Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Tricia Kress

Second Advisor

Patricia Paugh

Third Advisor

Jennifer D. Adams


This auto|ethnography explores the culture of success in an urban mathematics classroom and the contextual factors that contribute to an environment that is placing poor minority students on the affirming end of the achievement gap. This study brings to the forefront issues of identity, culture and power, as it documents the video analysis of a mathematics classroom at SMS, an urban middle school.

The focus of my research is the unique culture that is created by Mrs. Helen Ro, a third year, grade 8 mathematics teacher, and her students. My findings highlight three main themes that emerged from my video-analysis and interviews with Mrs. Ro. First, SMS students face many external forces that challenge their academic, social, and economic success. Mrs. Ro responds to this by developing affirming identities for, and ultimately with, her students. She does this by establishing trust, using semiotic and oral messages.

Once this trust is established, Mrs. Ro begins to solidify these affirming identities by providing her students access to codes of power, including symbolic, cultural, and linguistic capital. The codes of power are the culmination of her identity building. She affirms who the students are and explicitly teaches these codes, the language of power, to her students to ensure these identities reach the outside world. Finally, my research illustrates that Mrs. Ro's students are co-creators of the culture of success, because who they are and what she wants for them are part of the instructional design of her curriculum and the mechanism by which she provides them with access to mathematics content.

My research findings are grounded in the earlier findings of similar research on teacher effectiveness in suburban and urban settings, as well as the qualities, dispositions, skills and characteristics these teachers possess. However, this research depicts how these elements actually unfold in the context of an urban public middle school in Massachusetts, under the guise of the No Child Left Behind Act. Through auto|ethnography, I will illustrate how these findings inform my role as an educational administrator, in my hiring practices, and the professional development I offer current teachers.


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