Professional Learning Communities Sharing Knowledge and Leadership: Increasing the SUM of Our Knowledge

Pat Milot and Glynnis Fleming

For the past year a group of teachers in the District School Board of Niagara has been working together to increase their understanding of math and math teaching. Their venture has had unexpected spinoffs.

It is an exciting time for mathematics education in this province! Ministry initiatives have linked sound research with classroom practice. Teachers across the province have been  provided with a  variety of  professional learning opportunities designed to explore the growing body of literature that highlights both the mathematics that teachers need to know and the instructional strategies that  really lead to improvements in student achievement. All District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) teachers, kindergarten to grade 6, have participated in up to seven half-days of math inservice related  to research-based  instructional strategies and  ministry support documents.

It was the vision of the DSBN math team to investigate models that would begin to bridge the gap between large-scale inservice opportunities and the practical implementation of researched-based instruction. We are a group of elementary teachers who accepted an offer to continue to study together in a less formal, more collaborative setting as part of a professional learning community. We are engaged in professional research-based reading, thinking, practising, and dialoguing – and we are loving it!

Through collaboration, we are learning about mathematics and mathematics teaching. Together we research, dialogue, plan, reflect, revise and, most importantly, analyze the impact of our actions on the children that we teach. Helping children understand, question, and see themselves as mathematicians was our goal and is becoming our passion. We met for the first time in February 2006 and began to develop a framework for our work. We decided to call our group the SUM Teachers.

SUM is an  acronym for  Supporting Understanding in  Mathematics. Although our previous professional development experiences had been very congenial and we had developed a strong sense of community with the facilitators, our learning had been very much led by their agenda. The learning in the SUM teachers’ group was going to be generated and guided by our questions, by the kinds of learning we felt we needed. The knowledge we had gained through board-directed PD was a springboard for our own collaborative inquiry.

We decided to divide into three grade groupings: kindergarten to grade 1, grades 2 and 3, and grades 4 to 6. Meeting sometimes as a large group and sometimes in these smaller groups gave us the flexibility to meet the needs of our grade groupings while still capitalizing on the large group’s diversity and expertise. Our learning is facilitated by following the three elements of the SUM acronym:

SUPPORTING The facilitators from our board team help us focus our inquiry. They are able to suggest and seek out professional readings based on the most current research. By accessing


Teachers helping young student read

Last year Bobbie Chatha became a coach at her school, supporting colleagues as they looked for ways to improve literacy instruction.

Teacher using projector to teach classroom

What could be more important in an increasingly global community than to be able to communicate effectively with as many people as possible?