A New Math Mindset


When I was an elementary-school student, I hated math time. My brain didn’t work as quickly with numbers as many of my other friends and peers, and I felt that I was “bad” at math. Unfortunately, I had this misconception until I was 33 years old when I began my three-year goal study at Trinity School.

When I think back three years ago when I decided to focus on the math growth mindset for my goal, I can remember having a feeling of trepidation; however, I knew that I needed major growth in this area if I wanted to be a better math teacher myself. I began my journey by taking Jo Boaler’s online course, which is what I truly believe was the turning point in my philosophy about being “good” or “bad” at math. I not only learned that all math minds are different and have different speeds and ways of thinking about numbers, but I also came to believe in my own heart and mind that anyone can be “good” at math, including me!

It was at that point that I noticed a shift in the way I thought about math and taught it to my own students. I spent nights at home searching for math challenges for my students and myself and felt an invigoration when working hard to complete them. I shared this attitude in my classroom and soon noticed my students were working on these challenges during snack time, way after math time was over, because they wanted to persevere. Soon my twitter account was full of smiling student faces that were posing with pictures of their completed math work and I was hash-tagging the “math growth mindset” numerous times a week. We began celebrating our work together by charting our attitude and successes and in no time the students began using math vocabulary regularly when talking about math and even in other subject areas too! They understood terms such as “number flexibility” and felt excited to not only talk about it, but also prove they could do it.

One of the more exciting highlights from the past three years was when I read the book, Making Number Talks Matter, and began implementing number talks in my classroom. Number talks have been a wonderful teaching strategy that allows the students to feel comfortable with math and helps them appreciate the idea that there are many ways to solve a math problem. It also has helped me informally assess my students’ understandings and given opportunities for every voice to be heard in math.

The completion of my three-year goal study came with a feeling of pride, confidence, and a math attitude change. I have pride and confidence in my ability to teach math to a younger generation of students. Many of these students are young versions of myself who long to feel “good” at math, and I love being able to impart my own newfound math growth mindset on them.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Hanzman serves the Trinity School community as a Second Grade Teacher. 

Show Them Who You Are

Our students come into our classrooms not knowing who we are or anything about us, yet we seem to already know so much about them. We get the opportunity to listen to their parents share detailed information at parent sharing conferences and hear from their previous teachers about what worked well for each child. As teachers, we also give our students plenty of opportunities to share with their peers in the classroom. So what about the more introverted children who may not share as readily as others? They are usually the ones who may need a push to feel safe in order to tell their stories. We are the leaders and role models in our classrooms and have a responsibility to create a safe space not only for learning, but also for the opportunity to find out what makes them “tick.” When we become vulnerable and share our own passions and interests, they not only learn more about us, but also realize the importance of opening up to others.

In my classroom, my students learn from day one that I am passionate about dance and music. I share this passion not by “telling” them, but rather by “showing” the happiness that dancing brings to me. We dance and sing everyday, and soon I find that some of the more introverted students are joining in the fun with smiling faces!

Most recently I became interested in learning more about mindfulness and the importance of using it in my personal life. It has impacted me in a very positive way, so I naturally wanted my students to understand the benefit of being present and mindful. There are many ways to be mindful, including a daily sitting meditation practice. After we all mediate together, we reflect on our practice. We focus on what helped us stay present, and I learn so much from them! They realize that learning never stops, and one can always find new interests and passions to share with others.

I feel blessed to be able to teach in a school where I can share who I really am with my students and community. As I lead by example, my students become more willing and able to open up without a fear of judgment.

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Mokotoff serves the Trinity School community as a Second Grade Lead Teacher.

We are a team!


Every Friday, my class looks forward to our weekly “team” meeting. It is a time for reflection, compliments, problem solving, but above all, it is a time for us to bond together. Since day one, the students are use to hearing me describe our class as a team. It is important for them to understand the attributes that make a good team successful, so this regular discussion is a part of our daily conversations. During our Friday meetings, the beauty of our team shines brightly!

Throughout the week, the students enjoy writing compliments or “brags” for their peers on sticky notes. They fold them up and place them inside our “Brag Box” waiting for Friday afternoon when they will be read aloud. At the beginning of the year, we modeled what a quality compliment entails by explaining the need to give a specific example. It took the students a few weeks for their compliments to turn from “Joe is nice” to ones that describe positive behaviors that are observable. Laurel and I make sure to write many “brags” every week to reinforce the characteristics of a good teammate. The kids love it when they receive a “teacher brag,” as they all exclaim enthusiastically.

I am always impressed with the ability of my students to write compliments for not only their best friends, but also other classmates. They have truly learned how to tune into the “bright spots” that are occurring on a daily basis in the classroom. I can recall a specific “brag” that one little girl wrote about a boy who was having a rough time getting his work completed. This boy utilized a new strategy of choosing a quiet spot to do his work. The girl noticed it, and wrote a compliment about his effort. That particular compliment said more than just words. She noticed something he attempted to improve and congratulated him for this. It was a huge moment for not only the boy, but also for our class as a whole.

These weekly class meetings are also a time for anyone to share concerns or ask for advice to solve a problem. The kids genuinely want to help one another, and they are able to gain perspective into others’ feelings by empathizing with their classmates’ problems. Just last week, a little boy was feeling glum about his dog being put to sleep, and the kids gave him a great idea to honor the memory of his dog by creating a book of pictures.

Ending the week in this way truly enhances the positive climate of our class. The students feel appreciated, respected, and part of something bigger than just their own selves.  They realize they are an important player on our all-star team!


Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Mokotoff serves Trinity School as a Second Grade teacher. @SarahMokotoff

Just Dance!

Another birthday has just passed, and it is always a reminder for me to count all the blessings and good things I have in my life. I could write on and on about all the ways I feel blessed, but when I reflect on the one thing that brings me the most happiness, one thing always comes to mind… DANCE! Everyday I wake up and give thanks for my healthy body that allows me to move freely and naturally to music. I’ve been enjoying dance for as long as I can remember, but only in the past year have I begun sharing my joy and enthusiasm for it with others. It was after a difficult time in my life that I felt called to begin this sharing process. After all, what better way to heal than to bring happiness to not only yourself but others too! The result was a magical moment that 29 Trinity School students took part in last year during our 60th Anniversary gala event. Watching these children perform the Weeping Willow dance that I choreographed was the first moment in my life when I realized how important sharing our passions and joys with one another truly is. Since that time, I have begun sharing my love of dance with others in all sorts of ways, especially my own students! Seeing the smiles on their faces is the best part, because it reminds me of the joy they receive as well.  We all have passions in life, but feeling comfortable to open up and spread it to others is what can bring joy into our world. It was only natural that on my birthday two days ago, I announced to the children, “Let’s Dance!”

Learner, Thinker, Writer: Sarah Mokotoff serves the Trinity School community as a Second Grade Teacher.

Peace in the Present Moment



“Happy New Year!” I exclaimed as each of my students entered the classroom yesterday.  There were the typical smiling faces, the greeting of friends who they had missed, and the telling of many stories from their holiday breaks. As I sat back and observed this joyful moment in time, I was suddenly filled with a deep sense of peace and presence inside my heart. Now I wouldn’t say that this feeling was a novel one for me, but I would say that too often it goes unnoticed. I have a tendency to live either in the past or the future… what do I need to worry about for tomorrow or what happened yesterday or last week that I still need to fix? These are the types of worries and thoughts that often preoccupy my everyday conscious mind.

Feeling present and peaceful gave me the opportunity to rejoice in this wonderful moment in my classroom. What a blessing it is that I have a career where I can experience the enthusiasm that young children bring forth! What a blessing it is to truly enjoy my profession and enthusiastically return to my students’ smiling faces in the new year! For just this moment in time, I was able to be present and recognize the splendor of doing so. I know that I may have a tendency to think about what needs to be done on my to-do list or become nostalgic or anxious over what happened in my past, but if I can work on observing the “now” and rejoicing in the moment more regularly, then 2013 is going to be a year of peace and presence.

Learner, Teacher,  Thinker, Writer: Sarah Mokotoff teaches Second Grade at Trinity School.