**TPEP CRITERION 5:** **Learning Environment;** the teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being of students.

I just spent four incredible days at the NCTM Math conference in San Francisco. Yes, I’m a science teacher, but my teaching position is changing and I will be 50-50 science and math next year. I was expecting to learn a lot about math and teaching math (and I did), but I was amazed by the pedagogy that also applies to science and, indeed, to any classroom. One of the biggest themes that emerged for me was relationships and, no, I’m not talking about the kind of relationship that can be represented by x’s and y’s.

- Karen Hyers, Tartan High School, MN, shared how her team saw marked improvement in students of color completing and succeeding in accelerated math courses. She said, “Relationships keep kids, all kids and of color, in accelerated courses.” Without those relationships, they drop their math class in the early weeks of the term.

- Kathleen Strange, College Park High School, CA, shared that the first step to getting students to engage in student discourse around rich and rigorous math tasks is to ensure that the class room is a safe place. Students have to be able to trust each other and their teacher to share their thinking. “You know you’ve (established a safe place) when students ask you to use their errors for discussion.”

- Dr. Treisman of University of Texas at Austin blew my mind. He shared that a belonging mindset is absolutely critical for student success–particularly for students that have struggled with math. Students need to know that they personally belong and that they are connected to the people in their class. Students need to know that they belong, believe that what they are learning has purpose, and develop a growth mindset.

- From WSU (Go Cougs!), Libby Knott’s MMRE (Making Math Reasoning Explicit) team talked about the conducive environment needed for student discourse–a safe place where teachers know their students and the emphasis is on learning over performance.

This year, I have worked harder than ever to build relationships with my students. I have seen a clear benefit to that effort. Next year I will build on my experience and what I learned in San Francisco as I work with Algebra students that are one to three years behind in math. While we will be grappling with x’s and y’s to understand mathematical relationships, we will start by building relationships among amazing young people that matter even more than math matters.

So. . . .

### Patricia Gustin

Married to Larry, an old Coast Guard salt and amazing man.I get to share Larry with our yellow lab, Sherman.

#### Latest posts by Patricia Gustin (see all)

- Engaging Activities.Rich Tasks.Student Discourse. - November 1, 2016
- Chemistry:Going Slow to Go Fast - September 18, 2016
- SLO’s to EALR’s to NGSS.A Trip Down Memory Lane - June 24, 2016

Alecia McAdams-Sing says

So much love for this post! One really great outgrowth of the variety of these blogs is that we get to encounter moments of encouragement like this!

Francis Jequinto says

We need to be reminded more than we need to be taught, and this is a great reminder that relationships are clutch!

Alisa Louie says

Great points! It’s hard to show the grit it takes to learn something hard when you don’t enjoy the environment you’re learning the hard stuff in!

Douglas Ferguson says

Thanks Patricia. This is a good reminder about where we as educators need to start. I too often get wrapped up in having to teach everything that I need to teach, but I think you’re right that the relationship is what matters most to the students. Hopefully then lots of learning will follow!

Scott Cleary says

This is really great systems thinking right here! With all of the hype of rolling out the SBA and increased teacher accountability, it is easy to declare building relationships with students and between students as non-vital and focus all energy on attaining standards. However, that effort is useless unless students are prepared to learn, and this generation is not prepared to learn until they know we as teachers and their peers care.

In the spirit of forging relationships, I like to attend school events that do not get a lot of recognition. Athletes are used to having stands with cheering fans, but what about the non-athlete performances like orchestra or debate? One of my students, a girl who is on the cross-country team I coach and is in orchestra, compared her upcoming solo/ensemble competition to our district meet for cross-country when I asked her what the event was. She then said in elaboration that it is weird to race one day with hundreds of people cheering and then go to her solo/ensemble and perform in an empty room, save a judging panel. So I went and convinced a few other teachers to go with me. It is impossible to describe the looks on their faces when they saw their teachers there to support them in something they had worked so hard at. Going to traditionally underrepresented events like this has built the foundation for relationships with many of my students and has contributed greatly to fostering a better learning environment.

Alecia McAdams-Sing says

Just added to my priority list!

Carina Stillman says

I love the topic of this post. I am an ELA teacher at least in part because I wanted to be able to spend time talking about life and lit with kids; though I was good at math in high school it did not occur to me to go in that direction because I (erroneously) perceived that math classes needed to be all business all the time. I have since met a number of math teachers who expertly weave interpersonal matters into their content with as much ease as any ELA teacher, and our students flourish.

I, too, would love to hear about the tangible strategies and ideas they provided for building relationships.

Kristin Leong says

thank you for this: “While we will be grappling with x’s and y’s to understand mathematical relationships, we will start by building relationships among amazing young people that matter even more than math matters.”

Chris Gustafson says

Are there ways to foster relationships and trust in the context of your content? What are some ways of teaching math that help students take risks and learn through struggle?

Aaron Brecek says

I start small, early in the year I give projects/assignments with multiple correct solutions or with multiple ways to get to the answer… This gets them to feel comfortable sharing and talking about their ideas without focusing on right or wrong (which is huge in a math class).

Once students feel comfortable sharing their ideas that are all correct we move on to talking about the benefits of learning from mistakes and how making a mistake and correcting it actually leads to better learning (using the article “Not a Math Person: How to Remove Obstacles to Learning Math). I remind students of that as I ask them if I could share their mistakes so that we can all learn from it.

Once my students get rid of the stigma associated with making mistakes, they feel much more comfortable taking risks.

Alfonso Gonzalez says

That is so important for all our students in all our classes, to see mistakes as ways to learn and not as the end. Only then can they all truly have a growth mindset!

Aaron Brecek says

Building relationships are so important to helping students succeed. By building a good raport with students it allows you to ask them to take more chances and push themselves further in your class.

Thanks for reminding us all about how important this truly is.

Patricia Gustin says

Great Question! I used to rush everything to get to the learning and sometimes forgot to show the people doing the learning how much I care about them.

Now, I find the time to greet my students at the door by name with a quick word of kindness/question about their day/compliment about their shoes (Love the return of Adidas Stan Smiths!)/celebration of success outside the classroom. As students from other classes walk by, I greet them as well. I compliment students for their quality work and their quality character. I notice when they are feeling down and ask I them about it.

I breathe and I let my students breathe.

Alfonso Gonzalez says

Those are so important and so doable!

ejohnstonteach says

What would you say are some steps you took or strategies you tried that helped you make those student connections and build relationships?