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CEHD’s School Success Center led immersive professional learning with support from the Delaware Department of Education

Professional learning communities are crucial spaces for teachers within a school, district or content area to share pedagogical ideas, address professional challenges, engage in critical inquiry and grow as educators. However, many Black teachers struggle to find learning communities that also speak to their unique identities and experiences as Black educators.

With a grant from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE), the University of Delaware School Success Center (SSC), housed within UD’s College of Education and Human Development, facilitated this professional space for Black secondary mathematics teachers in Delaware. Through the Empowering Black Secondary Mathematics (ESBME) Project, SSC facilitators Jonathan Dinkins and Nicole Draper offered twelve participants an immersive professional learning experience centered on the needs of Black educators. The series culminated in a colloquium on inequities in mathematics education with Toya Frank of the National Science Foundation (NSF) on June 4, 2024.

“This group is meant to support and empower secondary Black math teachers in the state of Delaware by giving them a forum to discuss their mathematical, racialized and educational experiences,” said Draper, SSC school success specialist and a Black former educator. “The ultimate goal of this group is to build a supportive professional network, beyond and within school districts, where currently practicing secondary Black teachers can explore how to inform schools, policymakers and teacher preparation programs on how to recruit and retain a diverse mathematics teaching force, while supporting them in their current positions as instructional leaders.”

The Empowering Black Secondary Mathematics Educators Project

Drawing on research from The Black Teachers Project, the EBSME project was envisioned in 2023 by Crystal Collier, a former secondary mathematics teacher and current SSC mathematics school specialist, and formalized by Faith Muirhead, current SSC director. With support from the DDOE, the SSC recruited Black mathematics educators and launched the program in March 2024 with four goals: cultivate a transformative vision for education among participants, facilitate participants’ professional growth and leadership, promote reflection on and continuous improvement related to the needs of Black educators and build a supportive network that extends throughout the state.

Co-facilitated by Dinkins and Draper, the program offered participants six three-hour workshops, fostering in-depth discussions, skill development and community-building. It combined structured sessions with open dialogues, allowing participants to shape discussions based on their needs. Specific topics included building community and setting goals, understanding racialized experiences, culturally responsive pedagogy, empowering through mentorship and more.

“Learning how to navigate my truths as a minority educator alongside like-minded individuals has been a passion of mine for a few years,” said Dinkins, SSC school success specialist and a Black former secondary mathematics teacher. “I am very passionate about elevating the voices of the many Black mathematics educators across the state.”

The SSC also offered ongoing support and mentorship opportunities to help participants foster a lasting professional network.

“We know that students of color benefit greatly from teachers who have a shared cultural background and similar lived experiences,” said Muirhead. “However, in Delaware, fewer than 12% of teachers identify as African American.” How do we recruit and retain educators of color? One way I do this is by making it a priority to engage and support educators of color who often feel isolated and face unique challenges within our educational system. The EBSME series is a concrete way to help create a safe space for Black educators to share their experiences and advocate for inclusive policies.”

Exploring the Inequities of Mathematics Education

In the culminating colloquium for the EBSME project, Frank, program director for NSF’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal settings, shared her research on the professional trajectories of Black mathematics teachers, framing her work within a larger conception of equity in education.

Frank emphasized that the larger public often thinks about equity in education solely in relation to closing achievement gaps. While this work is important, creating equitable learning opportunities depends on recognizing children’s social and cultural identities and ensuring that every child can participate in meaningful mathematics education.

“I am still a believer in the achievement aspect [of equity work in education,]” said Frank. “But, I think sometimes we prioritize achievement in a way that leaves children’s personhood at the door. [Equity in education] can be achievement, thinking about personhood, considering social issues and all of these things working together because they are interconnected.”

Frank’s study, Examining the Trajectories of Black Mathematics Teachers, works to document the oral histories and experiences of Black mathematics teachers pre- and post-school desegregation as a means of informing contemporary recruitment and retention policies and processes. The project also examines the experiences and beliefs of currently practicing K-12 Black mathematics teachers in relation to mathematics content, recruitment, retention, racialized experiences in education and current pedagogical practices.

Elevating Teacher Voices

Kaliyah Leake, a first-year educator “finding [her] way,” was grateful to participate in the EBSME project with a group of supportive fellow teachers.

“Having a space where there were other teachers who looked like me and had similar experiences to me really made me more confident in my role as a Black mathematics teacher,” said Leake. “It showed me that others, who look like and have had the same experiences as me, have been doing this and some much longer than me, so I can do it too. The group brought to the forefront of my mind how much I am impacting not only students in general, but especially my students of color who do not have a lot of teachers that look like them. I am so grateful to have been included and cannot wait to see where and how this community builds.”

Desiree Andrews, another EBSME participant, found the experience to be enriching, thought-provoking and inspiring.

“My participation in EBSME has enhanced my knowledge and skill set, enabling me to better meet the needs of teachers in my district,” said Andrews. “The research I engaged with was both rich and thought-provoking, inspiring me to challenge and disrupt existing systems. Additionally, my involvement with both EBSME and Dare to Lead, initiatives supported by UD’s SSC, has greatly improved my ability to engage in courageous conversations around equity.”

“We are honored to have partnered to create this series and look forward to expanding this program to reach more educators of color,” said Muirhead.

To learn more about the EBSME project, contact Dinkins at jmjd@udel.edu.

Article by Jessica Henderson. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Dinkins.

Image caption: Participants in the Empowering Black Secondary Mathematics Educators Project pose for a photo with Jonathan Dinkins and Nicole Draper, the School Success Center facilitators.