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Belief in Oneself and Mathematical Success

We continuously emphasize at Mentorhood that every child is capable of achieving success in math studies—that math is learnable. We’ve also touched on how making math fun can help kids develop a sense of ownership over the learning process.

These two ideas circle around a central theme: that each child is capable of achieving their potential in mathematics, and that they can be responsible for making that happen. This is predicated on a core self-aware impression of believing in oneself.

What is Self-Belief?

In order for kids to learn to believe in themselves, they must first possess a conception of self that acknowledges a degree of autonomy. Self-belief starts with the idea of agency, that “I am a person who does things” as opposed to strictly thinking that “things happen to me.”

When it comes to learning, this means a child being aware that they are at Point A, where they do not yet know or understand a concept, and that they need to get to Point B, where they have at least a cursory understanding of it or even have achieved mastery. While they may benefit from loads of help, they are ultimately responsible getting themselves there.

In order to translate this into self-belief, the weight of this responsibility needs to be blended with an idea of one’s capability. It’s in helping children developing this sense of capability that good educators can really shine.

Success Patterns

We at Mentorhood strive to set up a system where students believe they can succeed because they’ve seen themselves succeed in the past. They can start to recognize a pattern; they’ve mastered concepts of varying degrees of difficulty before.

Our educational approach emphasizes small class sizes and delivery methods catered to the unique makeup of our classes. We spend time getting to know each student, what motivates them, where they easily succeed, and what frustrates them. We aren’t bound by the same limitations that a large group might experience, and this frees us up to teach not only until a concept is covered, but until a student gets it right. Subconsciously, we are reinforcing the notion that every concept is masterable. They are not subject to the material, whizzing by them at a pace that only allows them to grab on to the bits that are easiest for them. Rather, the material is subject to them and will yield to their wills to learn it.

Furthermore, this success process helps to reinforce a pattern. When students get in the habit of succeeding, this creates all kinds of benefits. There is a sense of tension that accompanies learning a difficult new skill that is often accompanied by a colour of despair: “I’ll never get this right!” Habitual succeeders learn to normalize this feeling and recognize it as a confrontation between self and the unknown. It is not a predictive prescription (“you won’t be able to get this”), but rather it is simply the psychological sensation of transitioning from flat ground to uphill. It no longer needs to be intimidating, as it is the precursor to success. What new, scary topic that once may have been seen as an obstacle now becomes a challenge, like so many they have overcome before.

A good educator is an assistant not only in providing the opportunity to routinely overcome obstacles, but in recognizing the implications of that victory. As educators, we can help our students internalize this pattern as a chain of evidence speaking to their capability. The better our students get at recognizing their growth process, the more they will believe they will succeed over the next challenge as well.

Success Systems

We celebrate the foundational belief that our learners have in their success. Moreover, we encourage them to examine the process by which that success came about so that they can extrapolate practical tools to help them organize the next one.

Did they break down the concept step by step? Did they build on what they were familiar with, slowing down where the steps became new? Did they enlist help? Did they go back over a confusing part to identify the one element that threw off their momentum? Did they engage in research by asking questions, or in fun by playing games?

The more that kids experience what tools and approaches help them succeed, the more power they have to not wonder if they will succeed, but how.

This has implications for teachers, too. The best educators are the ones who, as much as they have opportunity for, explore creative approaches to the learning process that might work for different students. This teaches their students to think outside the box, to take different approaches until one clicks, and it normalizes the different learning needs across the classroom. Investigating different learning styles is creatively modelled in the classroom so that no student needs to feel anomalous.

Success Recipes

Part of the power of recognizing patterns of success is that it demystifies the learning process. Learning is, by definition, a confrontation with the unknown. Patterns, on the other hand, are a phenomenon of familiarity. This familiar framework enables students to look beyond the intimidating fog that often accompanies learning new things and distills the process into practical steps.

Convinced of their own agency, responsibility, and capability, students can then go about hunting for the ingredients that will result in a successful outcome. The more they practice this process, the more that the entire world, not just math, opens up to them. If they know—if they correctly believe based on what all the evidence would indicate—that they are capable of following recipes, then they can pick up any cookbook off the shelf and create a masterpiece.

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