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.

How do you get started in community-engaged scholarship?

I’m a life long learner. I love learning. One topic I am learning more about is community-engaged scholarship. I’m reading, listening to podcasts, partnering with community members, inviting speakers to visit the class I’m teaching. Here are some thoughts on community-engaged scholarship that I learned from Brice Nordquist. I’ve shared them here in the form of a “zine” (mini-magazine).

What is community-engaged scholarship?
It’s about doing work together… Community-Engaged Scholarship is about the co-creation of knowledge. It’s about being in relationship. #relationship
OK – but how do I do it? (1) What do I want to be working on? (Go with what you re passionate about–passion is a key driver to successful and sustaining projects) (2) What expertise do I have? (You have many gifts. Are you an experienced classroom teacher? A researcher? A parent? A tutor? An Advocate? Bring your full self to the table)
How do I do it? (continued) (3) Who is interested in building a relationship around this? #connect (4) What are existing partnerships or networks?
Now come together around shared goals. This work was inspired by Brice Nordquist. The Zine was created by Nicole Fonger.

Some of my students are working on community-engaged projects. I encouraged them to fill out this “worksheet” to get their ideas on paper.

This this! Set a 5 minute timer, or your favorite song, and keep your pen moving the entire time. Don’t judge yourself with what you write down on paper. Let the words and ideas flow as you engage with the prompts and questions. See if within the five minutes you can write something for each block.

Community-Engagement Planning Table (1/1): (1) What is your topic? (2) What are your driving questions and goals? (3) Who is involved? (4) Where are you in the process?
Community-Engagement Planning Table (2/2): (5) What artifacts of research and/or practice are central to your work?

Students in a class I’m teaching (MTD 700 Linking Research and Practice in STEAM education) completed this exercise in class today. I’ve paraphrased some of their ideas for community-engagement here, and the “consulting” that I provided to them each in one-on-one conversations.

I want to help others who may experience anxiety in taking the mathematics content test that is required to become a math teacher.

Great – let’s connect you with current pre-service teachers in mathematics education at Syracuse University. I think your experience is invaluable to their success, you can share your experience, serve in a mentoring role, and share recourses specific to combatting math anxiety. – Prof. Fonger

I want to partner with others to support students and counselors of students. I want to distill the research in bite size pieces so that they can use it right away without needing to read lengthy articles to get to the research-informed practices.

I love your focus on both the students and the counselors of the students. I wonder which population you will focus on first. (Student: I will need to check with my partner) Sharing the power of decision making across all stakeholder groups is certainly apt. – Prof. Fonger

I want to learn from the crisis that happened in the state of Texas related to the recent power outages. I want to create lesson materials for mathematics teachers that link to some of these topics.

Great idea – this sounds connected to work discussed in the Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. They share lesson resources and templates of ideas for your to model this idea after. -Prof Fonger
Students discussing their project ideas at a cafe near campus. Sept. 2021.

First day of class.

First days of class can be the worst. I remember always being frustrated with first days of class. I always felt that we never “did anything” or accomplished anything.

That was me, as an elementary student, eager for engagement, learning, and difficult texts. Now as a professor, educator, academic, parent, I approach “firsts” from a different light.

This semester I’d like to practice the art of linking research and practice. I’m drawing on research in mathematics education to inform not only what I teach but how I teach.

I’m using Jennifer Wolfe’s (2021) article on Teaching as Becoming. I asked all students to read this article in advance of the first day of class, and I’m going to use her framework to guide “ground rules” for participation. I’m also going to do an “identity” activity as the first homework assignment to guide students’ engagement with the text, each other, and telling our stories and unique positionalities.

Guiding Principles for our Interactions

(from Guiding Principles for Our Interactions (Burkhalter, Blackburn, and Brown, 2020, as cited in Wolfe, 2021, p. 260):

(1) choosing authenticity over comfort,

(2) respecting confidentiality,

(3) embracing messiness and kindness,

(4) practicing personal and group accountability,

(5) being aware of equity of voice, and

(6) listening with the same passion with which you want to be heard. 

Wolfe (2021) recommends:

I then ask each of us to share which principle we are each going to personally center in our collective work for the day. We then revisit these principles at the end of each class and reflect on our own progress as well as give constructive and educative feedback on our strengths in honoring our chosen principle. 

Jennifer Wolfe (2021) Teaching is a Journey: A Journey in Becoming. Mathematics Teacher Learning and Teaching. doi: 10.5951/MTLT.2020.0378

Introducing my Identity

In this space, I intend to show up authentically. That will necessarily feel uncomfortable, for I am always learning new things as I engage in teaching actions. In this space, I want you to know that I am an artist, a writer, an academic, an educator. I am also a mother, a gardener, a neighbor, a friend, a sister, a daughter, and granddaughter. I am also a healer. I engage in practices of yoga, writing, meditation, and sketching as a form of expressive healing.

My identity as a scholar is shaped by my identities as a parent, community member, healer, and educator. There is little that I do in my work as a researcher that does not intersect and interact with my work as a practitioner, and vice versa. These worlds of research and practice are perpetually linked, blended, and intertwined.

I have learned recently, and embarrassingly not long ago, how important my racialized identity is to the kinds of opportunities that I am afforded in my life, profession, and perhaps most importantly education. The murder of George Floyd, in my home state of Minnesota in May 2020, shocked me to my core in a way that I am still learning to understand. I am learning to detach from whiteness ideology and practice through regular reflection, reading, discussion, and practice. I am learning to heal from the oppression and damage of whiteness ideologies for myself and for my family. I am learning to engage in the work of antiracism as an ongoing journey of interrogating and changing practice and policy in ways that are more responsive, more humane, and more aligned with love and care.

The images I share on this screen are a reflection of what I find inspiring, to keep me grounded, and to keep me feeling alive. The work of research and practice in education that is dedicated to equity, to unlearning racism, and to enacting antiracism, is draining. I believe in the importance and power of self-care practices as a staple in my diet of “to dos.” I also believe in the importance of collaboration. It is impossible for the great problems, issues, and quandries of our time to be solved by a single person alone, Instead, our issues must by solved collaboratively. As such, I focus my work as a community-engaged scholarship through building partnerships and improving communication.

When I ponder who I am today and how my past experiences have shaped me, I wonder… Perhaps its the fact that I’m a middle child (communication is important, we must collaborate to get this done!), or perhaps its the fact that my parents are divorced (again, a key here is the need for effective communication), or perhaps its the fact that I spent only 2 years in a high school classroom prior to formal study of mathematics education research (here, I have a longing and sense a deep need to link research and practice in my work, why else would anyone conduct research if not for the betterment of practice? I suppose the creative aspect of theory building is rewarding as well, and will eventually inform practice…).

With all that to say, I am in transition. Like the bodies of water that ebb and flow, and freeze over in the winter, and harbor life. My work as an academic yogi mama is to root into the needs of my community, to improve mathematics education for my own children and for the children that are yet to be born. It is my responsibility to engage in practices that support both the idea and the practice of antiracism in education, our children’s lives depend on it.

Plan overview

  • Play music while students enter the room to set the tone, have the course syllabus projected on the board and the schedule written on the white board
  • Introductions – get students to sketch an “identity” wheel, share their identity wheel with a partner, then sketch a few of those aspects on an introduction card. students will introduce themselves, practicing comfort in oral presentations
  • Norms – principles for our time together – reflect on these at the beginning, and end (expect students to take notes)
  • Share syllabus, texts, and connect to themes
  • Why this course?

Inspired by Amy Ellis, I’m trying out an “ungrading” process this semester in the course syllabus. We will use past syllabi, some guiding frameworks, and learning goals of the course to establish three rubrics:

  • Oral presentations / participation via speech
  • Written work
  • Overall grade

Let’s take it one at a time. What are key components that should be included in this rubric? What is it that you’ll be learning? What will be indicators of mastery? Progress?

Looking ahead. I’d like to close with thoughts on:

  • Readings and Discussion Leaders (who will lead next time?)
  • Homework #1: Identity (Nicole to demo)
  • Guiding principles for our interactions

That’s So Ghetto #microagression

One thing I’ve learned about racism is that until you can name it in several forms, it will continue to operate in plain sight. This zine was inspired by a collaboration with Eboni Joy Britt in the Syracuse University Office of Diversity.

Zine Creator Prof. Nicole Fonger (c) 2021
“That’s so ghetto!” #microagression
“But what exactly is a ghetto?”
“Ghettos were created and under-resourced by design…” – Prof. Nicole Fonger, Zine Creator (c) 2021.
“Have you heard of Redlining?” #housingsegregation #thenewdeal #homeownersloancorp #covenants
Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which people are denied access to financial services (e.g., mortgages, car loans, insurance) due to their race and/or ethnicity (Source: investopedia.com)
“#Redlining Systematized The Creation and Persistence of American’s Ghettos”
Shown here is a rendering of a 1919 Map of Syracuse, NY (Source: CNYCentral.com)
(LEFT): “Most African American families who were denied the opportunity to buy into Levittown … remained renters often in depressed neighborhoods, and gained no equity” (Source: The Color of Law, 2017, Richard Rothstein).
At the top left, a white family is depicted in front of a home they purchased in Levittow, NY. Below that photo, the Graph depicts the Wealth Accumulation for White Home Owners from 1948 until 2017 with growth from $8K (or $8,000) to $350K (or $350,000). These data are cited in Rothstein (2017). At the top right, a black family is depicted in front of an apartment rental. The graph below it shows wealth accumulation for black renters — nil (or $0).
(RIGHT): Equality and equity are not the same thing. This photo shows that equality would mean that despite some folks having access to what they need, everyone gets the same thing. The image on the right shows that with equity, everyone gets what they need – those who need more, get more. That way all have access.
“Equity isn’t about giving everyone the same thing. Equity is about understanding what everyone needs, and giving them that.” – Prof. Christopher Emdin
“Do you notice equity opportunities on campus?” #equityopps
Reach out @syracuseudiversity on instagram
Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Steele Hall

This zine was created by Prof. Nicole L. Fonger, Syracuse University, August 2021. Educational use of these materials is permitted under a creative commons license. Thank you for engaging with these ideas.

What is Community-Engaged Scholarship?

I like to think of the “work” of linking research and practice along a continuum. This continuum may have at one extreme <use-inspired> research and at the ether, <community-engaged scholarship>.

For me, I’ve learned from folks in the humanities and public scholars and artists, that community-engaged scholarship is intentional in disrupting power dynamics.

Sometimes as scholars we may take for granted the “basics” of asking questions and meeting needs. I’ve found that community-engaged work challenges me to question: Who gets to ask questions? Whose needs are met?

As an example of one initiative, faculty members and public artists are coming together to explore collaboration that brings a sense of “place” to two sister cities – Syracuse, NY and Rochester, NY.

One goal of our group is to disrupt the power structure of who the “keepers of methods” are. Another idea we are exploring is moving outside the University space into community spaces (e.g., parks, murals, sidewalks).

How are support structures designed to encourage additional work as a community-engaged scholar? Consider the example highlighted below with explicit guidelines, definitions, and parameters to make community-engaged scholarship count in tangible ways for both the community that is being served, and the individual scholar who is participating and/or leading the efforts.

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.

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