Math can be a challenging topic for many young people. There are also systemic and institutional barriers, as well as inequities and disparities related to math. In order for all students to see math as enjoyable and attainable, positive and inclusive relationships between students and math educators is necessary. 

In partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Search Institute collaborated with four math tutoring organizations, Breakthrough Collaborative, Math Corps, Latino Student Fund, and Common Denominator, to create the DR + Math Toolkit. The DR + Math Toolkit is an online resource that provides guidance and activities that support and promote developmental relationships through a math education context, and offers practical, research-driven strategies that support tutors and educators with a goal of empowering students while learning math. The Toolkit leverages the Developmental Relationships Framework and adapts the Framework’s five elements—express care, provide support, challenge growth, share power and expand possibilities—for math-learning spaces. 

Relationships are Critical in Math Education

Developmental relationships ensure that a young person has the support necessary to grow, thrive and be their best self. Through developmental relationships, young people discover who they are, develop the abilities necessary to shape their lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them. When applied to mathematics, the Developmental Relationships Framework brings greater meaning to the education experience and results in increased feelings of support, motivation and mutual respect—ultimately cultivating an intentional, inclusive, and productive learning environment.

  1. Expressing Care - in a math tutoring context, expressing care involves considering their entire learning experience rather than focusing solely on the individual math problems. . Make time to get to know the young person you’re helping, follow up on previous conversations and show them that you care for them as a person before jumping into math instruction.
  2. Provide Support - Some math problems and life situations are harder than others. Consider how you support and advocate for your math student as they make their way through a math problem and, as appropriate, other areas of their life. Cultivate a growth mindset where you celebrate the math learning journey, and provide support by scaffolding your student’s math learning – leveraging the math skills that they already master to build confidence, then identify attainable next steps. 
  3. Challenge Growth - Genuinely believe in the potential of your students and encourage them to learn from mistakes and go further. By expecting the best from your students, you’re demonstrating your confidence in their abilities related to math and beyond.
  4. Share Power - Young people are bringing their own wisdom and knowledge to the learning experience. Acknowledge the talents, skills, and cultural funds of knowledge that they bring to the table. Center the education experience around the student and provide opportunities for them to take the lead.
  5. Expand Possibilities - Through your education services, you’re serving as a role model within the student’s web of relationships. Assist in introducing additional connections and role models that can further benefit the student as they explore different opportunities and achieve goals. Connect math to each student’s lived experiences, and work with them to find out how math could be related to who they are and who they want to be.

Culturally Responsive Relationships

Learning occurs in a cultural context. Math is no exception. There are significant systemic and institutional barriers in math. The field of math struggles with lack of representation, as well as frequent stereotypes related to gender and race. By establishing culturally responsive relationships through your tutoring and education practice, you are providing a safe space where all young people have the opportunity to feel valued and respected while learning. Cultural responsiveness is a guiding principle of the DR + Math Toolkit. However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to employing cultural responsiveness. It can differ from student to student and changes as circumstances evolve.

As you create a culturally responsive environment for the students you’re serving, consider providing a setting where various learning styles are prioritized. For example, math doesn’t have to be a solo effort. Some students excel when working as a team rather than on their own. Identify opportunities to celebrate students’ culture throughout the learning experience. By providing scenarios that young people can relate to, they feel a stronger connection to what they are learning. It’s also important to clearly communicate that you have a genuine belief in their capabilities to learn and acknowledge the skills they offer as an asset on their educational journey.

An understanding of mathematics is a gateway to many academic and life skills. By providing math tutoring and education through the lens of culturally responsive relationships, you are creating an opportunity for all young people to gain the skills they need to be successful in mathematics, while also building strong relationships that have a long-term impact on positive youth development and student success.

Download the DR+Math Toolkit here →

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