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New SOE Faculty: Dr. Jamaal Sharif Matthews

Dr. Jamaal Sharif Matthews joined the SOE as an Associate Professor in Educational Studies and the Combined Program in Education and Psychology.

Jamaal Sharif Matthews
Dr. Jamaal Sharif Matthews

Born and raised in Harlem NYC, Matthews’ research interests are grounded in his experiences as a middle school mathematics teacher in the Bronx. His research focuses on achievement motivation during adolescence and motivation in mathematics specifically. His work addresses how race, teacher pedagogy, and the sociopolitical context shape students’ beliefs about their abilities in and value of mathematics. He also applies a critical race perspective on the psychological processes that undergird adaptive and healthy school functioning for Black American and Latinx adolescents in urban schools.

His research has powerful implications for public scholarship, counseling, and out-of-school youth interventions, as evidenced through his youth mentorship program, THREADS (Truth, Honor, Respect, Education and Development of Self). Matthews’ teaching integrates critical and cultural lenses onto traditional paradigms in educational psychology and he has taught a number of courses related to equity and inclusion in urban education, motivation in marginalized youth, and adolescent development.

Matthews is a recipient of multiple national awards, including outstanding dissertation awards from the American Psychological Association (APA) and ProQuest. Further, he was awarded the APA Early Career Educational Psychology Research Award, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship; and the Best Article Award from Educational Psychologist in 2018 for his article “Black and Belonging at School.” Matthews has secured extramural funding through a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering, and the Mindset Scholars Network in cooperation with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Prior to joining the School of Education, Matthews was an Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Q: What are some examples of instructional choices and practices that teachers can employ to foster a sense of belonging in school for Students of Color?

JSM: Over the past 14 months, my team and I have observed hundreds of secondary mathematics classrooms to answer this exact question. Although we still have another eight months of observation and analysis ahead of us, several key themes are beginning to crystallize. A few of those themes we’ve coined include “safety to be wrong,” “social & emotional bridging,” and “de-centering teacher authority.”

As an example, “de-centering teacher authority” reflects how the teacher conveys that students’ mathematical methods/ideas have real value and worth. Teachers who do this well position students as knowledge authorities in mathematics. Thus, students have a sense that their intellectual contributions matter in the life of this classroom. In traditional mathematics classrooms, students must often defer to the teacher and the textbook as absolute knowledge authorities in mathematics. Consequently, the mathematical knowledge or expertise that students —particularly Students of Color—bring with them into the classroom is often minimized or entirely ignored, especially if it fails to align with teacher or textbook perspectives. When teachers de-center their authority and engage students’ expertise, they foreground students’ mathematical insights by building on or providing space for students to express them. Similarly, when teachers can honor students’ ways of knowing and showing mathematical competence, they center students’ unique mathematical methods and ideas in their own instruction. When teachers engage in these behaviors that position students as knowledge authorities, they provide opportunities for student agency and student ownership over their own learning, thereby humanizing mathematics. This can also promote belongingness, produce positive affect and engagement, and prevent the silencing of student voices.

Q: The motto of the group mentorships program that you founded, THREADS, is “It’s all We!” What does that mean to the participants in the program?

JSM: “It’s all We!” is an adaption of a South African Ubuntu proverb that says “I am because we are.”

And this is meant to express the interconnectedness of our lives and our development as human. In today’s western society where we tend to have a focus on talent and rugged individualism, this Ubuntu proverb, “I am because we are,” reminds us that no one becomes who they were meant to be without the nurture and support of the people around them. In THREADS, we often talk about greatness and becoming a great man, but we are always mindful to reinforce the notion that no one becomes great without the support of the people around them. So, in our work with the young men, we partner with them as allies in helping them to discover their gifts and who they were meant to be, but also supporting them in becoming the greatest version of themselves.

Q: What’s on your reading list this fall (either academic or not)?

JSM: Well, I just took a new associate editor position at the Journal of Educational Psychology, so for the foreseeable future, I’ll be reading a lot of other scholars’ work for review and preparation for publication. But when I find some breaks in that new role, I’m looking forward to reading the Afrocentric Praxis of Teaching for Freedom by Joyce King & Ellen Swartz and Redemption: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Last 31 Hours by Joseph Rosenbloom. I also read a few chapters from the Bible daily for inspiration, meditation, and a closer connection with the Creator. As a social scientist, people often think it oxymoronic to believe in both science and faith, but I find that to be a false dichotomy. In my experience, I’ve drawn insight and wisdom from both in ways that mutually inform and inspire one another.

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