April 25, 2018

I’ve written about the natural candor of children and how, over time, it seems to recede or become stifled. Although I discuss it in relation to recovering more candor in our workplace and careers, it seems a struggle with candor is impacting students’ learning and achievement in grade school.

Washington Post reporter Kyle Spencer wrote about Michael Gallin, a math teacher from the Bronx. Gallin recognized that challenges in math were not just because students didn’t know the answers… it’s because they’re afraid and unwilling to try. As our nation struggles with student math proficiency, Gallin believes that, in addition to rigorous standards, we must also address the mental barriers that hold children back. And Gallin’s approach is rooted in candor.

  • He is helping them overcome their fear of being wrong by encouraging them to just attempt a solution. He helps students understand that growth and learning isn’t in whether or not they get the answer right; it’s about the process of working toward the solution. His classroom is a comfortable space where students can feel confident making an informed guess and be ok if their answer isn’t correct.
  • Gallin maintains a very direct way of communicating with the students. When he writes a tough problem on the board, he calls it “scary” to help address the overwhelming fear head on. Often, instead of starting small and working toward the big problem, Gallin puts the big problem out there first so they can see what they’re dealing with. Then he backs up into smaller steps to find the solution.
  • He puts mistakes out there for the whole classroom to see and learn from. When a student doesn’t solve correctly, it becomes open for discussion. The group talks through the missteps and how to get back on track. The feedback is not embarrassing, it’s just how they work together to solve the problem. As Gallin says, “I want you to fail now. Get it wrong now, and get feedback.” This helps them to succeed in the next attempt.

Thankfully, Gallin isn’t in the only teacher who sees value and result in this approach. Hundreds of teachers across the nation are merging emotional and social skills with academic skills for success. What I love about Gallin’s approach is that he is moving students from a place of anxiety and self-doubt to a place of confidence and resilience.