Staff Wellbeing

We have reached the end of another term and I thought I would share a couple of resources I have found online and some tips from a recent QELi conference I have attended.

It is important to plan for wellbeing…a strange concept to plan to feel well but if you don’t take the time this job can take over your life.

At the QELi conference it was suggested to plan weekly for these elements:





In short plan for your fitness, time with those that matter, something that makes you feel good and something intellectual to feed your mind (read a thought provoking book).

The stats:

Here are some eye-watering statistics:

  1. over half of teachers (52%) say that they have seriously considered leaving their current job in the last 12 months and nearly half (47%) have seriously considered leaving the profession;
  2. two fifths of teachers (41%) say their job satisfaction has decreased in the last 12 months;
  3. teachers’ biggest concern regarding their job is workload (79%), followed by pay and pensions (66%), changes or reforms in the curriculum (59%) and school inspections (51%). The vast majority of teachers (86%) say that their workload has increased in the last 12 months;
  4. the majority of teachers disagree that teaching is competitive with other occupations in terms of either the financial rewards on offer (80%) or salaries (67%) and only 21% of teachers feel optimistic about their career opportunities;
  5. the top three things teachers love most about their jobs are seeing children learn and progress (91%), interacting with pupils (90%) and making a positive difference (83%). (Source)
  6. research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that 55% of teachers said work pressure is having a detrimental effect on their mental wellbeing. Note, the research was conducted in April 2014 by polling agency ComRes, surveying 2002 adults, of whom 1548 are parents and 933 have children under 25.


The published article stems from the following questions:

  1. Accountability: to whom are teachers accountable? Children, parents, school management, Ofsted, the secretary of state, the public, the media? Or are their own consciences the hardest taskmasters of all?
  2. Are the biggest pressures internal or external? What can management do to alleviate those pressures and help teachers cope with the workload?
  3. Professional development: should schools spend on this as an investment in people, rather than take a negative view and see it as a cost?
  4. How has the decline in status affected teachers? Do they feel the need to justify their working patterns?
  5. What does support look like? Preventative measures.

Intent vs. Impact

Speaking to a group of principals, one of the participants, thanked me for my time, and gave a very elegant “call-to-action” to the group.  It was not simply discussing what I talked about, but what they needed to do to move forward.

One of her quotes that resonated with me was, “Intention is not good enough; we need to look at our impact.”1  It jolted me.  There are very few people in the world that don’t want to do important things, yet what is the impact of our intentions?  Everyone wants to be a great teacher, but do all educators do things that keep them up to date and moving forward in their work? This would obviously apply to any profession.

I have always believed that you could have been a great teacher ten years ago, changed nothing, and now be irrelevant.

This is one of my favourite quotes from a college dropout who felt a post-secondary education was no longer relevant to what he needed to be successful in our world today:

“Wanting” is not good enough on it’s own; the impact of our actions are how progress is always measured.

George Couros Principal of Change


How Open-Ended Math Tasks will transform your math block

Learn how you can use open-ended math tasks to teach your students valuable mathematical problem-solving skills while deepening student engagement, understanding, and retention – Absolutely FREE!

What You Will Learn On This 1-Hour Free Webinar:
Even if you’ve heard of open-ended math tasks, it’s likely that you have yet to try them in your classroom. And trust me, you’re missing out! This slight tweak to math tasks completely changed my math block, and for good reason.

After I started using them, every student in my room became more capable and independent math thinkers. And perhaps more importantly, they became confident problem-solvers because they knew what strategies to apply when. If you’re skeptical, so was I. It took me four days of training before I even wanted to try them in my classroom. But once I did, I never went back.
In this training, we’ll talk in detail about what open-ended math tasks are, and why they’re so powerful. I’ll also show you everything you’ll need to know to implement open-ended math tasks into your math block right away.


Patience, persistence, and a willingness to grow

Another good article by George Couros:


A good friend always talks to me about the willingness to just put in the work when no one is watching. I think about this all of the time, and what it means for educators, and what it means for our students.  The most meaningful things in your life will come with effort. We know this but do we aspire to it?

The image above is not only showing what people don’t see, but it is also shows what some people are not willing to see.  Many look for the easy route, but is this what we want to teach our students?

Another friend of mine talked about some of her frustration recently and reached out to me for some advice. What I told her was that, “You feel bad because you care and you want to do awesome things.  Understand that not everything works the way we plan, own it, and then move forward.” Sometimes it is good to cry, be upset, feel like you failed.  It is not about embracing failure; it is understanding that it exists, and then moving on, and moving forward.  One of my favourite movie quotes is from Jerry Maguire, and it is simply two words;

“Breakdown? Breakthrough.”

Patience, persistence, and a willingness to grow.

What if these were traits that all of our students walked out of school with?  The future would be pretty bright.

Some other resources:

Assessment for a Growth Mindset

Failed Test ca. 2001

Students understand mathematics in many complex ways.  Students ask questions, see ideas, draw representations, connect methods, justify, and reason in all sorts of different ways.  But recent years have seen all of these different nuanced complexities of student understanding reduced to single numbers and letters that are used to judge students’ worth.  Teachers are encouraged to test and grade students, to a ridiculous and damaging degree; and students start to define themselves – and mathematics – in terms of letters and numbers.  Such crude representations of understanding not only fail to adequately describe children’s knowledge, in many cases they misrepresent it.

This chapter deals with the growth in standardised testing and that often in mathematics classes this practice is mimicked through the delivery of low-quality standardised tests.  This is despite the knowledge that these tests only assess a narrow focus within mathematics.

The testing regime of the last decade has had a large negative impact on students, but it does no end with testing; the communication of grades to students is similarly negative.  When students are given a percentage or grade, they do little else besides compare it to others around them, with half or more deciding that they are not as good as others.  Commonly students describe themselves by saying “I am an A student” or “I’m a D student”.

So this is where FEEDBACK comes into it…the reason it is in the top 10 of strategies to improve learning.

The students receiving comments (not grades) learned twice as fast as the control group, the achievement gap between male and female students disappeared, and student attitudes improved.

This is the response to a mathematics homework study where half the group were given grades and half the group were given diagnostic comments and no grades.

Race to Nowhere

An American documentary that addresses the stress upon today’s students:


Assessment for Learning

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam provide some valuable insights into the use of assessment for learning.

Teachers who use A4L spend less time telling students their achievement and more time empowering student to take control of their learning pathways.

The 3 vital questions:

  1. Where students are now
  2. Where students need to be
  3. Ways to close the gap

Developing Student Self-Awareness and Responsibility

The most powerful learners are those who are reflective, who engage in metacognition – thinking about what they know – and who take control of their own learning.  A major failure of traditional mathematics classes is that students rarely have much idea of what they are learning or where they are in the broader learning landscape.  They focus on methods to remember but often do not even know what area of mathematics they are working on.

There are many strategies for encouraging students to become more aware of the mathematics they are learning and their place in the learning process.  Here are 9 favourites of the author of Mathematical Mindsets:

  1. Self-Assessment
  2. Peer Assessment
  3. Reflective Time
  4. Traffic Lighting (understand (green), partially understand (yellow) and need help (red) – some Teachers hand out coloured paper cups)
  5. Jigsaw Groups (work together to become experts on a particular area and then split and join new groups to share information)
  6. Exit Tickets
  7. Online Forms
  8. Doodling
  9. Students write questions and tests

Advice on Grading

Many teachers, unfortunately, are forced into grading, as it is a requirement of their school district or the administrators of their school.  The following lists compiles advice on ways to grade fairly and to continue communicating positive growth messages even when faced with a grading requirements:

  1. Always allow students to resubmit any work or test for a higher grade;
  2. Share grades with school administrators but not with the students;
  3. Use multidimensional grading
  4. Do not use a 100-point scale
  5. Do not include early assignments from mathematics class in the end-of-class grade
  6. Do not include homework, if given, as any part of grading

Not all practical but worth thinking about and discussing at another time.  Some of our feedback work should be designed to provide students with opportunities to improve on drafts and early tests.


From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping

math ad 5

Tracking is a process often used in many schools in United States where students are placed into tracked groups in seventh grade.  These separate classes provide higher- or lower-level content to students.

Opportunities to Learn

One key factor in student achievement is known as “opportunity to learn” (OTL).  Put simply, if students spend time in classes where they are given access to high-level content, they achieve at higher levels.

We cannot know what a 4- or 14 year old is capable of, and the very best environments we can give to students are those in which they can learn high-level content and in which their interest can be piqued and nurtured, with teachers who are ready to recognize, cultivate and develop their potential at any time.

Teaching Heterogeneous Groups Effectively: The Mathematics Tasks

  1. Providing Open-Ended Tasks
  2. Offering a Choice of Tasks
  3. Individualised Pathways (SMILE –

Teaching Heterogeneous Groups Effectively: Complex Instruction

Experienced teachers know that group work can fail when students participate unequally in groups.  If students are left to their own devices and they are not encouraged to develop productive norms, this is fairly likely to happen: some students will do most of the work, some will sit back and relax, some may be left out of the work because they do not have the social status with other students.


In complex instruction (CI) classrooms, teachers value, and assess students on, the many different dimensions of mathematics.  The mantra of the CI approach:

No one is good at all of these ways of working, but everyone is good at some of them

When students were interviewed in traditional mathematics classrooms as part of the study in the US, they were asked: “What does it take to be successful in mathematics?” A stunning 97% of students said the same thing: “Pay careful attention.” This is a passive learning act that is associated with low achievement (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).  At the CI classroom when students were asked the same question they came up with a range of ways of working, such as:

  • Asking good questions
  • Rephrasing problems
  • Explaining
  • Using logic
  • Justifying methods
  • Using manipulatives
  • Connecting ideas
  • Helping others

Students when faced with mathematics problems are encouraged to read questions out loud, and when they are stuck, to ask each other questions such as:

  • What is the question asking us?
  • How could we rephrase this question?
  • What are the key parts of the problem?

The students’ engagement was due to many factors:

  • The work of the teacher, who had carefully set up the problem and circulated around the room asking students questions
  • The task itself, which was sufficiently open and challenging to allow different students to contribute ideas
  • The multidimensionality of the classroom: different ways to work mathematically, such as asking questions, drawing diagrams, and making conjectures were valued and encouraged
  • The request to deal with a real-world object or idea
  • The high levels of communication among students who had learned to support each other by asking each other questions.

Assigning Competence

Teaching students to be responsible for each other’s learning


Mathematics and the Path to Equity


For mathematics can, on the one hand, be though of as an incredible lens through which to view the world; an important knowledge, available to all, that promotes empowered young people ready to think quantitatively about their work and lives and that is equitably available to all students through study and hard work.  On the other hand, mathematics can be thought of as a subject that separates children into those who can and those who cannot, and that is valuable as a sorting mechanism, allowing people to label some children as smart and others as not smart.

The Myth of the Mathematically Gifted Child

Some people, including some teachers, have built their identity on the idea they could do well in maths because they were special, genetically gifted in mathematics, and the whole “gifted” movement in the United States is built upon such notions.  But we have a great deal of evidence that although people are born with brain differences, such differences are eclipsed by the experiences people have during their lives, as every second presents opportunities for incredible brain growth. (Thompson, 2014; Wo0llett & Macquire, 2011)

Equitable Strategies

  1. Offer all students high-level content
  2. Work to change ideas about who can achieve in mathematics
  3. Encourage students to think deeply about mathematics
  4. Teach students to work together
  5. Give all students encouragement to learn maths and science
  6. Eliminate (or at least change the nature of) homework

Mindset Works


James Anderson is certified by Carol Dweck’s Mindset Works to provide training in developing Growth Mindsets in schools and organisations. This relationship allows James to provide unique and powerful resources, opportunities and training for schools and organisations.

About Mindset Works

Mindset Works’ mission is to enable a world in which people seek and are fulfilled by ongoing learning and growth. The Company translates lessons from leading universities into programs that schools can use to increase student motivation and learning.

imgres-1The Company’s Brainology® program motivates middle school and high school students to take an active role in their own academic development and gives them the tools to succeed. Children learn relevant neuroscience along with study skills, a combination that sparks their passion for learning and increases student achievement. The Mindset Works® EducatorKit is an online course for teachers to learn instructional practices that foster student ownership over their own learning.

These programs are available to students, educators, administrators, parents and anyone interested in learning how to improve their intelligence and abilities and are available through James Anderson in Australia and New Zealand.

References and Credits

The foundational references for Mindset Works are:

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 246-263.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.

The Mindset Works icons and resources used throughout this site are used with permission from Mindset Works.

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Mindset Works provides a range of products, services, and other resources. Please visit their website today.



Mindset Works


Rich Mathematical Tasks

Teachers are the most important resource for students.  They are the ones who can create exciting mathematics environments, give students the positive messages they need, and take any math’s task and make it one that piques students’ curiosity and interest.

Interestingly, I found that mathematics excitement looks exactly the same for struggling 11-year-olds as it does for high-flying students in top universities – it combines curiosity, connection making, challenge, and creativity, and usually involves collaboration.  These, for me, are the 5 C’s of mathematics engagement.

Boaler, Mathematical Mindsets

5 cases of true mathematics excitement (This is just an overview of those cases.  What is valuable and probably can’t be conveyed in this blog post is the discussions that occurred during these tasks.)

Case 1. Seeing the Openness of Numbers

With a Silicon Valley start-up group that were looking to develop an online mathematics course the author when asked to what makes a good maths question, they stopped the conversation and asked the group if they could ask them all a math question.  The author enacted a mini version of a number talk.  They asked everyone to think about the answer to 18 X 5 and to show her, with a silent thumbs-up, when they had an answer.  The team then shared their methods and there were at least six different methods.  The author drew them up visually.  It was the sharing and discussion around these methods that created the engagement and excitement in understanding that there were so many ways to think about an abstract number problem.


Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, flexibility, and multiplicity of ideas, the mathematics comes alive for people. Teachers can create such mathematical excitement in classrooms, with any task, by asking students for the different ways they see and can solve tasks and by encouraging discussion of different ways of seeing problems.

Case 2. Growing Shapes: The Power of Visualisation

 Middle School classroom in San Francisco Bay Area.  The focus was algebra, but not algebra as an end point, with students mindlessly solving for x.  Instead, algebra was taught as a problem-solving tool tha could be used to solve rich, engaging problems.  The students had just finished sixth and seventh grades, and most of them hated maths.  Approximately half the students had received a D or an F in their previous school year.

The task that created the case of mathematics excitement came from Ruth Parker; it asked students to extend the growing pattern shown below:


The success of the task was in the discussions particularly with a number of difficult boys and remained on task for 70 minutes.  Some of their work below:


Here are some important observations that reveal opportunities to improve the engagement of all students:

  1. The task is challenging but accessible
  2. The boys saw the task as a puzzle
  3. The visual thinking about the growth of the task gave the boys understanding of the way the pattern grew
  4. They had all developed their own way of seeing the pattern growth
  5. The classroom had been set up to encourage students to propose ideas without being afraid of making mistakes
  6. Taught the students to respect each other’s thinking
  7. Using their own ideas
  8. Working together
  9. Boys were working heterogeneously


Another way of solving the problem that led to discussions about why the pattern was growing as a square, why it was (n + 1) squared.

 Case 3. A Time to Tell?

When I share open, inquiry-based mathematics tasks with teachers, such as the growing shapes or “raindrop” task just discussed, they often ask questions such as, “I get that these tasks are engaging and create good mathematical discussions, but how do students learn new knowledge, such as trig functions? Or how to factorize? They can’t discover it.”

The traditional approach has been Teachers show the method and then students use them.

Researchers have found that when students were given problems to solve, and they did not know methods to solve them, but they were given opportunity to explore the problems, became curious, and their brains were primed to learn new methods, sot that when Teachers taught the methods, students paid greater attention to them and were more motivated to learn them.

So the question is not about whether we should tell or explain methods but when is the most appropriate time.  The student showed clearly that the best time was after students had explored the problems.

Case 6. From Math Facts to Math Excitement

Game: How close to 100

2 dice and a 100 grid.  Multiply the two numbers and colour in the squares.  Working towards filling the grid.

The following are some of the students’ important words as they reflected on the game:

  • “It challenged me to make my brain think.”
  • “It was a fun way to explore math and learn.”
  • “It gave me a lot of practice with multiplication.”
  • “It’s a fun way to learn multiplication facts.”
  • “I learned that multiplication and area are related.”
  • “I know now how division, multiplication, and area are related because I can see it!”


When mathematics tasks are opened for different ways of seeing, different methods and pathways, and different representations, everything changes.  To summarise there are 5 suggestions that can work to open mathematics tasks and increase their potential for learning:

  1. Open up the task so that there are multiple methods, pathways, and representations.
  2. Include inquiry opportunities.
  3. Ask the problem before teaching the method.
  4. Ask a visual component and ask students how they see the mathematics.
  5. Extend the task to make it lower floor and higher ceiling.
  6. Ask students to convince and reason; be sceptical.


Creating Mathematical Mindsets: The Importance of Flexibility with Numbers


Babies and infants love mathematics…

Give babies a set of blocks, and they will build and order them, fascinated by the ways edges line up.  Children will look up at the sky and be delighted by the V formations in which birds fly.  Count a set of objects with a young child, move the objects and count them again and they will be enchanted by the fact they still have the same number.  Ask children to make patterns in coloured blocks and they will work happily making repeating patterns – one of the most mathematical of all acts.

For many students their first experience of school mathematics is one of confusion, as the methods to do not make sense to them.  The inquisitiveness of our children’s early years fades away and is replaced by a strong belief that mathematics is all about following instructions and rules.

Successful mathematics users search for patterns and relationships and think about connections.  They approach mathematics with a mathematical mindset, knowing that mathematics is a subject of growth and their role is to learn and think about new ideas.

One way to give students opportunities to developing a thinking, conceptual approach to mathematics is to engage them in maths apps and games that approach mathematics conceptually:

New research on the brain tells us that the difference between successful and unsuccessful students is less about the content they learn and more about their mindsets.  Even mathematics facts, one of the driest parts of maths, can be taught conceptually and with sense making and understanding.