The Impact on Mathematics Teaching Environments Through Establishing, Developing, Maintaining, and Sustaining Professional Learning Communities
Authors: David Pagni, Dianne DeMille

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1. Context of the Work
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The focus of this presentation is on the experience of the project in bringing about cultural change in the math teaching environment by establishing, developing, and maintaining and sustaining Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) within the mathematics departments at each of the TASEL-M schools. The work of Richard and Rebecca DuFour and others on Professional Learning Communities was a model for applying the concept to departments of mathematics as well as to groups of teachers who taught the same middle school or high school course. The books, On Common Ground, and Whatever It Takes, were among those used as readings for the teachers when they were developing their PLCs.

Nationally, the PLC model has proven to be useful in helping teachers work together as a team to increase student achievement in mathematics. "Teachers must work in collaborative groups that provide time for articulating and clarifying the lesson, assessing the delivery of the lesson, and reflecting upon the impact of the lesson on student learning" (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek, 2004). Key discussion points include: What do we want all students to learn? How will we know when students have learned it? How do we respond when students don't learn? As a result of these collaborative groups - Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) - schools, teachers, and administrators change practices (Whatever it Takes, DuFour, et al., 2004).

Teachers are asked to:
  • Commit quality time to analyzing student work and learning processes,
  • Combine mathematical skills with deeply connected conceptual understanding,
  • Cultivate a culture of shared responsibility for learning, and
  • Collaborate with colleagues and embrace professional development opportunities.
The process of developing PLCs proceeded in stages over the five years of the grant, beginning in 2003 and ending in 2008. During this time the project used data to stress the need for teacher collaboration in order to provide opportunities for all students to learn mathematics. Specifically, using data allowed the teachers to discover sub-groups of students who were being underserved or who were underperforming. The onus was on teachers to figure out how to provide a mathematics program that could address the issues revealed by the data, with the support of their site principals, and the help of the coaches and Faculty Partners. PLCs were used to provide content and pedagogy, especially during the design of common lessons.
Target: Mathematics teachers (approximately 120) in 11 schools (4 High Schools and their feeder Middle Schools) in low performing schools in Orange County, California.
  • Engage 4 full-time coaches to work in each of the 4 school clusters, each aided and supported by a California State University, Fullerton Faculty Partner from the Department of Mathematics.
  • Provide specific instruction to both teachers and school administrators on what is involved in establishing and maintaining effective PLCs through guest speakers at summer PD events.
  • Offer ample opportunities for teachers to begin collaborating during the summer, and to continue collaboration regularly throughout the school year.
  • Encourage each PLC to continually revisit and improve upon common agreements, action plans and common assessments.
  • Develop leadership within each PLC, and gradually turn much of the work done by the coaches over to the teacher-leaders.