Rx. Breathe, nature, self-care.

A student recently visited my office hours in a desolate condition. Complaints about a class, another class, another professor, poured out of their mouth no sooner than tears began streaming down their face. The world as they knew it was crashing in on them. Perseverating on fears, the unknown possibility of a dark future, seemingly unable to be here now…

I found myself calm, attuned, and open-hearted.  In listening and observing, I sought to see the student. I sought to provide a mirror, and offered the following “prescription” written on the front and back of an index card:

Practice non-judgement. Notice when your mind perseverates on something — an expectation, a perceived “failure.” Notice when it’s you against yourself in the ring. Yet in noticing, do not judge it. Just allow it to be, and move on. Ah, it is there, my teacher, how interesting. It is not good, it is not bad, it just is. #mindfulness

Notice nature. As you walk out into the world, look around you in nature. Notice. What is happening outside? The changing seasons, the falling of leaves, the preparation for winter, a cool brisk breeze… These are all beautiful reflections of letting go. Changes occurring in the macrocosm all around you on Earth, are also occurring within you as a microcosm. The antidote is always the opposite.  Ground into the earth, drink water, find a place to be, just be, without another agenda. #naturewalk

Breathe. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Inhale for four counts, exhale for eight counts. Repeat this breath pattern and notice how your parasympathetic nervous system responds and relaxes into a calmer state with the power of the breath grounding you to the now. #breathe

Seek out support. Find another person in each class or group that you can confide in, and work through related difficulties together. Go directly to each of your teachers, mentors, or professors, and explain the trouble you are having. Visit health services and a counseling center. I recommend the “mind spa” which is a quiet room designed to cultivate relaxation, meditation, and a space to just be.

As the student left, he called over his shoulder saying, “I’ll see you next week.” I smiled. Mind you, this student is not on one of my class rosters. Instead, he found himself in my office during one of the prize times each week I hold space for students to be, to converse, to do math, to tell stories (i.e., office hours).

As I reflect on this experience, what stands out the most, is the oneness of human experience. We do such a great job of presenting our selves to the world (most of the time). As of late, these representations of self often come through shiny, filtered lenses and posts that portray the best of us. Yet these portrayals of self and of experience often fail to convey the totality of human experience–including the humanity in suffering.

Each of us has a story, has been stuck, has suffered affliction of one form or another. Our challenge then, remains an opportunity. See one another. Hold space for one another. Be. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one.

What is our work?

This post is a Zine I created to share my current thinking (May 2021) about the work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition – Syracuse. It’s a starting point for conversation and action toward antiracist algebra for the future of black students who attend Syracuse City School District. Reach out with comments or questions. I’d love to hear from you.

Antiracist Algebra Coalition Cogen Leaders 2021 – What is our work?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Teach Antiracist Lessons. What makes a lesson antiracist? What are the guiding principles and practices for antiracist curriculum and instruction?
((c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Engage Teachers in Dialogue About Race, Racism, Bias — What are accountability measures for action on this front? How are views, beliefs, manifested in actions? What are teachers’ views of students’ mathematics capabilities? (How) Can those be changed?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
The Syracuse City School District has adopted an “Anti-racist Policy” — how can the superintendent be held accountable for upholding this policy? What role does the SCSD Board of Education play in this accountability? What role do students and families play in this?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Let’s empower parents, families, and students to demand action and change. We aim to spread accessible information about students’ rights to quality mathematics education to parents and families. This may include knowledge about the policies and procedures in place to ensure that those opportunities to learn are there. WIth such knowledge, parents, families, and students may become empowered to act and advocate when the institution of education falls short of students’ rights to quality mathematics education. Demand equity. Address access, achievement, power, and identity.
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
Part of the theory of action or theory of change for the work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition includes the following components: (a) Teacher education with specific emphasis on teachers’ views of students’ mathematics capabilities. this training can occur through “SCORE” training (student coalition on race and equity) with a specific emphasis on mathematics (b) Antiracism in Practice via Lesson Study – engage in cycles of experimentation and theory building to advance principles and practices of antiracist algebra (c) Student and Family Empowerment and Action through Advocacy, Art, and Placemaking, and (d) Achievement and Experience. How do students’ test scores in algebra and disciplinary rates relate to one another? How can these measures be used to reframe the narrative around student failure or success toward teacher, principal, school, district accountability to students’ opportunities to learn?
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger
The work of antiracism is ongoing and never ending. It is a battle of resilience in the face of racist policy and practice that perpetuate anti-black racism and uphold white supremacy. Through the systematic work of the Antiracist Algebra Coalition we are dedicated to bringing our strengths to the table, with a focus on manifesting joy. We invite you to join us.
(c) Nicole L. Fonger May 2021 “Antiracist Algebra Coalition: What is Our Work?” Zine @nmlfonger)

Joy in math is possible.

Disproportionality in achievement outcomes such as math scores, and graduation rates, are smoke signals of racist policy and practice.
Abolitionist work is about fighting, resisting, and confronting, as much as it is about dreaming, imagining and creating.
The work of antiracism involves educating ourselves, educating others, and advocating for change.
Joy in Math is Possible.
All images are copyright by the author, Nicole L. Fonger (c) 2021. You are welcome to use these images under a creative Commons License. However, please cite these resources accordingly.

Antiracism and Algebra.

I believe a mechanism to supporting an antiracist agenda in algebra education is to form a coalition of diverse stakeholders who are dedicated to racial justice and committed to learning and taking action to dismantle policies and practices that perpetuate inequities for students’ meaningful learning of algebra.

Let me tell you more about this work in a series of sketches and visual provocations. If you’re interested to learn more, or take on a leadership role in this work, please visit the Antiracist Algebra Coalition website. I look forward to connecting with you!

Note: the artwork on this site is copyright by Nicole L. Fonger (c) 2021. Please do not use, copy, or freely distribute without express permission from the artist. Thank you.

An Equity Lens (in Sketchnotes)

What is equity?

Equity lenses help to better understand and situate both broad issues in mathematics education, as well as approaches to addressing inequities and injustices. In this series of sketches, I explore one lens on equity developed by Rochelle Gutierrez, and relate this to other perspectives by Christopher Emdin and Bettina Love. While the sketches are my own, I draw on the ideas of other scholars and thought leaders to inform these visualizations.

Rochelle Gutierrez (2007) argues that equity includes both access and achievement (dominant axis) as well as identity and power (critical axis).
Lens offer a way to see things from new perspectives, a way to tie things together, or a new set of glasses that might clarify or sharpen our vision on complex issues.
In taking the notion of “access” dominant perspectives might focus on the need for tools (WiFI, computers, tasks).
Christopher Emdin champions the idea that equity is not about giving everyone the same thing. Equity is about understanding what people need and giving them that.
Christopher Emdin also argues for listening to young folks, our students in classrooms, to understand — do not assume — what they need to best support their learning.
How can our view of access become more nuanced and complex? Consider viewing culturally responsive education through a lens of access.
In Bettina Love’s (2019) book on abolitionist teaching, she argues for looking across linguistic and cultural resources. Attention to places — cities, schools, states — is also central in better understanding access.

Being, Rain.

Lately I’ve been focusing on cultivating a sense of being. Non-judgmental being. I notice when I come into a state of judging myself, judging others, and sit with that.

Through writing, through mothering, through teaching, through researching, through mentoring, through exercising, through gardening, through sitting. All of these practices provide opportunities for being. Yet they also provide opportunities for which doubt, suspicion, or judgment might seep in.

In a state of being, I notice. I breathe. I experience sensation in my body. I pause to listen to what I need. I listen to and notice the potentiality of needs that aren’t being met. I drink water. I move by body. To the extent possible, I adjust the light, sound, and sense of distractions in my present surroundings.

A yoga and wisdom teacher recently introduced me to the RAIN technique. Recognize, allow, interrogate, and nourish. The RAIN practice invites you to:

recognize – notice thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, acts of social participation;

allow – to the extent possible, allow yourself to be fully immersed in those thoughts, feelings, sensations, or practices;

interrogate – become gently curious about those experiences, and wonder; and

nourish – embrace with heart centered energy, warmth, and love.

Through practices such as these, or variations on them, again and again, I cultivate a sense of being.

Cultivating Joy.

What if your job was to cultivate joy? In all seriousness, I believe this is in some way – I have yet to figure out how to quantify or qualify it – this is my purpose. My job is to cultivate joy. My purpose is to cultivate joy. I can still hear the words of RMIII echoing in my mind as he champions “you were built for this” to the community. I was built to cultivate joy.

Cultivating joy means living with intention to make decisions, engage in activities, build relationships, and ultimately make choices that bring about a sense of joy. Joy for me and joy for others.

I believe that when I am guided by intentions of cultivating joy, I find myself more receptive to others, and more receptive to the nature of my experience.

Receptivity to experience is not to be conflated with acceptance. Instead, it’s about being open to whatever unfolds. It means detaching from judgement of good, bad, or ugly, and becoming curious and kind.

For example, this happens to me a lot during meetings. I’ll find myself in a meeting and sooner or later start to notice that I’m uncomfortable. I might be leading the meeting with one or more students, and hear an inner voice of doubt and imposter syndrome sink in. Listen to yourself, you don’t know what you’re talking about. (notice judgement)

I might be participating in a meeting where my primary role is to listen. In these cases, I have noticed a pattern that I sometimes disengage from what others are saying. Instead of paying full attention, I might notice something else that’s happening in the room, such as power dynamics. I especially like to notice when there is a mis-match of agendas and expectations across participants. Why am I sitting here in this meeting? What do I have to bring to the table?

In each of these situations, I notice. How does this relate to joy? I notice the interactions and agendas that seem to have fewer opportunities for joy. I reflect on this, and learn how I can make changes in the future.

In meetings that I lead, for example, I can pause every time I notice inner dialogue in the form of judgement, and take a break. I can drink water, write down the idea, and come back to it later. I can openly express my discomfort and invite others in the meeting to reflect on it as well.

In meetings that I participate in, I can notice the sticking points, and draw them. I find drawing and sketching to be wonderful forms of releasing attachment to emotion. I can also move my body. I know that more often than not, meeting spaces are designed with tables and chairs. I also know that after a certain point, my body needs to move. Getting up and stretching, drinking water, walking around the back of the room, or moving my hand while drawing are all ways for me to work through discomfort.

Thus cultivating joy means noticing when I’m joyful, and noticing when I’m not. It means deliberately crafting opportunities for expressions of joy, and having strategies for releasing discomfort and tension. For when I am able to release that which no longer serves me, I open up. Spaciousness is necessary. Allow it to be, and allow yourself to grow.

How do you cultivate joy? What are you doing now that is joyful? If it’s not joyful, notice. Become curious and kind. And set an intention to seek out joy. Allow yourself to be surprised on where an intention of joy might take you.

Compassion, Curiosity for Monsters.

Do you ever fall into patterns of negativity, self-doubt, or rumination on past or present?

Do you ever slip into states of discontent with no apparent way out?

I’ve recently found that curiosity and compassion have been two indispensable tools for seeing and releasing monsters I otherwise keep inside.

“I see you. I hear you. It is OK.”

mantra of compassion

Using this mantra helps when I find myself engaging in negative self talk. This monster seems to come out when I perceive that I am disappointing others, or my own self-determined expectations. By shining light on this monster, sharing my perceptions with others, it allows me to be kinder and gentler. Allowing this monster to be and express itself is Ok. For if I instead trap the monster in the dark, berate it for showing up, it only complicates the healing journey.

“It is OK to be here now. I notice the urge to be doing and giving more, or less. It is OK to give yourself time to be.”

mantra of curiosity

Another tendency I’ve noticed lately is the urge to be doing something qualitatively different than my current state or activity. “Do more” might sound like:

I’m not writing right now. I didn’t write yesterday. What if because I’m not writing right now, and don’t WANT to write right now, it means I’m no longer a writer.

Being patient with myself, I notice and remain curious about this voice. I share this frustration with a trusted friend. And when another friend serendipitously asked me “did you just come from writing?” and I instinctually said “yes” (even though I hadn’t) I then found myself writing for the first time later that day, and really enjoying my experience.

“This curiosity allowed me to approach writing like an old friend. Curious and gentle. Open and present.”

dedicated practices remain alive, even while seemingly dormant

By remaining curious about the call to do more, or the negative energy around doing less, I’m allowing myself time to be with what is.

Breathe in the “isness” of now. Sense the aliveness all around. Notice any calling to change what is. Release attachment to judgements of good or bad. This is the practice.

Showing up.

Showing up is important.
Not only showing up for other people,
but showing up for yourself.

Lately, I’ve been showing up for myself
by sharing my ideas.
By embracing the inevitable vulnerability of sharing
something personal–your art–
in a way that is open for public critique.

Preparing for a presentation to an international audience of
experts on theory, methods, and mathematics education research,
I found myself fastidiously creating an extra set of slides with my notes
ready for the inevitable disaster of a failed presentation.

Yet in walking to dinner the night before my talk,
I just started giving my talk – no slides, no notes,
I already knew it by heart.

So in showing up for myself, it was a matter of perspective.
I believe in my potential to share ideas in insightful ways.
It’s important to notice when our inner voice of doubt might
hamper an inner seed of creativity and expressive confidence.

It’s important to notice and to remain curious.

Another way I have been showing up for myself is in noticing the inner critique.
Sometimes the voice over shadows my presence — work more, do yoga in a studio, plan better, be more social, connect with others, buy a gift for the person you love, read that article, …
In noticing this inner voice, I can learn to not judge it, but simply welcome it, and remain curious.

From this place of curiosity…

I can practice yoga at home – without the “guilt” of it not being “good enough” because I’m not at a yoga studio.

I can write freely because I want to, not because I’m afraid of the consequences of not writing, or the judgement of others because of my choices.

I can take time to be at home, alone, without a social agenda and that is OK. Not every minute needs to be fixed and focused on goal-directed activity or socialization. It is OK to allow for free time to fluidly move in and out of tasks and to dos.

In learning to show up for myself, I am more attuned to showing up for others as well.


Gazing out a window.

The ability to gaze out a window.
To see onto a world, to impose meaning on it.
Is such a gift.
I cherish this gift, and position myself throughout the day to
have as much exposure as possible to nature and the outside world.

As a scholar and teacher I write and engage in indoor spaces.
I have the ability to shut the door to my office and not see the light of day.
Yet I find myself yearning for something more.

I’m learning to listen to  my anxieties.
To notice when I am tense.
Being gentle with myself I ask, what is it that is unsettling at this moment?
More often than not I learn that one or more of my basic needs are not met.

I am hungry.
I am thirsty.
I need to move.
I need to be connected to nature.

In winter months connection to nature means take a walk outdoors, however briefly, to fully experience and breath in fresh air.
It means sitting near a window and gazing lovingly at the outside world.
Its like living in a snow globe that I never have to leave.

Today is yet another reminder to be gentle.
To engage in routines that support my well-being.
To prioritize my health.
And to be grateful for the opportunity to live well.

Learning to listen.

Learning to listen.
To a calling, deep inside.
Turning inward to notice.
No longer hidden–
A desire to connect.
With higher purpose.

Through expression.
Through teaching.
Through silence.
Through sleep.

My dreams bring visions of
translations of Sanskrit verses
Yet here I am–awakened to the sounds of babes
Crying, whining, cajoling me back to awareness.
A reality a dream in and of itself.

Reaching out, reaching in.
Reflecting on photos and moments frozen in time.
Brings me back–transcending time and space
To inspire myself to do it again.

Grounded in the Earth
a homecoming.
Grounded in practices of expression.
Protecting ideas while playing the game.

Targeting “low hanging fruit”
While keeping an eye on stars in the sky
Dreams that will only come to light
The more I allow myself to feed them and
Help them grow

Wrestling between states of contemplation
Work, activity, doing
States of non-doing and
free space are few and far between

Wondering what drives me
Pulled in seemingly disparate directions
Yet alive and well,
I turn inward, to feel the flame burning
bright from within
An aliveness that no one–
not even my own inner critic–
can squelch.

Here now.
I listen.
Always learning.
Learning to listen.


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