October 2020, Volume 25

Taking Risks Can Be Scary

Wanting students to be mathematical risk-takers is something we all desire, regardless of whether we teach first grade or eleventh grade. How do you model this behavior for your students? When you find a great new resource, hear about an intriguing strategy, or read about classroom practices you know you need to update, do you go for it? Often times we find ways to sabotage our own risk-taking behaviors by claiming we don't have the time or blame it on our students claiming they would never be able to do whatever it is you are asking of them. In reality we are protecting ourselves from possible failure. Our students do the exact same thing.

Instead of backing away from taking classroom risks, engage your professional learning community (PLC) in the process. By engaging in continuous cycles of learning with your PLC you can try new instructional resources and routines to discover what's working and what isn't through data collection, goal setting, individual and collaborative learning, and implementation and adjustment of instructional practices.

This month we focus on ten tips to engage your PLC in meaningful work, focused on improving student learning and teacher satisfaction!

10 tips for effective professional learning communities

Create a shared mission, vision, and set of values

Educators who share in a common mission, vision, and set of values creates a clear understanding of the school culture you are hoping to create. Understanding the expectation of what the PLC will look and sound like, will help cultivate a collaborative experience for everyone.

Share Personal Practice

What are you doing in your classroom for planning and implementing instruction and assessment? It is important to continually seek new strategies and methods of teaching and learning to build knowledge of best practice. This will also help put into perspective the current status of teaching of learning to determine a plan for moving forward to your shared goals.

Set goals

PLCs should be committed to continuous improvement through action oriented goal setting. According to the work of Dufour (2006), effective goals will specify:

  • Exactly what is to be accomplished
  • Specific steps to achieve the goal
  • Individual or group responsibility for initiating and sustaining achievement toward the goal
  • Timeline for each phase of the activity
  • Criteria for evaluating progress toward the goal

Plan for effective collaboration

Teachers are often afraid of conflict or to voice a new way of thinking but productive conflict allows for better idea building and creates a more effective team. Create a space for productive conflict and open conversation. A clear decision making process outlined in your norms like the Gradients of Agreement allows for a balance between advocacy and innovation.

Analyze data to determine common learning

The goal of a PLC is to come to a common understanding of learning and checks for understanding by always asking, what do we want students to learn and how will we know if they learned it? Prioritizing standards and dissecting each of those standards will help teachers understand the skills needed for mastery. This pre-work helps teachers anticipate misconceptions to plan for instruction.

Analyze student learning to develop common assessments

It is important to select tasks that focus on the big ideas of the standards being taught. Tasks that are open-ended are more engaging and will provide richer data for analyzation. The PLC should analyze the data for evidence of potential misconceptions and a development of a deep understanding of content. This type of item analysis will help teachers develop a better understanding of what students needed to learn to inform instruction and assessments moving forward.

Make space for innovation

Give yourself permission to try out new strategies to improve student learning. You never know what teaching will work best for your students so you need to give yourself the freedom to take risks and try new things. To effectively innovate in this space, make sure to collect data as evidenced by common assessments to determine which risks paid off and what strategies were most effective.

Adjust and implement practices

Which tasks have the most impact on students learning and how can you modify those tasks to meet the needs of all learners? Some questions to ask yourself as you adjust and implement new practices:

  • Is the content interesting and challenging to students?
  • Is the content meaningful?
  • Does the content provide an opportunity for students to apply and extend their learning?
  • Does the content allow for multiple strategies and solutions?

Focus on results

Keeping your focus on results as opposed to intentions will help align your goals with the teaching and learning as evidenced by student learning. Use your results to identify and address concerns and to inform your instruction and assessments moving forward. Frequent analysis of common assessment results is a powerful process for a successful and effective PLC.


Continual professional growth is an important factor of any successful PLC and that is done, in part, through reflection. Some things to consider as you reflect on your PLC cycle:

  • What tasks support teachers and students to build collective knowledge?
  • How effective is your team at working collaboratively? Establish protocols to ensure effective collaboration.
  • How does your physical or virtual environment encourage communication among teachers and students?
  • Do the tasks you choose encourage critical thinking and creativity?
  • Are you focused on results? Utilize the Circle of Concern, Influence, and Control to be more productive in the process.
  • Are you engaged? Engaging in the work you're asking of your students will build an understanding of what students need to know and be able to do to complete the task.

Resources for Effective Professional Learning Communities

Video of the Month

Creating a Professional Learning Community at Work: Foundational Concepts and Practices

Resource of the Month

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MathCuts are researched-based, standards-aligned short, 60-90 second video clips that educators can use to help students develop a deeper mathematical understanding. These open-ended visual problems showcase effective strategies for educators and students. Visit MathCuts here.

How Can We Help?

Opportunities for the Field

Save the Date

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Upcoming Chats:

October 28 - School Improvement

November 4 - #INedchat Year in Review

November 11 - Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap

November 18 - Student Takeover from Bring Change 2 Mind

December 2 - Best Ways to Serve Homeless/Unhoused Students

Follow #INedchat to be a part of the discussion!

News From IDOE

High School Math Clarifying Examples and Digital Resources Now Available on the Framework!

Clarifying examples and digital resources for the following courses have been updated to reflect the new 2020 Indiana Academic Standard for Mathematics on the Framework:

  • Algebra I
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II
  • Analytical Algebra II
  • Precalculus: Algebra
  • Precalculus: Trigonometry

Quantitative Reasoning and Finite will be released in Fall 2020!

Higher Learning Commission Extends Deadline for Dual Credit Instructors

In light of the impact of COVID-19, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education requested in May that regional college accreditor Higher Learning Commission (HLC) extend the deadline for dual credit instructors to hold a master’s degree and at least 18 credit hours in the content area in which they teach. The HLC Board of Trustees voted to extend the deadline by one year – to September 1, 2023 – allowing faculty to have more time to earn the required credentials. The extension will not negatively impact students participating in dual credit programs. Additional details can be found here.

Educator Spotlight

Mathematics Educator Spotlight Nomination

We are looking for rock star math educators who are innovative and inspiring; educators who lead, learn, and collaborate with humility and passion. If you know someone (or are that someone) click the button and nominate them (or yourself)!

Your IDOE Mathematics Team