Building, Enlarging, and Empowering the Mathematics Community

  • Building, Enlarging, and Empowering the Mathematics Community

    November 2021

    When you consider your mathematics community, whom does it include? Is it inclusive of all voices? How do you include others? Is it built upon open communication and a shared vision? Does it support collaborative empowerment? We need to consider building, enlarging, and empowering our mathematics community in ways that broaden the purposes of teaching and learning mathematics and foster a sense of belonging in the mathematics community.

    Our recent Fall 2021 Virtual Conference focused on community. We considered ways to rehumanize mathematics; meet the needs of students, particularly in this time of significant trauma; draw on students’ culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; pursue opportunities to build family and community partnership; and support collaborations among teachers, students, university faculty, and policy makers. It was evident throughout the conference that to address the critical work ahead, we must work together and that although we must do more, many are already working together as a mathematics community, engaging in critical conversations that lead to effective actions addressing policies and practices to create an equitable, inclusive system in PK–12 mathematics.

    In my President’s Session at the conference, panel participants shared ways they are building community, expanding the reach and empowering the community to address key areas that support students in learning mathematics. Panelists Anna Bargagliotti and John W. Staley reminded us of the importance of building and equipping the community to act as change agents through collaboration as professional organizations. Hilary Kreisberg emphasized that once we understand how families feel and what their core wants are, we can then more effectively partner with them and support their empowerment and active participation in their students’ mathematics learning experiences. Natevidad Casas went on to share a powerful, sustainable model he is engaged with to develop a strong community of teachers to affect the teaching and learning of mathematics. Kim Conley and Shelly Allen shared their efforts in advocacy and standards development as leaders of a state mathematics organization. Their work expanded their community partners to policy makers in particular with successful efforts in sharing a common vision to lead to positive actions. These efforts underscored the importance for all voices to be heard.

    A powerful, essential part of our mathematics community is our students. They are not only the why behind what we do as a mathematics community but their voice is central to the community. Their voice must be heard and they must be included in conversations, decision making and actions. What might students have to say? During the panel session I shared that the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and NCTM partnered to sponsor the Imagine Math Class video contest. Students were asked to submit a 3-minute video to share their vision in imagining the future of a mathematics classroom in an anti-racist world. The six featured videos are a must-see! The students shared powerful insights and ideas around belonging, seeing themselves in the mathematics and as mathematicians, supporting their identity agency and authority in mathematics and the importance of a history of mathematics that is inclusive. All students must feel a part of the mathematics community to fully engage in the work. Their identity as a mathematics learner shapes their willingness and ability to engage in a mathematics community. Individually, each needs to feel valued and appreciated and value and appreciate others in the classroom—building a community of thinkers and doers of mathematics (Hufferd-Ackles, Fuson, and Sherin 2015 as cited in NCTM 2020, p. 49). This community extends beyond the formal walls of the mathematics classroom. Consider how you engage your students in the mathematics community.

    There are many that make up our mathematics community. Teachers, students, parents/families/caregivers, instructional specialists, supervisors, administrators, coaches, teacher educators, researchers, community resource leaders such as from libraries and museums, business & industry, policy makers, counselors, professional education organizations, publishers, curriculum and assessment developers, and more. As you consider your mathematics community, ask yourself if you are being inclusive of all voices, providing opportunities for open communication with a shared vision, and supporting collaborative empowerment of all members. Let’s focus on how we can build, enlarge, and empower our mathematics community to work together to support each and every student in opportunities to learn mathematics.

    Join me in thanking the program chairs, committee members, NCTM staff and Board, presenters, sponsors and exhibitors who planned and implemented an amazing program experience for the Fall 2021 Virtual Conference. From the opening session on Reimagining Mathematics Education: Educators Creating Spaces for Dynamic Learning Experiences to the evening panels, Asian American/Canadian & Pacific Islanders (AACPI) Visibility and Invisibility- Creating Space of Learning and Unlearning and An Unapologetic Conversation with Black Men in Mathematics, and a myriad of professional learning sessions throughout, we engaged in discussions to strengthen our mathematics community. Francis Su in the Iris M. Carl Equity address reminded us through an axiomatic approach that while there is disappointment at times in what is happening in mathematics education, we have infinite hope. His third ‘hopeful’ axiom particularly resonated with me as I think about our mathematics community: Every person can grow in mathematics and has potential beyond what we (or they) can see. If we truly believe that then there is hope for a common vision as we build, enlarge, and empower our mathematics community. This hope, work and action is seen in the work of Robert Moses who was honored posthumously for a Lifetime of Work Dedicated to Social Justice and Equity in Mathematics Education and in the work of our NCTM Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients, for 2020 Rita Janes and Karen Karp and 2021 Marta Civil, Elizabeth Fennema, and Steve Leinwand. All of whom have not only impacted mathematics education in powerful ways but have been mentors to so many. They each have had a profound impact on my life.

    As I close, I invite you to take this moment to recognize the traditional Native lands on which you reside. I currently live on the traditional lands of the Waco tribe that was once part of the Wichita tribe, and the Tonkawa tribe. I pay my respects to their elders both past and present and to the spirit of the peoples from all tribal nations. Throughout November NCTM celebrated National Native American Heritage month with resources and connections to others engaged in this work to honor the diverse and rich traditions and histories of all Native cultures and acknowledges Indigenous peoples’ important contributions.

    As we continue our journey together let us work to build, enlarge, and empower our mathematics community.

    Trena Wilkerson
    NCTM President


    National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). 2020. Catalyzing Change in Early Childhood and Elementary School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations. Reston, VA: NCTM.

    Hufferd-Ackles, Kimberly, Karen C. Fuson, and Miriam Gamoran Sherin. 2015. “Describing Levels and Components of a Math-Talk Learning Community.” In More Lessons Learned From Research: Useful and Usable Research Related to Core Mathematical Practices, Vol. 1, pp. 125–34. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.