This section will help you think about strategies for identifying, recruiting, and engaging a diverse membership base.
These are questions you should have in mind when considering your COMMIT’s membership base. We put these questions out front here for you to do some initial thinking, but the sections below also have lots of ideas and potential answers to many of these questions.
How will you identify, advertise to, and recruit new members?
How will you build a sense of community and encourage participation?
How will you discover and meet needs of current/potential members?
How will you continue recruiting new members?
How will you support diversity and inclusion in your membership?
To begin building your membership base you will need to:
Identify the region you are aiming to connect and serve.
Is it a whole state? Part of a state? Multiple states? An MAA section? An AMATYC region? A city? Or is it not geographic at all?
Identify people already teaching with inquiry so you can spread the word.
Some places to start looking would be:
Your state MAA section membership. Hold a workshop at a section meeting, reach out to the leadership, publish in their newsletter, announce on their listserv, etc.
Your regional and state-level AMATYC affiliates. Hold a workshop at a state or regional meeting, reach out to the leadership, publish in a newsletter, announce on their listserv, etc.
The Academy for Inquiry Based Learning maintains a listserv for all past summer IBL workshop participants. If you attended or facilitated a workshop through AIBL, you should have access to this list to advertise and recruit (email@example.com). If you haven’t attended such a workshop, reach out and we can do it for you!
The database of Project NExTers sorted by MAA section. This is not totally up to date, but is a good starting point for finding teaching-passionate faculty in your region.
See a more intensive example in the AMiIBL case study below.
AMiIBL: growing our membership listserv
Nina White and Anil Venkatesh started AMiIBL in January 2018. Being from institutions on opposite sides of the state, it seemed like a good mechanism for spreading ideas from one “coast” to the other. One of our first steps was to create a listserv, but it started as a pretty anemic affair. It was basically a 25-person subset of an existing IBL listserv internal to University of Michigan faculty and grad students. Because of this, it didn’t really serve any new purpose. The listserv grew very slowly over the next 2.5 years. It didn’t really take off until June 2020, when we held our second official event: a large, virtual 1-day workshop. Over about a month, the listserv grew from 35 to 100+ members.
How did that happen? I (Nina) think it happened by targeted outreach for the event itself. This generated a lot of attendees, and also advertised the COMMIT more generally, even for those who couldn’t attend. To drum up attendees, the AMiIBL leadership created a list of 20+ institutions in the state. For each institution, we identified an individual faculty member at that institution who was known personally by a leadership team member. That corresponding leadership team member then emailed said faculty member personally and asked them to spread the word to their colleagues (see email example here). We also advertised the workshop to state-wide email lists such as the MichMATYC listserv. Finally, we hit a few national lists: AIBL level 2 listserv and MAA Connect (among others). We received 68 registrations in less than two days and actually had to “turn off” our outreach before we’d finished sending all of the planned emails. Part of this high demand was certainly due to the pandemic and the promise of the workshop to address, at least in part, teaching IBL in a virtual environment. Although we’d initially been open to non-local participants, we decided to limit participation to the 45 registrants who worked in the state of Michigan or nearby states. In the end, I think the MichMATYC list may have generated the most actual interest -- about half of our attendees were from two-year colleges.
Having a diverse leadership team means more personal connections across your region;
Targeted, personal outreach works;
Outreach over active listservs (e.g., MichMATYC) works;
Events themselves are an important recruiting mechanism;
Virtual events are accessible;
When you are meeting needs---in this case, sessions on teaching virtually---demand will be high.
Iowa-Nebraska-South Dakota: building community over virtual lunch
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we found success in building community with regular, virtual lunch discussions. While some of the lunches had an announced topic, many did not, and it was not required to stick to the announced topic even when there was one. They provided an accessible space to connect informally. See more about these lunches in their description in the Events and Activities
Sustainability: Keep it going by building community and participation
Building an initial membership base is a first step, but it's important to think about how to sustain and engage that membership base.
Create a welcoming and inclusive climate at events
Whether you are organizing a day-long workshop or an informal lunch discussion, it’s important to attend to the climate you’re creating at your events; these are the events where your community will coalesce. Use strategies similar to those you’d use in your own classes. These might include (but are not limited to):
Setting norms for participation at the event. An example of this can be found here. Shorter workshops might walk through a short list of norms or invitations. Longer workshops or recurring events might involve participants in co-creating that list.
Humanizing participants by using non-math ice-breakers and allowing for personal conversations. There is especially good room for this at recurring, informal events like lunch discussions -- make breathing room for *non-teaching, non-math* talk.
Allowing opportunities for practitioners to share struggles and failures -- this should include experienced practitioners, not just newbies! To foster a growth mindset towards teaching, we need to remember that struggle and failure are part of the process. In fact, experienced instructors might have particularly insightful or nuanced struggles that can help others opportunities to reflect on complex instructional situations.
On the flip side, creating opportunities to share and celebrate successes.
When using small group work or break-out sessions, assigning roles (reporter, manager, scribe, etc.). Just like in your classes, this can help make sure that all voices are heard and that conversations aren’t overly dominated by the same, predictable set of participants.
An “activated listserv” model for increasing listserv participation
Listservs have different purposes. Some may be simply to disseminate information. But if the goal of a listserv is also to build community and provide mentoring, an "activated" listserv is a useful model to know. In an activated listerv, a list leader or team of leaders ping the list on a (somewhat) planned schedule to encourage discussion. It’s important to note that the leaders on this kind of listserv take a fairly active role, and it can require more time and planning. For this reason, a decision to support this kind of listserv should be balanced with other commitments; one idea would be to make a “pinger” an official leadership role.
Some concrete advice about generating usefulness and community on this kind of listserv (Hayward, 2018):
Low-bar prompts that make it easy for members to respond and start conversations. Much like a low-threshold task in a mathematics class, these prompts allow members to participate and get engaged easily. An example of a low-bar prompt would be: "How is everyone’s prep for the upcoming semester/quarter going? Trying anything new? Modifying something old?" (Along with this text, you could share some useful resource, like a short video for day 1, or a neat intro problem...)
If a member asks a question, let it simmer and hope other members answer, but leaders shouldn't let the question go unanswered if no one else bites.
Messages don't have to be very full of pedagogical content: expressions of empathy, thanks, and other kinds of emotional and social support are also important to building this kind of online community.
Hayward, C.N., Laursen, S.L. Supporting instructional change in mathematics: using social network analysis to understand online support processes following professional development workshops. IJ STEM Ed 5, 28 (2018). [Open Access] https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-018-0120-9
Hayward, C., & Laursen, S. (2017). Supporting instructional change in mathematics: The role of online and in-person communities. 20th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, San Diego, February 23-25. [Video version of Chuck's talk]
To maintain vitality of your membership, make sure you are reaching out regularly to find new members. For example, look at new cohorts of Project NExT, or ask your listserv each August about new faculty in their departments who might be interested in joining.
To make sure you are relevant, you should be providing programming that meets the needs of your members. To find out what these needs are, send out a “needs survey” once per year. [Example]
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
When you look across your membership, take notice of who is represented. In particular, are you doing a good job of including and welcoming (1) faculty at two-year institutions? (2) faculty at minority-serving institutions? and (3) faculty who are themselves from historically marginalized groups in mathematics?
If faculty from these groups are well represented in your COMMIT, are the voices and expertise of those faculty heard, and are the needs of those faculty centered? If so, how? If not, how could the leadership team do better?
If faculty from these groups are not well represented, here are some broad questions to consider. Pick a particular population to focus on as you consider this list of questions:
Are there particular professional societies that members of this group of faculty belong to? Are there regional or national meetings (with some teaching focus) that they regularly attend?
If so, attend such a meeting, as a participant: What kinds of talks are given? What are the major concerns being addressed? Is there an interest in inquiry teaching by another name? (Examples: Culturally responsive teaching, POGIL, flipped instruction, etc.) Who’s involved?
Are the needs of this group of faculty for a professional community focused on teaching already met with one of these other groups? If so, would there be a possibility of a co-sponsored workshop or event with your COMMIT? If not, can you find facilitators for your events with expertise in teaching in a particular context (e.g., expertise in working with faculty at HBCUs or with TYC faculty)?
Reaching and serving faculty at TYCs
As two-year colleges (TYCs) educate a disproportionate number of first generation college students and college students of color, your community can help increase diversity in mathematics and STEM if you provide a community and resources that are useful to faculty at TYCs.
TYC faculty in your state might already have a vibrant professional community locally at their institution, or within their state or regional AMATYC affiliate. These affiliates could be great collaborators on events you are holding, and their listservs might be a great place to advertise your events.
Finally, as valued members of your community, you should be intentional and explicit about learning from the experiences of your TYC faculty.
Reaching and serving faculty at MSIs
“Minority-serving institution” (MSI) is an official, federal designation for post-secondary institutions. You can find an official list through the US Department of Education here. These institutions are noteworthy because of the number of students they serve from particular under-represented or marginalized racial or ethnic groups. These institutions have historically played, and continue to play, a key role in making mathematics as a discipline more equitable and diverse.
Your COMMIT leadership team should know which MSIs are in your region and which faculty from those institutions are already in your COMMIT or on your leadership team?
Drs. Jhenai Chandler and Lawanda Cummings, the researchers/developers at mindsetsforstem.org, a project with some focus on faculty at HBCUs.
Reaching and serving faculty from historically marginalized groups
Perhaps your leadership team and/or membership base already includes faculty who are Black, LatinX, Indigenous, queer, or members of other historically marginalized groups. If so, work to ensure that those voices (your own, if this is you!) are being heard, and the needs and concerns of those faculty are being attended to.
If your leadership team and/or membership base is dominated by dominant social groups, make sure that you are doing the work to create an open, welcoming, inclusive environment and are ready to hear new ideas. Then look for folks in your region who are doing similar or related work who you can connect with and learn from.
A Case Study
Justin Lanier and Marissa Kawehi Loving have created (and continue to expand) an online program to build community among graduate students and combat social isolation called SUBgroups. SUBgroups forms "small online peer groups of first-year math grad students that connect student with experiences and identities in common." The organizers write about the program in Building Equity-Minded Online Programs (AMS Notices, January 2021). Their article describes a design framework for creating similar programs that have, at their forefront, the goal of supporting members of groups historically marginalized in mathematics.
A climate of inclusion
Writing a statement of inclusion is not equivalent to actually being inclusive. However, it can be one component of letting your members and potential members know the value you place on diversity, equity, and inclusion. And writing such a statement is also part of the stated “Shared Principles” document adopted by members of the COMMIT network.
The following examples might be helpful:
Additionally, here is an example of an Anti-Discrimination Policy from MSRI. In particular, it describes that discrimination and harassment (based on any number of social identities) will not be tolerated. Here is an example of a Diversity Statement (and associated resources) from the AMS. In particular, it outlines why diversity is important for the mathematical community, and what steps they are taking to support diversity.