What makes a confident maths teacher?

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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on Dec 13, 2016.

There’s no one way to find confidence in yourself. It comes from years of hard work, dedication and not being afraid to try new things. Maths Lead Lorna Dermody shares the steps she took to build teacher confidence in maths.

Whether you’re new to teaching maths or simply need a reminder to stay on track and build your skills, this one’s for you.

1. Develop your teacher subject knowledge

Tamba Roy, author of Success in Schools and a good friend of our school, says

“We become experts at whatever we choose to practice.”

To become a confident maths teacher we need to empathise with our pupils. And to do this we need to put ourselves in their shoes. I’ll admit I made myself unpopular when I got my colleagues to tackle some challenging maths problems themselves — including a Year 6 maths paper. It’s important that teachers understand what it’s like to struggle through a problem and experience the feeling of success which comes from uncovering the answer. The same success we encourage our pupils to feel.

Other ways to develop subject knowledge in your school:

  • Provide high-quality CPD opportunities
  • Recruit skilled staff willing to mentor others
  • Introduce lesson study and collaborative working
  • Make high-quality resources available

2. Deepen your understanding of pedagogy

Assurance in your own mathematical skills is important, but it won’t make you a confident maths teacher overnight. Making sure you have a secure understanding of pedagogy will help you know what’s right for your children, when you need to challenge them and when they need some extra support. Using high-quality CPD and well-researched teaching material can help support this goal.

A deep understanding of pedagogy means you can:

  • Prepare for any misconceptions during lessons
  • Support children that struggle to grasp concepts
  • Challenge children who grasp concepts quickly
  • Teach with high-quality materials to develop conceptual understanding

3. Change mindsets in the classroom

A confident maths teacher changes pupils’ mindsets. Half of the battle is encouraging children to admit they’ve made a mistake and move on from it; to take away their fear that the mistake could stop them from learning. In my class, we’ve created a magnificent mistakes wall, celebrating their mistakes and acknowledging that they’re an important part of learning. When pupils shift their attitudes towards learning, they start to take risks and reap bigger rewards.

  • Embrace struggle in the classroom
  • Be creative and have fun with maths
  • Celebrate success but more importantly celebrate mistakes
  • Be positive, passionate and enjoy the beauty of mathematics
is a Year 6 teacher and Maths Subject Leader at Mellers Primary School in Nottingham and an active member of the East Midlands West Maths Hub. She is a contributor to the blog.
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