PLCs for Math Teachers

by Sonya Barksdale

PLCs for Math Teachers
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) provide both an organizational framework and a set of prescribed activities for teacher learning. PLCs are defined as sustained collaborative opportunities where teachers focus on student learning and critically reflect on their shared learning.
Mathematical Professional Learning Communities are groupings of new and experienced educators who have a shared mission to come together over time. The purpose is to gain new mathematical content and strategies, reconsider previous knowledge and beliefs, and build on their own and others’ ideas and experiences in order to work on enhancing students’ mathematical learning and improving mathematical practices in K-12 settings.
Charlotte Danielson (2009) states, “It’s not sufficient for a school to be comprised of individual expertise; that expertise must be mobilized in the service of a common vision”. For example, if you surveyed a random selection of ten teachers in your school, would they be able to describe the same mathematics instructional vision for their grade level or course? Is the vision for instruction crystal clear and coherent for them? PLCs can foster a shared mission and school vision amongst educators.
The benefits of a Professional Learning Community to enhance mathematical practices are great. Teacher collaboration is about purposeful peer interaction. If PLC team collaboration is to influence and impact on teacher learning, then teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators become intentional about the nature and content of their collaboration. According to Doug Reeves (2010), high- impact professional development and learning in collaborative teams achieve the following: 1) Focus on student learning, 2) Focus on the assessment of the decisions that the team members make, 3) Attend to people and practices rather than programs.
Dylan Wiliam recommends a specific structured and purposeful monthly 75 minute organizational format for every PLC meeting.
Activity 1: Introduction & Housekeeping (10 minutes)
Activity 2: How’s it Going? (5 minutes)
Activity 3: Feedback on Prior Learning (10 minutes)
Activity 4: New Content (30 minutes)
Activity 5: Personal Action Planning (15 minutes)
Activity 6: Summary of learning (5 minutes)

Furthermore, Wiliam cites five elements that need to be embedded in the instructional setting if the intent of teaching and assessing during the lesson is to improve learning. These five elements are: 1) Clear and specific learning intentions and success criteria, 2) Eliciting evidence of student learning, 3) Provision of effective, timely, and descriptive feedback to students, 4) Adjusting teaching to take into account the results of assessment 5) Self and peer-assessment and understanding of next steps.
In addition to improving student learning, teachers are finding that PLCs can improve the overall culture of a school and foster a spirit of collaboration among colleagues that often spills over into other team meetings and staff interactions. As we prepare students for a world that we know very little about, and for jobs that are changing at a rapid pace, we need to teach our students how to be mathematical thinkers. Schools have generally operated under the assumption that the goal is to give students the “opportunity to learn”. In a PLC, the commitment is to “ensure that all students do learn”- a much more difficult task.
If you currently are a member of a PLC in your school that focuses on improving student learning in the math classroom, please share your experiences with us and let us know your story! We will be waiting to hear from you.

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