Coaching for a Mathematical Mindset, Part 1

by Sue Chapman, Professional Learning Specialist
March 30th, 2017

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There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of mathematical mindset and its impact on student learning. In About Teaching Mathematics, Fourth Edition, Marilyn Burns identifies six dispositions that are important for students to develop in the math classroom:

  • Interest to figure out solutions to problems
  • Willingness to persevere when solutions are not immediate
  • Ability to check solutions by solving problems in a different way
  • Understanding that incorrect answers are valuable for learning and, therefore, be willing to risk making errors at times
  • Ability to accept frustrations that come from not knowing
  • Understanding that there’s a different between not knowing an answer and not having figured it out yet. (p. 22-23)

Marilyn goes on to say, “In order to help students develop these characteristics, it’s essential that they see them regularly modeled and encouraged by their teachers. Only then will students feel that their teacher values their thinking and that the classroom is a safe place for them to participate openly and fully” (p. 23). Teachers must hold themselves responsible for nurturing students’ mindsets in addition to developing their mathematical understandings and skills.

As mathematics coaches, we need to be knowledgeable about mindset theory so we can help teachers apply these important understandings in the classroom. Mindset affects student learning, but it also has implications for adult learning and therefore for coaching. As coaches, we must continually seek to understand the mindsets of the teachers we support, asking ourselves “What does this teacher believe about her own math abilities and her ability to facilitate math learning in students? What does she believe about her students’ capacity to learn mathematics?” Math coaches must believe that all teachers are capable of developing positive attitudes towards mathematics and growing in their effectiveness as mathematics teachers. Coaches must also see themselves as people who have the capacity to support teachers in this learning process.

Growth mindset empowers teachers to be self-directed in their professional learning, to study and continuously refine their effectiveness in facilitating student learning. This professional learning mindset is key to improving schools and school systems. It is key to providing all students in all classes in all schools with opportunities to learn and succeed in mathematics.

Questions for Reflection by Mathematics Coaches:

  • How would you describe your mindset towards the teachers you serve? Towards your own capacity to facilitate teacher learning?
  • We all have a fixed mindset at times. In what contexts do you find yourself operating from a fixed mindset towards the learning capacity of others? How might your choose to adopt a growth mindset in these settings?
  • What are some ways you might foster a mathematical mindset in the teachers you support?

Please share your thoughts and your stories in the comments.

Sue Chapman, Professional Learning Specialist Math Solutions

Sue Chapman is a professional educator, presenter, and author who has devoted over 30 years to instructional improvement and mathematics education. Throughout her career, Sue has served and taught in several different areas of professional education, including instructional and leadership positions. Sue’s passion for professional learning and her ability to inspire teachers to come together around a shared vision of success have been instrumental in helping schools and districts develop systems and internal capacity to achieve continuous improvement of mathematics instruction.


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