Teaching Mathematics Through An Integrated Caring Approach: Examining the Process of Building Pedagogical Relationships in One Fourth-Grade Classroom

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Although there is wide consensus in the field of mathematics education that the teaching and learning of mathematics is a social, interactive, and relational practice, less attention has explicitly examined the role of the student-teacher relationship in the classroom or why this relationship matters for student learning. A central goal of this dissertation was to understand how teachers build productive working relationships with their students through their mathematics instruction and investigate how this relationship influences mathematics learning, with particular respect to student participation and mathematical dispositions. Using practitioner inquiry and design-based research methods, I took up the role of teacher-researcher to detail and surface the work involved in establishing pedagogical relationships that aim to support ambitious and equitable student learning outcomes. I designed an organized pedagogical approach to mathematics practice called an integrated caring approach (ICA) and implemented this approach in one fourth-grade classroom during a 12-week classroom-based intervention. Drawing from the theoretical lens of care, the framework of ICA conceptualizes the work of building relationships along the three dimensions of personal, mathematical, and political care. Primary data sources include a teacher-reflective journal, transcripts of audio-recorded lessons, and student surveys and interviews, which were contextually supplemented by lesson plans and student artifacts. Findings reveal that pedagogical relationships served as an instructional resource that enabled me to make opportunities to learn more accessible for students and attend to students' mathematical experiences in the classroom. Analysis indicates the instructional practices that emerged from ICA supported students' willingness to participate in mathematical discussions and fostered the development of positive student dispositions. Findings also suggest that students' experiences with ICA varied across the classroom and were influenced by their conceptions of the discipline and mathematical competence, peer relationships, and the recurrent presentation of learning opportunities during the intervention. This research provides insight into the deliberate and complex work involved when teachers strive to establish and maintain productive relationships with their students in service of ambitious and equitable learning outcomes. Moreover, this study identifies caring pedagogical relationships as a potentially valuable instructional mechanism to make opportunities to learn more accessible for students in mathematics classrooms.