Grain Growers and Brain Growers: How Farmers and Teachers Share Fearless Optimism for ALL
Updated: Mar 11
I'm writing this post not from my home in Houston, population 2.4 million, but from my parents' home in rural Idaho, population 437. For the past 40 years, my parents have lived on a 140-acre farm raising alfalfa, grain, and kids. My brother, two sisters, and I hauled sprinkler pipe, fed calves, milked cows, and had contests kicking our work boots across the back lawn.
On my family farm, I learned that hard work brings a satisfaction that's tough to feel any other way.
This is my dad's grain crop. It's looking pretty good, isn't it?
Being a farmer is all about expectations--expectations for the just-right amount of rain, expectations that your crop won't freeze in a late spring cold snap, expectations that your equipment will work properly to harvest it, expectations for the value of your crop when it comes time to sell. Expectations that your hard work is going to pay off!
Teaching offers some interesting parallels with farming.
As teachers, we sow seeds of learning in our students' hearts and minds, and we don't always know how those seeds will germinate and grow. But we work hard! And we are optimists!
As my dad gave me a tour of his grain fields this week, I noticed something odd. In one field, the grain went tall--short--tall--short. What's up with that?
My dad explained.
He had planted most of the field when he realized he'd underestimated how much seed would be needed. He ran out! So, part of the field had to be planted with a different variety of grain. The two varieties of seed grew side by side at different rates making these tall--short--tall strips in the field.
Our students are as unique and packed with potential as the grain seeds my dad planted.
They have unique backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and ways of thinking about mathematics. When we step back and look, we appreciate that they're growing at different rates. That's okay! They're growing!
We nurture them with worthwhile mathematical tasks that allow for productive struggle.
We support them with math-positive language and high expectations.
And at harvest time, we honor their hard work (and ours!) by looking back and seeing how far we've come--from seedlings to waist-high stalks.
Every child deserves a math-positive teacher with the optimism of an Eastern Idaho farmer.
When we acknowledge and address factors that contribute to differential outcomes among groups of students, we ensure that all students have opportunities to experience high-quality mathematics instruction, learn challenging mathematics content, and receive the support necessary to be successful (NCTM, 2014).
Some of these factors include:
But these are also the exact characteristics that make our classrooms vibrant, interesting, wonderful places to be.
The great news is that, just like both varieties of grain in my dad's field thrived, so can kids from different backgrounds when we ensure they have:
access to high-quality mathematics curriculum
adequate time to grapple with important mathematics, and
differentiated teaching that speaks to students' funds of knowledge (González, Andrade, Civil, & Moll, 2009).
If you're unsure of where to start building a math-positive mindset for yourself and your students, check out my book Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child's Mind without Losing Yours. I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me on Instagram or Twitter by tagging me @DrCarrieCutler or using the hashtag #MathPositiveMindsets.