"Watching my kids struggle is the BEST feeling in the world!" - said nobody ever.
As a parent and a math teacher, I hear the words, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard!” on a daily basis. I try to use every opportunity I can to build their strength and confidence through the struggle by providing just enough information to get them started. Don’t get me wrong - I’d be LYING if I made it seem like I ALWAYS do this. Sometimes, the pressures of time, all the “to-dos”, and too many fires to put out at once causes me to rush the process and go into rescue mode way too soon.
Brene Brown addresses this issue in her book, Daring Greatly. She writes, “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.” She continues, “Raising children who are HOPEFUL and who have the COURAGE to be vulnerable means STEPPING BACK and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail.”
This doesn’t mean we need to be completely hands off and let them tank without ANY support. From the sidelines, offer words of inspiration (“I believe in you. You CAN do this!”) and a nudge in the right direction (“Here’s how I would suggest getting started…”), then back off and let your kids stumble through the struggle. If we are always in the arena fighting their battles for them, we strip them of the opportunity to believe in themselves. I am forever grateful for my parents and mentors because they rarely came to my rescue! Nope. They let me fall, coached me from the sidelines, then gave me space to activate MY BRAVE and go at it again.
Hope is LEARNED, friends! “Children with HIGH LEVELS OF HOPEFULNESS have experience with adversity. They’ve been given the opportunity to struggle and in doing that, they learn to BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES.”
What is something your kids (or students) have struggled with recently where you jumped in too soon? Replay that situation and reflect on how you could have backed off...offering just enough to get them started, then allowing them space to walk through the struggle to reach that “I did it” moment. Comment below!
Me: Hi, I’m Sarah.
New Acquaintance: Hi, I’m [insert NA’s name here]. What do you do for a living?
Me: I’m a math teacher! Actually, I have a business where I make math videos and resources to help students, teachers, and even parents understand how to tackle math problems.
NA: Oh my! Thank goodness for you. I’m terrible at math. So are my kids.
Then, cue the "New Acquaintance’s" sideways and slightly downward stare as they travel back in time to their horrific experiences with math in school. I get this ALL. THE. TIME from people, including kids.
When I launched the Math Misconception Mystery series, it was important to me to start each episode with the Mathematical Mindset Creed. (Sidenote: If you’re a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade teacher, and you do not have this series in your life yet, do yourself a favor and click here to preview a free episode!)
The very first line in the creed is “This is a safe place to make mistakes. Mistakes help me learn and grow.” This declaration is a game changer, ya’ll! People tend to hate math because they don’t like to make mistakes and feel embarrassed when they do. We have to be intentional about how we set the stage for learning.
This year, my students busted out the Mathematical Mindset Creed every day before we started a lesson. In the beginning, I made a big fuss over the idea that everyone is going to make mistakes this year. Even me! That’s math. And frankly, that’s life. When I make a mistake, a legit mistake, not one that I’m throwing out there on purpose, it is like a PAR-TAY in my class. Suddenly, we are all super invested in the problem, analyzing every step to figure out where I went wrong. And when we do, I explode with smiles and say, “When I make a mistake, it is like a game for me. I HAVE to figure out where I went wrong.” Of course, I always have a student stand up and shout, “Ms. McCarthy, this is a safe place to make mistakes!” To which we would all chime in, “MISTAKES HELP ME LEARN AND GROW!!!”
How do you create a “safe place” where mistakes are necessary to learn and grow? Comment below!