Promoting equity in mathematics classrooms

A reflection on what we can do every day to build a better, more equitable classroom and world


As this school year begins, I feel a more profound sense of responsibility and humility as an educator than I have felt in many years.  We begin this year facing, in some sense, a different world than we faced at the start of last year – but perhaps the world is not as different as our new awareness of its complexity may be.  Perhaps our collective awareness is what has been most changed during the last several months, because teachers deal with extremely complex issues every day of the year.

More than ever, we must acknowledge our opportunity – and obligation – as educators to provide a safe, respect-filled, thoughtful learning environment for EVERY student.  We must demonstrate unequivocally that we equally value the thinking and potential of every student, through our words, actions, practices, and policies.

How can we do so in a mathematics classroom? Are you committed to equity, and are you ready to show it?

  • We can stop – right now – using the language “high” and “low” to describe students.  (Achievement on a given assessment may be high or low, but these terms should not apply to students.  What do we really mean when we say “high” or “low”??)
  • We can promote all students’ equal participation in class by using random name drawing on a frequent and consistent basis.
  • We can promote collaboration and respect among students by asking them to listen to each other and to respond to (or re-explain) what others have said.
  • We can listen – really listen – to students’ thinking and questions, not just listen for right answers and then move on.
  • We can stop encouraging fast thinking and fast answers – slow down, and allow all students to think – really think – about a given question or idea.
  • We can celebrate mistakes, because brain science actually shows that our brains grow when we make mistakes – more so than if we do not make mistakes.
  • We can ask questions rather than telling – see the article “Never say anything a kid can say”.
  • We can stop using the word “math” when we mean “computation” and acknowledge that mathematics is what the Standards for Mathematical Practice describe – a dynamic, multi-faceted, open discipline in which every learner has equal opportunity to learn and grow.

Resources to help you initiate equity in the classroom:

© Summit Mathematics Education Enterprises, LLC 2014