#NCTMSD2019: Building Community, Making Connections, & Reflecting on Practices
As I reflected on my experiences at the 2019 NCTM Annual Meeting, I felt a sense of community. This spirit of community was evidenced in the ways attendees engaged speakers, interacted in the exhibit hall, and supported one another. I appreciated that so many attendees used social media to connect with other attendees as well as with colleagues who were not able to attend the meeting. So, here are my three wishes as NCTM continues to improve:
I was honored to introduce keynote speakers Gloria Ladson-Billings, José Vilson, and Talithia Williams. Each of them shared personal stories and vignettes as a way of discussing that there is much work needed in addressing access, equity, and empowerment. In her opening address, Gloria Ladson-Billings outlined context, culture, and teacher competence as factors contributing to student success in mathematics. She challenged us to consider learners’ identities as factors that contribute to how teachers position them as competent. José Vilson, a middle school teacher, was the first active teacher to give the Iris Carl Address. This was special to me because I was present for NCTM’s first Iris Carl Address given by my doctoral advisor and mentor, the late Carol E. Malloy. José Vilson reminded us that mathematics belongs to all of us and that we must create spaces in our classrooms to make sure that learners know that they belong. In her closing address, Talithia Williams offered insights into her own mathematical experiences from kindergarten through high school to graduate school. Dr. Williams’ stories showed us that teachers and mentors are identity-builders and that belongingness in mathematics is nuanced and negotiable.
All of the speakers reminded us that mathematics is neither universal nor neutral and that the teaching and learning of mathematics occur in socially constructed spaces where identities and contexts matter. I was challenged to think about whose values and ways of knowing are central in mathematics, and was reminded of Rochelle Gutiérrez’s (2018) notion that each and every learner should be provided with windows and mirrors onto the world through mathematics.
Learners should see aspects of themselves in mathematics reflected back (mirrors) as well as obtain views of new worlds outside of their own (windows). For many learners, particularly black and brown learners, mathematics is exclusively windows with no mirrors. Windows and mirrors help us realize that all cultures have made contributions to mathematics. I wonder whether the mathematical experiences of learners are incomplete if they do not have access to the diverse knowledge base of those who contributed to mathematics. I believe studying the distinct and varying contributions to mathematics creates the space for learners to understand that mathematics is a human activity used to make sense of the world.
As I reflect on the sessions I attended and the words of the speakers, I cannot ignore the significance of vulnerability that undergirds their words. I thought about how speakers challenged us to reflect on whether our instructional practices promote a sense of self, belongingness, and inclusion. There appears to be widespread agreement that instructional practices supportive of mathematical discourse can promote these attributes. For example, José Vilson described how learners in his class engage in passionate mathematical discourse that reflects communication patterns within the learners’ community. It was clear that José Vilson’s teaching reflects Gloria Ladson-Billings’ construct of cultural competence in the framework of culturally responsive teaching. Cultural competence refers to ways in which teachers keep the cultures of their learners in the forefront of their minds and honor and respect the learners’ home culture within daily interactions and instruction. I wondered whether discourse without cultural competence might put some learners at risk; I grapple with mathematical practices using arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others. While I understand the value of these mathematical practices, I ask myself whether all teachers are cognizant that unpacking arguments and critiquing others’ reasoning might put some students at risk if they engage in these practices outside mathematics classrooms or schools. That is, what are the social risks for engaging in arguments and critiquing outside of school?
I hope we all create time and space to examine our vulnerabilities, make connections within our community, and learn new ideas and practices to improve the mathematical experiences of learners. The questions that follow are intended to be a start for reflection.
Our community owes Brian Shay and the 2019 San Diego Program Committee a tremendous thank you on a job well done. I want to thank the NCTM Board members whose terms ended at the close of the Annual Meeting for all their work and for the perspectives they brought to the Board: Olive Chapman, Kevin Dykema, Gina Kilday, and Kay Wohlhuter. I also want to thank Matt Larson for his leadership and generous and exceptional service to NCTM. Matt concluded his 4-year term on the Board, this last year as past president. Matt has been a tremendous leader, mentor, and friend. Additionally, I want to thank the NCTM staff for their dedication and hard work in preparation for and at the Annual Meeting.
Robert Q. Berry III