacity. To keep this sustainable, I do a new roster of sign-ups every few weeks and I put a lot of care into letting teachers know they can step forward and back freely – no pressure, ever. This really works for us, because when a teacher signs up to provide after-school support, they’re doing it with intention – so they’re bringing a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the kids who need that support. Now, when a student has a tough time in class, we can say, “Hey, come work on this with us at the end of the day,” and they won’t feel singled out – because they know their fellow students will also be visiting teachers throughout the building, to get support for all kinds of learning.

We school leaders know that when students fall behind in their learning, it can be easy for them to get discouraged, feel isolated and start thinking, “I’m just not a math person,’ or” “I’m never going to be good at this.” That’s why it’s so important for us to provide a schoolwide culture that counters those mindsets – by showing kids that no matter where they are in their learning journeys, they’re capable of succeeding. With strategies like these, we can build school communities where all students are learning and all students are rising – together.

Previously, I shared the lesson-planning strategies my team and I use to promote success in math class (and every class!). If you missed that post, you can take a peek at our approach here.

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