Mathematics and Human Connections
Every year I have the honor of reading through scholarship applications for the Nancy Davis Welch Memorial PD night.
I’d like to share a particularly moving story with you.
“Last year I had a student who was not ready to learn. Her home life was rough, she had been taken from her parents and placed with her grandparents. She was thriving with her grandparents and then, her parents got custody back. Although this seemed like a great thing, it wasn’t. She stopped thriving, she would come to school and cry and yell and kick and scream. She would even go as far as to bite. Quickly I knew something was wrong.
Instead of pushing academics on this already stressed out 6 year old I pushed learning and school as a fun place to be. We would draw and color, play Legos and even watch some YouTube videos. After what seemed like endless weeks of helping her be happy at school she opened up. She told me that she was now happy at school and loved to come here.
After that you wouldn’t imagine the growth she made. She made friends, she learned coping skills for at home and best of all, she made academic growth! Each day I think about how that could have gone differently. How I could have continued to academically push her before she was ready and where she would have ended up if that was the case. I truly believe that I made a difference in her life, but she also made one in mine.
I learned that yes, data and numbers and grades and academic growth are all important aspects of school, being ready to learn and being happy at school are even more important and sometimes it’s important to redefine success for our kiddos.”
Many of the applications mirrored the sentiments of this story where teachers discussed fostering human connections with those students who needed it the most.
What we see here is the power of human connection at work. From the Superintendent of Atlanta, a reminder that “We need to focus on students’ strengths. We need to focus on ‘what’s strong, not wrong’ about them and the school.” We want to shift and operate from a positive stance of what students can do, and then support students in their social and emotional learning.
Darling-Hammond, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, writes “Much of what predicts your ability to engage with academics or any other work is the ability to focus your attention, to manage your emotions, to be resilient when you run into problems, to be resourceful and engage with others to get and give information.” We won’t find the success that we are hoping for until we attend to all of these aspects.
It is critically important to attend to social and emotional security of our students in the math classroom. We need secure, confident, comfortable students if we want students to achieve the eight standards for mathematical practices (SMPs). The language of the SMPs is strong, requiring much of our students. We can’t expect a child to take risks, persevere, and engage in mathematical arguments if they can’t manage their stress and emotions.
Not only do we need to attend to our student’s social and emotional well being, in the midst of the extreme needs we are facing in schools, we need to take care of ourselves. As teachers, it is imperative that we connect with our students but also with each other on a human level. From the Aspen Institute, “Teaching must be viewed as a team sport, not an individual act of courage.” We need to foster connections with each other within our schools.
Cristina Lincoln-Moore discussed how mindfulness can help both educators and students in her blog, Talk Number to Me. She presented a plan during her 2019 NCSM talk in San Diego. She shared the power of a program of mindfulness such as the Niroga Institute program of Dynamic Mindfulness.. The principles of this approach are trauma research informed, and can easily be put in place. There is a short video that you can watch here.
We can also learn these strategies from the book Teaching Transformative Life Skills to Students. All of these resources can help us both manage our stress and teach our students skills to manage their own emotions.
As we move into summer, we have an opportunity to relax and rejuvenate. Let’s work to find a way to bring that feeling into our classrooms, into our schools, and to intentionally plan for conveying these tools and strategies to our students. Let’s make a commitment to create time and space for connections to our students and to each other.
Have a wonderful summer and remember:
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