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How Your Teaching Philosophy Drives Your Math Instruction

I have a confession to make. I have never been good at writing a philosophy or mission statement. Any time I have been asked to help write a team mission statement or a personal philosophy, I blank out. I’m more inclined to read something and think Yes, I agree with that. So I guess my personal philosophy comes from having read a lot about math instruction, having taught math for many years, and concluding how I think students learn best. I have definitely evolved as a math teacher, and I sometimes wonder if defining my teaching philosophy earlier in my career might have been a good idea.

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Skillful teachers…make instructional decisions designed to maximize student learning. These decisions reflect their beliefs about how students learn, beliefs grounded in an understanding of how they develop mathematical ideas.

Success from the Start: Your First Years Teaching Elementary Mathematics, Kathy Ernst and Sarah Ryan, 2014 (NCTM)

The quote above is what really got me thinking about defining a personal teaching philosophy. Now, before you say But I am NOT a new teacher, don’t we all feel like new teachers every time the instructional winds shift? And the instructional winds have definitely shifted over the past 20 years when it comes to teaching math. Why is that? Well, our purpose for using math has changed. Our instruction used to be very procedural-based, with little focus on understanding. Accurate and fast calculations were king. Newer standards require a more balanced approach to teaching which still includes procedural fluency but puts it on equal footing with problem-solving and conceptual understanding. Why is that? One reason is that our mobile devices can do the calculations that used to require room-sized computers! We simply can’t teach math like we used to.

Now look at the table below and consider how your beliefs might impact the look and feel of your classroom.

We often hear that we teach how we were taught. I was taught based on the left side of the table, but I teach from the right side. Why? Because research has taught us so much about how students learn math and standards have changed. Which of the descriptions above best describes your classroom?

I would really love to hear your thoughts on this, and I hope you’ll share them either here in the comments or on social media.

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  1. Hi Donna, do you know of an progress monitoring programs or websites for math that you’d recommend at the elementary level? I teach 2nd and 3rd grade. Also are you familiar with Eureka?, would this new way of looking at math go along with their lessons?

    Thank you,

    1. Hey Cristina! I’m sorry, but I don’t really have information on any programs–just not something I deal with. I will say that the shift from a total emphasis on procedures to a more balanced approach is actually written into the standards and should be reflected in current math programs.

  2. I was also taught the “memorize” side approach and was often humiliated for not getting it right. I promised myself that growing up, I’d be a different kind of teacher. I’m happy to report I teach the “risk-taking” approach. I want to build my students’ math toolboxes so they’re ready to take math on confidently.

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