Nathaniel Evans on leading with compassion and building confidence
Educator Nathaniel Evans believes that student success hinges on their confidence and makes it his mission to build up their belief in themselves and tackle harmful math mindsets.
Nathaniel Evans of Taos Charter School is an educator who has dedicated his life to service. Whether working as an EMT and firefighter, AmeriCorps volunteer, or teacher, he believes passionately in serving his community and making a difference. He began his life as an educator nineteen years ago and now juggles working as a math teacher, department head, dean of students, and council member. However, despite his busy schedule, he doesn't lose focus on what's important: lifting up and supporting students.
While believing it's key to hold firm boundaries, have high expectations, and hold students accountable, Nathaniel understands that each child comes to class with their own set of experiences and traumas. Likewise, teaching ages eleven through fourteen, he is tuned into the changes they are undergoing and says it's essential to be mindful of this and provide them with a safe space where they can express themselves and grow.
He explained that while during those ages, students undergo a significant amount of change, they are also managing some of the harmful math mindsets that they've inherited from parents and role models - Nathaniel said that it's his job to unpack and challenge those mindsets. Speaking about students' universal ability to do math, he used the metaphor of learning to ride a bike, "Sometimes people have better balance, and it comes a bit more naturally, but everyone can learn if they practice, like any other skill." He added, "I firmly believe that. Building confidence is critical. If you believe in them, they start to believe in themselves." Nathaniel said that students' belief that they have resilience, grit and perseverance means they can face mistakes as a challenge rather than getting knocked down.
While much of this approach is informed by his own experience, Nathaniel is also pursuing professional development in social-emotional learning and restorative justice, which he has found invaluable.
When discussing the techniques and strategies that work best for students, Nathaniel explained that it's key to ensure you are relating math to students' experiences. He said that this helps them more easily understand the concepts. Likewise, he believes it's essential that students become teachers and bring their families into their learning. He encourages students to play math games at home, and teach their family and loved ones the rules. "Once they become the teachers, they get a deeper understanding and feel confident." All of this comes back to Nathaniel's belief in the importance of practicing math in all aspects of life, "It's like any type of muscle, you have to practice in order to get better," he said.
Speaking about what he hopes students walk away with from his class, Nathaniel said: "Sometimes we're our worst critics, and if we just give ourselves a little love, a little kindness, and a little patience, maybe we can let go of those things that are holding us back."