The Scalability and Sustainability of Professional Development: Challenges in Preparing Mathematics PD Facilitators

Three projects investigating different approaches to preparing mathematics professional development facilitators will compare their approaches and discuss strengths and limitations with the participants.


What are the central challenges that face research and development teams in their efforts to prepare facilitators to do the work of leading mathematics professional development? 

A growing body of empirical research and general consensus within the research community address the structure, content, and outcomes of effective professional development (Borko, Jacobs & Koellner, 2010 ; Desimone, 2009). The field lacks a corresponding body of research, however, on what professional developers actually do to cultivate the kind of teaching practice that will result in student learning of complex subject matter, and how those individuals are prepared to design and lead such PD (Borko, 2004 ; Even, 2008). Understanding the actual practice of professional developers is arguably a key component of the growing effort to investigate the contribution that PD makes to teacher knowledge, classroom practice, and student learning. The PD context is different from the classroom context, and what PD facilitators need to do with teachers is not simply a replication of what teachers should be doing with students. The knowledge and skills required to conduct effective teacher PD have not clearly been delineated. 

This session focuses on the professional development of leaders of mathematics PD. Our overall goal is to engage DR K–12 grantees in considering what we are learning about the knowledge and skills required by PD facilitators and the challenges of facilitator preparation. 

Three projects will participate:

  • Toward a Scalable Model of Mathematics PD is field testing the Problem-Solving Cycle model of PD and accompanying facilitation materials and support for middle school mathematics instructional leaders (ILs) in a large urban school district. Researchers are documenting and analyzing the preparation and support provided to the ILs, range and quality of their PD implementation, nature of adaptations, and impact of the PD on ILs, teachers, and students.
  • Learning and Teaching Geometry is creating five video case modules focused on classroom instruction. These materials are designed to support middle school mathematics teachers’ development of the mathematics knowledge for teaching related to geometric similarity. The project also attends explicitly to facilitation: materials are designed to support facilitators’ adherence to developers’ goals and intentions when enacting sessions. Field testing of the materials includes investigation of the challenges facilitators face and the adaptations they make when using the materials. 
  • Researching Mathematics Leader Learning is studying how leaders learn to cultivate mathematically rich professional development environments. Researchers explore what leaders learn in a series of leader seminars and how they facilitate mathematical tasks with teachers in PD focused on mathematical knowledge for teaching. The project is following leaders’ facilitation of PD, uncovering how they identify learning goals for teachers, attend to teachers’ mathematical reasoning, and learn how the mathematical demands of working with teachers in PD are different than the demands of working in classrooms. 

Panelists will describe their projects and the key challenges they have faced related to the preparation of mathematics PD facilitators, and then discuss similarities/differences in the projects’ approaches. During the final section, presenters will discuss with the audience their growing understanding of the facilitation demands of teacher PD and implications for facilitator preparation.