How a maths champion can inspire pupil confidence in maths

|5 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post published on August 20, 2018.

Motivation is the key to inspiring confidence in maths. But this is not always easy to deliver. Motivating others is a real talent and motivating yourself — even more so.

One of the eight recommendations for closing the attainment gap in maths according to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) report Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 & 3 is to ‘Develop pupils’ independence and motivation’ and that school leaders ‘should ensure that all staff, including non-teaching staff, encourage enjoyment in maths for all children’.

But, as teachers, how do we achieve this confidence in the classroom? Maths motivation is a tricky business because so many factors intermingle but what really makes a difference is having a teacher or teachers who champion the subject in your school.

Who are maths champions?

Maths champions should make maths high profile in school. They do this by being highly visible and vocal to ensure that maths is always on the agenda through deliberate and sustained effort. If things stall they get things going again. If a wrong turn is taken, they get you back on track.

A dedicated maths champion is a passionate pedagogue, evangelical about maths with a love for the subject that they pass to pupils and the school community. They make a nuisance of themselves — but in a nice way! They never stop connecting the dots and reminding others about the importance of maths across the curriculum. They are also nudgers and budgers, always looking for that extra 1% here and that 1% there because they know that every little effort contributes towards success.

Passionate maths champions can have a lifelong impact on a child because they put heart and soul into the subject, inject it with fire, joy and excitement. Their dedication and enthusiasm are tangible. They don’t work in isolation but work as part of a team and are always recruiting. They are also committed to informed practice rather than best practice as best implies there is one ‘best’ way of doing things.

School teams with a shared interest in maths spend time creating, researching and testing maths ideas, activities, games and puzzles. They are constantly implementing and testing things that they think children will find engaging and fun. They keep their finger on the pulse of the latest research, investing time in finding out more about different teaching strategies and they commit to learning networks and pro-active CPD, both formal and informal through attending conferences and surfing Twitter.

Most importantly, they do all of this because they’re serious about helping students discover the joy and beauty of mathematics and they know that maths confidence comes from self-belief and support.

If all that sounds like hard work, that’s because it is. But becoming a maths champion is easy. It involves plenty of self-motivation but you don’t have to apply for the role, maths champions are self-appointed. Once you’ve decided to behave like a champion you begin to practice the habits of a champion.

Take the lead

Being a maths champion is normally the job of the subject leader for maths even though all teachers share the responsibility. An effective maths lead instills confidence in others by being bold, innovative and resourceful. They also have an ability to build strong relationships with others and are highly knowledgeable. They are the go-to person who may not have all the answers, but they know where to find them!

In the Teaching Leaders report ‘Firing on all cylinders‘ (2016) the ‘think-and-action tank’ LKMco pool the evidence surrounding what makes an effective middle leader (i.e. subject leaders, middle managers, heads of department, curriculum coordinators). They concluded that although there is no off the shelf best model, the broad consensus from Ofsted and academic research says that effective middle leaders:

  1. have a clearly thought through, clearly communicated and ambitious vision
  2. their vision-setting is underpinned by accurate and careful evaluations on areas for development
  3. are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their field
  4. encourage exploration and innovation, both in curriculum planning and amongst their team members
  5. are strong leaders and have an ability to confidently delegate tasks as a ‘leading professional’ and build a culture of collegiality, where there is frequent dialogue, sharing professional information and best practice.

These qualities remind me, in part, of the five Es described by Caroline Bentley-Davies in her book ‘How to be an Amazing Teacher‘ (2010), namely Enthusiasm, Expertise, Empathy, Empowerment and Enterprise. They also remind me of the 7 habits of highly effective teachers as identified by Jackie Beere in ‘The Perfect Teacher’ (2013): self-management, reflective practice, flexibility, optimism, empathy, courage and resilience and collaboration.

Champions promote maths confidence because they believe they’re making a difference, they have high expectations, they take personal responsibility, set huge goals and they collaborate to grow. They inspire confidence by understanding the impact they can have, by building capacity and being positive as a mentor and coach to colleagues and pupils.

Before bar models we need role models and to truly inspire maths confidence we need all teaching staff to be maths champions so that every child has a positive experience of maths throughout their school education.