A Systemic Approach for Attending to Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in a High School Mathematics Methods Course

Ruthmae Sears, Univ. of South Florida & Queshonda J. Kudaisi, Univ. of South Florida

As mathematics teacher educators, we are challenged to reflect on means for attending to equity and justice within our mathematics methods courses. For instance, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Catalyzing Change series notes that there is a need for teachers to address negative views about mathematics, work toward closing opportunity gaps that contribute to achievement gaps, adequately prepare students for future endeavors, and combat the narrative that mathematics is only for a select few (Huinker et al., 2020). Here we describe  our use of a systemic approach via a specific framework for attending to justice (Berry et al., 2020), equity (Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators [AMTE], 2015), diversity (de Abreu et al., 2018), and inclusion (Roos, 2018) in a high school mathematics methods course for undergraduate and graduate students offered Spring 2021. We addressed the following question: What are high school mathematics methods students’ perspectives of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) after a systematic approach is employed to address it? Data garnered from course documents were analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2012). The Henderson et al. (2012) framework was applied as a lens for course development and examination of the data.

Henderson et al.’s (2012) framework was initially designed to categorize instructional change of faculty within undergraduate S.T.E.M. courses. Since our goal is to promote equitable instructional practices, we view the framework as a tool that can catalyze how students enrolled in the high school mathematics methods course develop their ability to attend to J.E.D.I. within their instructional practices. Figure 1 illustrates a modified version of the framework that focuses on J.E.D.I. in our high school methods course, with descriptions below of how it was applied in the course.  

Figure 1.  Four-square typology of change categories to promote J.E.D.I. in mathematics education

Disseminating: Curriculum and Pedagogy

Aligning with Figure 1, students were provided insights into establishing social justice pedagogical goals and mathematics pedagogical goals (Gustein, 2006). Further, students were encouraged to reflect on the content to be addressed, the context, the timing, and how the lesson could be enacted (Berry et al., 2020).

To further develop students’ conceptions of J.E.D.I., online vignettes of exemplar instruction from NCTM’s (2020) Principles to Action Toolkit were used. Students were also assigned journal articles to read and discuss during class sessions. These articles provided students with specific examples of how teachers can be change agents in schools by broadening the “purposes of learning mathematics,” creating “equitable structures in mathematics,” implementing “equitable mathematics instruction,” and developing “deep mathematical understanding” (NCTM, 2020, p.1). The students frequently provided feedback on these resources and their ability to enact aligned mathematics lessons within their context.

Developing: Reflective Teachers

Students in the course engaged in reflective activities related to J.E.D.I. They reflected on the enactment of mathematics instructional tasks and assessments drawn from curriculum resources, and the nature of the didactical discourse within the classroom environment (Sears & Chavez, 2014). Various tools were also used to unpack their reflective practices (e.g., equitablemath.org). They wrote reflections on “how teachers can teach mathematics for social justice”,  challenges and resolutions students experienced when planning to teach mathematics for social justice, a statement about their “commitment to equity and diversity and strategies that can be utilized to promote equity and diversity within the classroom setting”, and  their experience observing K12 classrooms, including “the extent it attends to equity and social justice in mathematics”.

Developing: Policy

To develop policy, the course syllabus was revised to explicate a commitment to J.E.D.I. Additionally, assignments that required application of mathematics to solve social justice issues were included, such as individual and group development of lesson plans, video lesson enactments of the individual lesson plan, and reflections on their experience. Students were also asked to consider policies related to J.E.D.I. within K-12 settings and consider possible modifications, if needed. During these conversations, students often acknowledged power structures that can impact the extent J.E.D.I. is ultimately addressed in mathematics classrooms.

Developing: Shared Vision

Various activities were planned for students to co-construct knowledge and develop a shared vision of how to attend to J.ED.I. For instance, students engaged in a collaborative venture to develop course modules via CANVAS, where all the students were listed as instructors. Students also engaged in mathematics activities that attended to J.E.D.I., in which they co-planned, co-taught, and obtained feedback from peers. To ensure individuals were motivated to contribute to the co-construction of ideas, attention was placed on developing trustworthy and caring relationships.

Feedback from the Course

The qualitative results, garnered from documents in the course, indicate that using a systemic approach enhanced students' awareness of how to attend to J.E.D.I. across the curriculum continuum and amplified how the aspects are interwoven. One of the students acknowledged this perspective, noting that "I see now how deeply intertwined diversity, equity, and inclusion truly are, and I understand how each of those elements needs the other two in order to be fully realized” (Graduate Student - Portfolio). Additionally, many students were initially hesitant to teach mathematics for social justice due to a lack of understanding of its meaning. However, over time, they acknowledged how beneficial it could be for facilitating students' mathematical learning outcomes if it is carefully planned and enacted. For example, one student noted, "Math for justice is more possible than I thought. I will say I was quite narrow-minded with incorporating math in social settings” (Student Reflection). Another student noted, "Definitely when talking about social topics in math, as a teacher you have to be conscious of the students you have in the classroom to make it as accessible and equitable as possible (Student Reflection). While another student noted, "And in this way math can definitely be more relatable because now students truly see like, ”Woah. I was able to see the connection with the math I learned in this class’ and those are the types of things that stick to students” (Student Reflection)

The students also acknowledged that their engagement in various group activities, in which they co-constructed knowledge, helped them to unravel the complexities of attending to J.E.D.I. within mathematics. Therefore, the students perceived that using a systemic approach enhanced their understanding of how to attend to J.ED.I. across the mathematics curriculum.  


In closing, careful planning is needed for attending to J.E.D.I. in mathematics education in order to catalyze sustainable changes that promote equitable outcomes. We found that with careful planning, students enrolled in a high school mathematics methods course exhibited a willingness to attend to J.E.D.I. in the intended, enacted, and assessed curriculum. Mathematics teacher educators and colleagues within their departments can utilize the change categories to systemically plan for J.E.D.I. within their settings, aiming to address inequities and close achievement gaps.


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