Sarah B. Bush, Ph.D., Professor, University of Central Florida
Lisa A. Brooks, Ed.D., Senior Lecturer, University of Central Florida
Juli K. Dixon, Ph.D., Professor, University of Central Florida
Treshonda Rutledge, M.Ed., Graduate Research Associate, University of Central Florida
Malcolm B. Butler, Ph.D., Professor and Dean, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Brian Moore, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Central Florida
Implementing equitable mathematics instruction is an ongoing, collective commitment that must be made by teachers, schools, districts, and beyond to ensure that each and every student has access to high-quality mathematics instruction. Investment solely by individual teachers is not enough. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2020b, p. 62)
So, how do we address inequities that exist in our educational systems? How do we reframe perceived impressions of mathematical ability to embrace the truth that every student can achieve success in mathematics? How do we instill confidence, capacity, and agency in mathematics teachers? These are all important questions that are not easily answered. These questions motivated us to establish new structures designed to explore the process for making transformative changes in K-8 mathematics education. We posit that leveraging a structure that elevates the voices of Mathematics Teacher Leaders is a pathway to such transformative change. We are exploring this pathway through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Noyce Track 3 Master Teacher Fellowship grant, Empowering STEM Teachers with Earned Doctorates: A Noyce Program for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teachers (DUE 2050606).
Realizing classroom environments that exemplify high quality, responsive learning spaces where students’ mathematics identities are positively developed is an integral yet bounded component of reimagining mathematics instruction as equitable. Embodying a collective commitment to equitable mathematics instruction will not happen by chance. Instead, it necessitates a brave willingness of some members to orchestrate the process and provide a vision, working to get everyone on board, shifting away from teaching as a highly individualized activity towards teaching as a shared responsibility (Bush, Karp, & Dougherty, 2021). Our work at the University of Central Florida is dedicated to developing mathematics teacher leaders who are knowledgeable experts committed to equity, ready to serve as essential orchestrators towards building a system of mathematics excellence in their schools and districts. However, mathematics teacher leaders are often left in a seemingly impossible position. They are equipped with the knowledge, resources, and tools essential for transformative change, yet they are not positioned in their setting, or may not feel comfortable, leading beyond their own classrooms or grade-level teams. Our work with Orange County Public Schools, one of the largest urban districts in the U.S., seeks solutions to these deep-rooted and widespread barriers in mathematics education.
Developing Teacher Leaders
To address these barriers, with the support of our NSF Noyce Grant, we have created and adopted a two-pronged approach which includes 1) developing mathematics teacher experts and leaders through a new Ed.D. specialization in K-8 mathematics education and 2) launching a Teacher Leader Academy, which provides a platform for our Fellows to establish themselves as leaders in their district. Together, the Ed.D. program and the Teacher Leader Academy exemplify catalysts for change. Our university, partner school district, and non-profit partner City Year Orlando are collaborating to professionalize STEM education by empowering our Fellows to become confident advocates, positioned to catalyze change in their school and district.
Fellows apply what they learn in the Ed.D. program in their district through the University of Central Florida-Orange County Public Schools (UCF-OCPS) Teacher Leader Academy to enact the recommendations of the NCTM Catalyzing Change Framework (NCTM, 2020a, 2020b). The 15 Fellows are full-time classroom teachers enrolled in the Ed.D. program, which is designed for completion in three years, and are committed to the Teacher Leader Academy for the five years of the Noyce program. They will complete a five-year Noyce teaching service commitment in our partner district as part of their agreement for acceptance into the Noyce program. Each Fellow receives a $10,000 salary supplement each year of the five-year Noyce program.
It is our intent that through this partnership, K-8 mathematics teachers with doctoral degrees, who are on “the front lines” every day, will be well-positioned to navigate and contend with the many time, fiscal, and resource barriers that currently exist in K-8 schools. The Teacher Leader Academy invests in developing Fellows’ agency to implement meaningful, systemic change. As a result, these mathematics teacher leaders are the ones thinking critically about the greatest needs in K-8 mathematics education, and they will be able to approach problems methodologically from their job-embedded perspectives.
Empowering STEM Teachers With Earned Doctorates
The K-8 mathematics education specialization is designed to position Fellows to continue to develop their expertise in the classroom while also supporting them with the knowledge to systematically examine their teaching practice as well as the structures from within which they are positioned to lead. The coursework combines classes focused on curriculum, instruction, and research with courses in mathematics education. Importantly, a foundational component of building the confidence for K-8 mathematics teachers to lead is to deeply develop their content knowledge for teaching mathematics (Dixon, Nolan, Adams, Brooks, & Howse, 2016).
In addition to courses focused on content knowledge for teaching mathematics, Fellows are provided opportunities to increase their knowledge related to policies, practices, and structures influencing K-8 mathematics classrooms, coaching, and professional leadership. The Fellows experience all of their courses as a cohort in a synchronous-remote setting, reinforcing the sense of community that is so helpful when elevating voices and influencing systems while at the same time, acknowledging the challenges that traveling to face-to-face classes would introduce.
Actualizing Change Through an Innovative Teacher Leader Academy
The Teacher Leader Academy engages Fellows in deliberate practice and leverages a synergistic approach to support Fellows as they make intentional links between research and practice through the following three components:
Insights from Year 1 and Next Steps
Engagement in the Ed.D. program and the Teacher Leader Academy is already having a positive impact on the Fellows. As we conclude year one, we celebrate their successes. To provide some insight into their experiences, we recently asked our Fellows, “How are you using the knowledge you have gained in the Noyce Program to advocate and catalyze change in your setting?” We were encouraged by the responses we received, some of which we have shared in the table below.
As we move into Year 2, we are considering the best ways to support our Fellows in their journey as mathematics teacher leaders. Fellows will continue to build their knowledge and develop their confidence through coursework in the Ed.D. program, will begin pre-dissertation research exploration, and will ramp up their leadership work through the Teacher Leader Academy in both their school sites and in their work with City Year Orlando.
In closing, we aim to elevate the voices of mathematics teacher leaders and to develop their agency as teachers and leaders. This work encapsulates the notion that it truly “takes a village.” We’ve learned that the support of strong partnerships, a shared vision of what is possible, and hearts dedicated to this work make all the difference in elevating teachers’ voices and developing their mathematical agency. At the same time, we acknowledge that we are most likely learning more from the Fellows than they are from us; we are inspired daily by their commitment to their students, bravery to advocate in their settings, and dedication as lifelong learners. Impactful and systemic change is no easy task, but we, along with our partners and, most importantly, the Fellows, are up for the challenge.
Thanks to ARISE Blog Editor, Dr. Ruthmae Sears, for inviting the authors to share their new and exciting project to prepare mathematics teacher leaders and advocates for systemic change.