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Professional Learning Models to Support Student Success in Mathematics

March 28, 2019

SRI International
   Carmen Araoz, REL Appalachia
Education Development Center
   Pamela Buffington, REL Appalachia
   Jill Neumayer-DePiper, REL Appalachia
Plus Alpha Research & Consulting, LLC
   Ryoko Yamaguchi, REL Appalachia

As research uncovers effective approaches to teaching mathematics, how can professional development efforts support teachers in bringing this research into their classrooms? This is a key question for teachers and leaders in the five Virginia divisions that make up the REL Appalachia (REL AP) Student Success in Mathematics partnership (SSMP). The SSMP is focused on supporting Virginia teachers in using evidence-based mathematics instruction in their classrooms, with goal of increasing students' readiness for algebra I and opening doors for future high school, postsecondary, and workforce success.1 2 To support this goal, the partnership launched the Professional Learning Models (PLMs) for Success in Mathematics project to assist the SSMP divisions in designing and carrying out evidenced-based professional development to improve mathematics teaching and learning.

Effective Professional Learning Models

A PLM is a set of teacher professional development activities designed to support teachers' learning of effective teaching practices. Teacher professional development activities with specific characteristics, including use of models and modeling of practices, collaboration in job-embedded contexts, and opportunities for feedback and reflection, have been shown to have positive associations with student achievement.3 In addition to providing effective supports for teacher learning, an effective PLM for mathematics focuses on evidence-based teaching practices, such as facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse and implementing tasks that promote reasoning.4

Effective PLMs situate professional development in local contexts, attend to teacher knowledge and beliefs, and keep a focus on student learning goals.5 Developing a PLM entails committing to a vision and standards, analyzing student learning and other data, setting goals, planning, implementing, and evaluating results.6

As facilitators plan for and teachers engage in professional learning opportunities, it is important to go through cycles of data collection and analysis. To this end, we are engaging a Plan Do Study Act cycle. The SSMP adopted this cycle as a key part of the conceptual framework for the PLM project (Figure 1).7 The cycle begins with planning for and implementing the professional development—the Plan and Do steps—followed by collecting and analyzing data, which is the Study step. The final Act step involves reflecting on the data and making revisions in order to refine the PLMs by applying lessons learned.

Phases of a Professional Learning Model

Figure 1. Conceptual framework of the PLMs for the SSM project.

During the first phase of the PLM project, REL AP staff worked with SSMP core members to identify critical issues affecting PLMs in their local division contexts. SSMP core members met with leading experts in mathematics professional learning who provided insights into instructional coaching in mathematics and on equity issues in mathematics education. On coaching, one SSMP member shared that the experts' insights were “extremely helpful to understand better how coaches can provide teachers opportunities for them to learn and develop more ambitious teaching practices.” Phase II of the PLM project is currently in progress. It is focused on planning and implementing the PLMs.

Resources on effective PLMs

Interested in learning more about effective professional development practices that support student success in mathematics? Check out these resources.


1 National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. U.S. Department of Education: Washington, DC 20008. Retrieved from:

2 Tierney, W. G., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do (NCEE No. 2009-4066). National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from:

3 Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

4 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). (2014). Principles to Action: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA: NCTM.

5 Loucks-Horsley, S., Stiles, K.E., Mundry, S., Love, N, & Hewson, P.W. (2010). Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

6 Ibid.

7 Park, S., Hironaka, S., Carver, P., and Nordstrum, L. (2013). Continuous Improvement in Education. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Retrieved from