From feeling overwhelmed to better understanding our spheres of influence (A book study reflection)

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Lara Jasien,
Nashville, TN

Stephanie Castaneda,
Round Rock, TX,

Rhonda Pierre,
Indianapolis, IN

Brianna Ruiz
Sacramento, CA

Jocelyn Dunnack,
Columbia, CT

Danielle Boggs,
Champaign, IL

We all have a sphere of influence. Each of us needs to find our own sources of courage so that we will begin to speak. There are many problems to address, and we cannot avoid them indefinitely. (Tatum, 2017, p. 407)

CPM Educational Program has recently grown from a small company with a few full-time employees to a larger company with many full-time staff devoted to providing More Math to More People.

Three CPM employees met to discuss racism in the education system and how the work culture at CPM is impacted by racism. It quickly became obvious that each person was at a different point on their journey toward understanding racism and we all were committed to working together to learn more. Three became a group of six culturally and racially diverse people who volunteered to facilitate a company-wide book study of Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

This study helped us develop a shared vocabulary and better understand ourselves and each other while challenging us to better understand how racism impacts our ability to follow the CPM Equity Principles. We are sharing these experiences with you because we know that what we do, and do not do, impacts you and your students.

This is a statement the facilitators created together and used to begin each book study meeting:

We know racism is real.
We recognize our responsibility as humans to actively work towards
dismantling racism, knowing that everything we do either perpetuates or
dismantles it.

This is especially important in our roles as educators, and in this
mathematics education organization, as everything we do impacts both
students and teachers.

By meeting together to talk about our responsibilities to dismantle racism,
we are better able to be actively anti-racist in our work.

We acknowledge that we are not experts, that we all have different
experiences, and that we all have more to learn.

We offered to facilitate this study because we all appreciate opportunities
to discuss and learn about racism with others.

Taking the time to craft this statement was deeply meaningful to us in shaping our work together and continues to be the bedrock of our mutual trust.

This book study allowed us to take risks in our conversations alongside colleagues, consequently helping us develop the courage to speak up with others especially when we hear something problematic. While we will always have room for growth, we are now better able to identify ideas that need to be disrupted and we have a sufficient vocabulary for doing so. When we can talk about these things, we are better able to take action. Tatum writes:

We cannot continue to be silent. We must begin to speak, knowing that words alone are insufficient. But I have seen that meaningful dialogue can lead to effective action. Change is possible. (Tatum, 2017, p. 407)

Since the book study has ended we have found ways to continue our joint work in learning together about how we can push our work to be anti-racist. Having each other is essential because, as some of us have experienced and as Tatum so eloquently states,

When [we] begin to recognize the pervasiveness of racism in the culture and our institutions, [we can] begin to despair, feeling powerless to effect change… (Tatum, 2017, p. 405)

While even the collective “we” cannot fix everything, some things are within our control. Tatum has helped us analyze our spheres of influence. We ask ourselves: Whose lives do I affect and how? What power and authority do I wield in the world?. (Tatum, 2017, p. 405)

As members of CPM’s writing, professional learning, and research teams, our collective sphere of influence is wide. Still, as individuals, it can feel like our ability to make change is small. This book study gave us space to think about how our respective teams at CPM can make a bigger impact in dismantling racism. According to Tatum,

Because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of American institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it is to go about business as usual. (Tatum, 2017, pp. 115-116)

We — as individuals passionate about mathematics education and as teams within CPM — cannot go about business as usual. We have to actively look for injustice and face it — and the ways we have perpetuated it — head-on. What we learned by talking to each other about our takeaways from this book has helped us see our work in new ways.

For each of us in our multiracial group of facilitators, this book acted as a mirror that helped us understand ourselves better and as a window that helped us better understand the lives and perspectives of those who are culturally and racially different from us. We now have a shared experience that we can draw on in our relationships and in our work together.

We will leave you with two quotes that embody the purpose of doing a book study like this, and we hope these quotes make you curious to learn more about our journey, or your own.

For Black, Indigenous, and People of Color:

The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others. Our ongoing examination of who we are in our full humanity, embracing all of our identities, creates the possibility of building alliances that may ultimately free us all. (Tatum, 2017, p. 134-135)

For White People:

The relevant question is not whether all Whites are racist but how we can move more White people from a position of active or passive racism to one of active antiracism. (Tatum, 2017, p. 116)

*This article is the first in a series of articles that will share experiences and outcomes of this book study. We hope you look forward to the next article where we share the personal and professional impacts this book study had on its participants.

**If you are interested in starting a similar book study and would like us to reach out to you to further discuss our experiences and resources, please provide your name and email address in the Tatum book study: Request for more information Form and we will reach out to you shortly.

Tatum, B. D. (2017). Why are all the black kids still sitting together in the cafeteria?” and other conversations about race in the twenty-first century [Kindle Version]. Basic Books.


Link to book on Goodreads
Link to the official Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria book study guide (PDF)
Link to all our resources

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.