Why Tools of Titans for Teachers?
I’m reading Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans. I’ve found his incredibly enlightening podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show” to be filled with ideas that can relate to the professional development of teachers and to the creation of a productive learning culture in the math classroom. His book is no different.
I’m going to start a book study, and I’d like you to join me. Waitwaitwait!!!! Don’t go anywhere. I’m not asking for much. Because this is a book study where you don’t actually have to read the book. You can just read the blurbs in this blog and join the conversation in the comments. Even if you do want to buy and read the book, here’s the most awesome thing: you can skip around and keep up or fall behind…it doesn’t matter! You don’t need to read it straight through. Just read the short intro and then open it up to an interview and start reading. Not inspired? Don’t resonate with what you read? Hop to another interview elsewhere in the book. It’s a book study for procrastinating and distractible readers like me!
And I promise that the posts after this one will be short and to the point. Minimal reading required. Just good inspirational thinking and conversation about the core of our work in math education.
Are you in? Yeah? Allllllright.
In Tools of Titans, Tim reviews the tens of thousands of pages of transcripts he has compiled during his interviews with highly successful people over the years and distills that content into short, concise packets of wisdom and thinking.
Two Principles to Start our Study
There’s a lot to think about in this book, and I want to use two ideas (principles) from the introduction of the book to focus the beginning of this book study.
Principle #1: “Success, however you define it, is achievable if you collect the right field-tested beliefs and habits.” (page xxii)
I’m defining success as creating students who:
- Develop a love, interest, and passion for thinking mathematically, and
- Develop the skills, confidence, and mindset to continue to learn more mathematics.
I’m NOT defining success as creating bored test-takers who generate data that create the illusion of learning and progress.
I hope to flush out some of these field-tested beliefs and habits in these blog posts. But field-tested beliefs and habits are constantly being flushed out and discussed by the individuals and organizations listed on this website and beyond. If you haven’t already, create a Twitter account. Why? Because it will expand your professional learning network beyond your faculty lounge at your school. You will find passionate educators who are invested in this work. Use the hashtag #MTBoS to find us. You can send me a tweet at @mathgeek76, and I’ll happily help you get on board.
So Principle #1 is about WHY we are teachers. It’s about the purpose behind all of our actions as math instructors and as educators for young people.
Teaching math is an incredibly challenging job. It requires reflection, critical thinking, and constant perseverance on our part to continue to grow to meet the needs of all of our students. We need to develop and share these habits to foster the growth mindset that will lead to meaningful professional growth.
Seems daunting? Overwhelming? Have faith because…
Principle #2: “The [teaching] superheroes you have in your mind are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths.” (page xxiii)
To start our work, I invite you to dig deep into your teaching identity. What are your greatest gifts as a classroom teacher? What are you doing when you feel the most fulfilled and effective in your work with students? If you struggle to come with any, think of the most inspirational and successful teachers you had, know, or work with. What practices do they embody that you also do well?
The most successful, inspirational teachers are just as flawed as you and I. Forgive yourself. And move on by focusing on the things that you do do well when it comes to teaching and inspiring young math minds. Feel free to share in the comments section.
I can’t stress this mindset enough. Teaching is a craft of identity and emotion, and “information without emotion isn’t retained.” If we want our growth and learning to stick for ourselves we must think about why we do what we do as teachers. If we want growth and learning to stick for our students, we must think about how we can help students understand why we are asking them to do what we are inviting them to do in our classrooms. We must attach emotions rooted in identity and purpose to learning if we are going to create a lasting impact on our students.
So some questions to ponder:
What values are at the heart of your teaching identity? How do you define success?
What habits, practices, talents do you possess that make you effective in your work?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section. I hope this begins a fruitful conversation for all of us.
4 thoughts on “Tools of Titans for Teachers Book Study (#TT4T)”
I do mathematics public relations everywhere I go. When I hear people saying they don’t like math, I pounce. You are not allowed to talk like that around me. This attitude is not restricted to a classroom. Airplanes, grocery stores, sporting events, or anywhere else with people is where I work on changing the negative perception people have about math.
This mindset comes with me when I am in a classroom. It also helps that I am hilarious, engaging, and entertaining. I bring people in and make them want to know why I love math so much. I also let them discover that they are capable of doing math as well.
Thank you for sharing Talisha! It sounds like you’re engaged in the daily work of shifting people’s math identity. Are there certain things you say or ask in your conversations with the “mathematically traumatized” that you have found to be most effective at shifting their mindsets?
It sounds like one of the things you do well is create positive energy in a room and get people feeling at ease and ready to learn/work. Any particular strategies or tools you regularly use with success?
Thanks for your thoughts!
I ask people if they don’t like the experience they had in math class or just math itself. I hate to throw their math teacher under the bus, but I have a method to my treasonous ways! If they tell me that they are not able to do math at all, I ask them how well they can handle things like going to the store and knowing how much they can spend or being able to figure out how much they can load in their car. The light bulb goes off when they realize they do actually use math on a daily basis.
Showing practical applications to math problems is helpful. I also like showing people the beauty of numbers and patterns. They don’t have to have a practical application of the math in order to make it worth their time.
I value learning, my own and my students’. Teaching itself helps me learn. Connecting with resources helps me learn. But we all (the lucky ones anyway) learn some hard lessons — hard truths — that test our values and force us to reprioritize. As a student, I valued good grades. As a teacher, in more recent years, I value perseverance, curiosity, humility.
When I think about success, I immediately think about my parenting. I think people expect me to talk about my success in teaching. But my mind doesn’t go there, at least never initially. I have three pretty great kids. Thank God they didn’t always listen to me. In regards to teaching, success is such a moment-to-moment thing, it comes in small packets for me. To think that I’m successful in bigger units might hinder my ability to keep learning. I still suck at a lot of things in teaching. It gets really hard at times, and sometimes I give up. It gets back to that choosing your battle argument.
I try to be more and more patient with my students. (I have very little patience left for the grownups.) I appreciate humor and kindness. We are the stories that we tell. I teach math, but I think my students walk away from my class with more than just a math lesson. They walk away with a piece of me, my story, a classmate’s story. They have to come to my class because that’s what their schedule says, but I think they look forward to coming because of the relationships we’ve built and the connections we’ve made. I’m striving for a safe environment for all students.