About cookies

The NCETM site uses cookies. Read more about our privacy policy

Please agree to accept our cookies. If you continue to use the site, we'll assume you're happy to accept them.


Personal Learning Login

Sign Up | Forgotten password?
Register with the NCETM

Professional Learning and Professional Learning Communities

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 10 July 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 31 March 2011 by ncetm_administrator


Professional Learning logo 


The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) aims to develop a sustainable national infrastructure for subject-specific professional development (PD) for teachers of mathematics. This is a vital part of strengthening the teaching and learning of mathematics at all phases; it will realise the mathematical potential of learners and raise the status of the profession.

The National Centre believes that an effective framework for professional learning should provide teachers with the opportunity to:
  • be informed about the growing body of professional knowledge, practice, opinion and theory being generated within the mathematics education community; 
  • engage with this body of knowledge and contribute to it;
  • experiment, in collaboration with other teachers, with these emerging theories by putting them into practice in their own classrooms in order to test them in action;
  • engage in mathematical activity with colleagues to refresh and stimulate mathematics content knowledge and mathematics-specific pedagogy.

These opportunities are part of all teachers’ entitlement to continuing professional development (CPD), and should inform school- and college-based planning at local and national levels.

This microsite provides a number of suggestions for collaborating with colleagues, as well as specific structures and activities to engage in if you are interested in this form of CPD.

Professional Learning Communities

While professional development activities can be undertaken alone, the National Centre believes that professional learning is most effective when it takes place in the context of a professional learning community (PLC). When teachers work together in such a learning community and have a say in both the focus and the way of working, then developments tend to be deeper and longer lasting.

What follows are some suggestions for working together in a PLC:

Getting Started

A key element of working within a PLC is the opportunity for all members of the community to have a voice in identifying and agreeing on themes for the group to work on and the ways in which the learning will be developed. During the first meeting of the group the following aspects of professional learning will need to be considered. All are equally important and it is important to give sufficient time to each. This will require more time than is normally available in a single after school staff or departmental meeting.

Sharing interests

Much of the evidence of successful PD suggests that we need to ‘buy in’ to the theme or content of the activity if we are to sustain involvement. So it is important to start by discussing what people’s interests are and what is important to them.

Questions and activities to support a discussion might include:
  • What is the best piece of professional development you have ever had? What made it effective?
  • Describe a lesson you have recently taught which you feel was significant, or which contained some elements you consider to be significant.
  • Think of one principle of teaching and learning mathematics that you firmly believe in. What reflects this in your teaching behaviour?
  • Think of one thing that you do or say regularly – a behaviour that typifies your teaching. Why do you do this? What principle or belief lies behind it?

Identifying themes

Introduce the idea of professional learning, and discuss the question, ‘What are the things which we might want to learn as teachers?’ Allow some time, firstly thinking on your own, then thinking and talking in pairs, followed by a whole group discussion, to develop thoughts around this question.
Again, allow time for discussion and debate. Invite everyone to decide on a theme or issue to work on and ask them to write this down.

Establishing ways of working

Discuss your experiences of different ways of working on your professional learning. Explore the diagram below to find out more about possible ways of working within professional learning communities:

  Doing mathematics together Exploring a mathematical topic Reading research Talking to pupils about their learning Peer-to-peer lesson observation Lesson study

Agreeing next steps

Finish the first meeting by finalising what you have agreed, and planning tasks to undertake before the next meeting. These could include:
  • clarifying the focus of your work (you may need to refine what you have written); the focus may be one common theme, or different themes for different people.
  • agreeing to try out something in your classroom before the next meeting.
  • agreeing to keep a reflective journal to record things that happen, ideas you have, and thoughts you are developing; the Learning Journal in your Personal Learning Space is useful for this.
  • agreeing to come to the next meeting with a brief but vivid account of something that has happened as a result of trying out something in your classroom.

Subsequent meetings

Subsequent meetings would include a combination of the following activities:
  • sharing the ‘brief but vivid’ accounts of what happened and discussing their significance;
  • a report from group members on progress with any other agreed activities;
  • a short presentation by one or more members of the group as agreed at the previous meeting;
  • discussing a classroom activity and doing some mathematics together;
  • a review of the agreed enquiry or research activities, and making changes or introducing new activities;
  • one or more members of the group (or an external speaker) making a formal or informal presentation on an agreed topic.
Further suggestions and guidance about what constitutes PLCs and how they might operate, including a possible structure for meetings, are offered in 'Introduction to PLCs' in the Mathematics Knowledge Networks section of the portal. This section also provides ‘Starting point’ materials to support PLCs in exploring some key areas of mathematics teaching and learning.

Use of the NCETM portal tools to support your work

The NCETM portal is a collection of resources, tools and stimuli to support you in your professional development, together with a personal learning space to enable you to organise and reflect upon your learning.

The navigation headings of the portal are more than a mere categorisation of content. They represent different types of activity and ways of working that might contribute to your continuing professional development. This is what we call the NCETM professional learning framework. As you explore the framework, through your engagement with the portal, we encourage you to consider how your use of portal tools supports your professional development journey.

More about Professional Learning Communities

Comment on this item  
Add to your NCETM favourites
Remove from your NCETM favourites
Add a note on this item
Recommend to a friend
Comment on this item
Send to printer
Request a reminder of this item
Cancel a reminder of this item



There are no comments for this item yet...
Only registered users may comment. Log in to comment