Using Teacher Self Reflection to Foster Equitable Learning Communities

by Lynne Godfrey

November 8, 2023

Teaching is an academic and human endeavor that involves continuous cycles of interactions of the instructional core: students, content, and teachers. There are many factors that influence our decisions about what and how to teach the children in our care. We attend to the development of children’s mathematical ideas, and the strengthening of students’ math identities, confidence, and agency. Responsive teaching also means attending to the development of our own math knowledge and uncovering of beliefs and values that may impact teaching and learning. Maintaining a focus on all of these can be challenging and at times overwhelming. Self-reflection is a practice that can support us in staying focused on the goal of creating more equitable learning communities.

Uncovering Beliefs, Values, and Impact

Teaching that is responsive to students requires time to consider biases that may influence our decisions. How we feel about and view our students has a direct impact on what we expect of each of them and the opportunities we provide for them to contribute to the math discourse and grow their math identities.

The true power of culturally responsive teaching comes from being comfortable in your own skin because you are not a neutral party in the process. You can never take yourself out of the equation. Instead, you must commit to the journey. This means we each must do the “inside-out” work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social-emotional awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions on students (Hammond, p. 53).

Documenting our own math story or autobiography can be a place to begin to examine how our own experiences and math knowledge may impact our students. Starting with questions like “What was my experience in math classrooms?” and “How might those experiences influence how I see my students and what they experience in the classroom?” can serve to uncover values and beliefs that may determine how and what we teach.

Reflecting on Multiple Sources of Classroom Data

As teachers, we collect and analyze data about individual students’ understanding, strategies, and misconceptions, in order to plan and make instructional decisions. That data comes from multiple sources, including both formal and informal resources.

Collecting data focused on our practice can help us reflect on how those instructional decisions impact how students see themselves and their peers as members of the mathematics community. Often this type of data is hidden or goes unexamined. By intentionally posing questions about instructional practices and decisions, and collecting data to determine whose ideas are being heard and valued and which students are being positioned as math doers and thinkers, we can begin to assess the effectiveness of our practices on students’ math identities. Explicitly tracking this kind of data can help us “cut across the blur of memory and give better information about actual practice” (Wamstead, 2021).

In my recent work with Amanda, a novice teacher, I noticed a pattern in which students were volunteering to contribute and which were being called on during whole class discussions. I knew the teacher was working hard to ask open and follow up questions that would help her better understand students’ thinking (e.g. “Can you say more?” and “Does this represent what you were thinking?”) Working on not telegraphing right/wrong and practicing active listening are worthwhile endeavors for teachers at every stage of their careers. I knew Amanda was learning a great deal about the five students who did most of the contributing, but very little about the ideas, questions, and current conceptions of the other ten students in the class. To help the teacher self-reflect and recognize this inequity I transcribed and videotaped lessons. We looked together at the transcripts and videos with these questions in mind: Who is contributing? Whose voices are being heard? What am I, the teacher doing/not doing, to foster an equitable learning community? After engaging in this process of examining the data through an equity lens, the teacher decided on two practices she would incorporate into her lessons. The first was to offer extended wait time, to allow students more time to formulate their thoughts. And the second was building in at least two opportunities for students to partner talk (turn and talk) during whole group discussions. This would provide the opportunity for students to practice actively listening to another’s ideas with the intention of understanding and an opportunity to practice sharing their own ideas through words, gestures, and pictures before sharing with the whole group.

Intentional questions, like those Amanda and I examined, and strategic use of evidence-based transcripts or videos can help us learn about and reflect on messages we consciously or unconsciously communicate to students about how we see them and what we value. They provide a window into the hidden data we need that can inspire us to take action.

As with any assessment used to inform practice, collecting data regularly over time can reveal patterns and inspire change. Whether using data you have collected from checklists, self-reflection questions, videos or other classroom artifacts you will be inspired to take action on what you learn. Like Amanda, the first-year teacher I have been working with, you may want to select one or two changes to make in your practice that are directly related to what you want to see happen for you and your students. Committing to incorporating these changes and reassessing how they are working to maximize the experiences for all of your students can have lasting impact and positive consequences beyond your classroom.

NoteThis blog is the first of several about teacher reflection. Read the second and third, which discuss the importance of this process of reflecting and taking action on the data you gather.


Godfrey, Lynne. (2023, October 2). Establishing an Equitable Learning Community in the Elementary Mathematics ClassroomMath Equity Forum Blog.

Hammond, Zaretta. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. CA: Sage Publishing.

Wamstead, Jay. (January 22, 2021.) A Simple Way to Self-Monitor for Bias. Retrieved from

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