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Director of Teaching and Learning Susan Ejma Earns Doctorate

Dr. Ejma successfully defended her dissertation focused on culturally responsive teaching in the field of mathematics.


Maercker D60 is thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of one of our incredible teammates, as Director of Teaching and Learning Susan Ejma recently defended her dissertation and earned a doctorate from DePaul University!


After three and half years of hard work attending classes two nights a week, Dr. Ejma wrapped up her work focused on Culturally Responsive Teaching, which aims to connect students’ ethnic and cultural experiences to instruction for deep learning opportunities. Culture refers to the customs, languages, values, beliefs, and achievements of a group of people and this area is gaining more attention because students’ culture and lived experiences influence how they understand and make sense of the world. 


“Culture is an integral part of who students are as learners,” said Dr. Ejma. “My study focused on teachers that had a culturally sustaining mindset about students of color and the practices they used to engage learners and create and sustain deep and powerful learning.”


Key practices of culturally responsive teaching include having high expectations of all students, identifying and leveraging student strengths, and engaging cultural knowledge, experiences, practices, and perspectives. By creating these connections in and out of the classroom, by using culturally relevant curriculum, creating real-life connections, and bridging the gap between home and school, schools can best teach students from a variety of backgrounds.

Dr. Ejma defending her dissertation


Her study was focused on the subject of mathematics and the importance of going beyond the standards and academic achievement to get to know students for who they are and educating the whole child. While often seen as a universal language, math is actually tied to backgrounds and culture, not in the numbers themselves, but through the thinking behind the numbers and how students work through problems. 


“When we teach just one way, we confine these creative thoughts and processes that could come out of mathematics," said Ejma. “Expanding that lens validates that everyone can be a mathematician and shows the need for not only foundational skills but to be able to problem-solve, reason, communicate and connect mathematics to real world experiences.”


She defended her work in front of an audience of professors, colleagues from DePaul, and even her family, including her mother, who is a retired teacher. After some deliberation from the panel, she was informed that she had passed and earned her doctoral degree!

Dr. Ejma and her mother


Now in her second year at Maercker District 60, Ejma chose to work in the district because of the population of diverse learners and a welcoming and inclusive community. As Director of Teaching and Learning, she works with administration and teachers to provide the best learning experiences for all students. She is excited to be able to work towards the goals of the district’s Strategic Plan, which has goals that connect with her passion for cultural inclusivity and individualized learning. 


“I want every child in this district to see themselves as lifelong learners,” said Ejma. “I want them to see themselves as mathematicians and readers and to be able to share the things that are important to them, so we can capture those passions in our learning experiences. Looking at the academic learning experiences of all of our students and using culturally responsive practices are areas that we want to learn more about as a district. We want to engage all of our learners and that will be a great opportunity to go deeper into these practices for our kids.” 


Congratulations to Dr. Ejma for this incredible accomplishment and we look forward to continuing our commitment as a district to providing amazing learning opportunities for every single student in our schools!