Sustaining and Scaling Professional Development

Picture of teachers working together

In this Spotlight, we feature nine projects that are researching approaches to creating sustainable professional development (PD) programs or scaling interventions to broaden their impacts on STEM teaching and learning. It also includes a perspective piece by Johannah Nikula, who discusses facilitation approaches and tools that support professional learning beyond the life and involvement of a project, resources, and a list of additional projects working in this area.

In this Spotlight...

Johannah NikulaThinking About the Facilitators when Scaling and Sustaining Professional Learning Programs

Johannah Nikula, Senior Project Director, Education Development Center

Over the years, when working to develop teacher professional learning (PL) programs focused on fostering mathematical thinking and mathematical communication for all learners (especially emergent multilingual learners), questions about how to scale and sustain those opportunities have frequently centered on the PL facilitators. Two areas of learning have been about the importance of written supports we develop for PL facilitators to scale to more users and the use of local co-facilitation models to build capacity and to enhance collaboration for sustaining the PL in local contexts.

First, we have found that carefully crafted, written facilitation supports can allow leaders to offer PL experiences to teachers in their local areas.  Here are a few of the principles we keep in mind:

  • Emphasize information about goals and rationale. Leaders will, without a doubt, need to make decisions about modifying the PL to their individual contexts, and the more they can understand the goals and rationale behind activities, sequences, and content, the better they will be able to make changes without diminishing the intended PL impacts for teachers.
  • Balance the goals and rationale with practical information. For example, include modifiable agendas, slides, discussion prompts, and overviews of the PL experience while using careful formatting to make different categories of information easy to find.
  • Offer examples of the important ideas in each session (e.g., about mathematical ideas and language for us) and of possible teacher responses and questions and how to respond to them. We have often collected these examples as part of the process of field testing a PL program.

Featured Projects

A Research-Practice Partnership to Develop Math Professional Development Leaders and Build District Capacity

PI: Hilda Borko | Co-PI: Janet Carlson

Target Audience: District administrators, mathematics coaches, mathematics professional learning facilitators, site-based middle school mathematics professional learning leaders

Description: This Research-Practice Partnership is applying design-based implementation research to build and study district capacity to conduct school-based mathematics professional development to support teachers’ implementation of their new task-based mathematics curriculum. Our approach is to adopt, implement, analyze and revise the Problem Solving Cycle (PSC) model of PD and Teacher Leadership Preparation (TLP) model of leader preparation in support of the district’s needs.

The PSC consists of three interconnected workshops, organized around a mathematics task from their curriculum. During the workshops, teachers work in small groups to solve the task and prepare to teach it. Then they participate in video-based discussions with clips from lessons to analyze student reasoning and instructional practices. The TLP prepares Teacher Leaders (TLs) to plan and lead PSC workshops with the mathematics teachers in their schools via a series of Leader Support Sessions that provide ongoing, structured guidance for the TLs as they prepare to lead PSC workshops.

The university team initially designed and led the TLPS. To create a sustainable program, the district mathematics team assumed increasing responsibility for these sessions each year and now designs and leads the TLPs independently, with several unanticipated modifications due to the COVID pandemic.

Research-Practice Partnership PosterFindings: In one set of analyses, we analyzed three years of data to understand how to support the professional growth of school-based teacher leaders in their roles as facilitators of professional learning for teachers in their schools. We found that content, pedagogy, and resources contributed to teacher leader development – for example by focusing on the content of PSC workshops in the TLP sessions, and modeling and debriefing activities such as facilitating doing the mathematics together and leading video-based discussions (VBDs). By looking across three years of workshops conducted by TLs at eight different schools, these analyses are necessarily at a relatively large grain size.

Because both the TLP and PSC models are designed to be adapted by users, we expected to see modifications made over time. As the TLs increased their focus on adapting the design of their PSC workshops in response to the goals of their schools and needs of their colleagues, they became more comfortable seeing the PSC as a malleable PD model through which they could address these priorities. Our analysis reveals an interesting blend of aspects of the models that did not change over time as well as changes that were driven by either intention or disruption. For example, we saw stability in how the district mathematics leaders used modeling, debriefing and rehearsals to support TLs’ preparation for conducting activities central to the PSC model, such as Doing the Math and VBDs.

In their interviews, the TLs explicitly named rehearsals and Doing the Math as strategies that were key to their growth as TLs. The role of rehearsals grew stronger over time by focusing on potentially challenging aspects of workshops and incorporating feedback protocols. Doing the Math was used from the beginning and remained central throughout the project. TLs took ownership of the way they led Doing the Math at their sites by adapting the substance to goals of the school. TLs also continued to lead VBDs, and personalized the activity by using video clips and launching questions that reflected their school goals. We found that having the space for the evolution of key partnership activities was critical, so that school priorities could be met and adjustments made as district and school priorities evolved. The choices TLs made, such as how to adapt Do the Math activities and which video clips and launching questions to use in VBDs to address their school goals, all reflected this type of evolution.

In addition to changes in the content that TLs emphasized in their PSC workshops, we noticed changes in how the teachers in mathematics departments learned from one another. Prior to their engagement in this project, many TLs considered department meetings a time for updates and announcements rather than collaborative learning. By periodically using the PSC model as the structure for their meetings, TLs recognized that they could create places of adult learning. To make this shift, many TLs had to learn new skills to facilitate equity of voice in an adult learning environment.

School-based characteristics also affected leadership development. For example, we saw evidence of how school and department culture influenced the ways in which TLs were able to facilitate PSC workshops. A typical challenge came when principals launched a school-wide initiative, then TLs were challenged to find time to take up key features of the PSC, such as Doing the Math or VBDs.

Finally, over the course of three years the project experienced disruptive changes that caused inconsistencies in how key elements of the PSC model were introduced in the TLP sessions and taken up in PSC workshops as the core district facilitator educator team formed and reformed. The district team stabilized in the year after the data reported here, and the TLP sessions are now more focused and have a more coherent arc of content. This type of district turnover and its disruptive impact on adoption of innovations is a common challenge for RPPs working to create sustainable programs.

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: We advise people to build strong relationships with your district partners, stay attuned to issues and changes in the district that could affect the work, and set up regular meetings for sharing preliminary findings.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: As has been noted in the popular press and research articles, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the many conditions and uncertainties that contribute to the inequities in education. This exacerbation also presents the opportunity that there is significantly more awareness of the system racism embedded in K-12 education and more receptivity to addressing these challenges. The key to doing something more than a token response will be to address these challenges by working systemically, not in isolation.


A Three-Way Partnership to Build School District Leadership in Scientific Argumentation

IPT logo

PIs: Hilda Borko, Emily Weiss | Co-PIs: Jonathan OsborneCraig Strang

Target Audience: Researchers in science education, professional learning, and research-practice partnerships; elementary school district administrators; teacher leader developers; teacher leaders; teachers in grades 3-5

Description: A school district, a professional learning (PL) team from the Lawrence Hall of Science, and a research team from Stanford University partnered to build teacher leadership in scientific argumentation. 

The Lawrence facilitated PL for a cohort of teachers, using pedagogies from situated and practice-based frameworks. During a Summer Institute, the PL team engaged the teachers in learning experiences to develop their capacity to facilitate science argumentation. The teachers then debriefed the facilitation practice modelled for them. In follow up days, teachers reflected together on videos of themselves facilitating discussions in their classrooms. After implementing argumentation for a year (2018-19), the teachers participated in a Leadership Institute, then co-facilitated PL, as Teacher Leaders (TLs) alongside the Lawrence staff, for a second cohort in 2019. The plan was for TLs to facilitate PL for a third cohort in 2020, with less support, but this was not possible due to the pandemic. 

The TLs continue, however, to develop their leadership practice by facilitating online professional learning for teachers. 

The TLs and district administrators participate in decisions about both research and PL, to ensure that all activities address district needs. The research team investigates questions about the project’s processes and outcomes.

Advice Re: Scaling or Sustaining PD: 

  1. Long term partnerships involve evolving institutions. Crises, such as the pandemic, or changes in district leadership may change the partner institutions’ professional learning goals, systems, and structures. Therefore, it is important to build teacher leadership skills, knowledge, and dispositions that can be used across different structures: professional learning communities, district-wide Professional Development, peer collaboration, etc. 

  2. Hold short, frequent partner meetings (e.g. 30 minutes, weekly) to get updates and identify priorities for the project leadership in partner institutions. The research and professional learning will have more chances to be relevant and appealing to practitioner participants and partners.

  3. Ensure that the district stakeholders who take part in the development and evolution of the project (e.g., proposal writing, adjusting professional learning activities, changes to research design) play an active role in defining the internal professional learning vision, structure, and programming in the district.  

  4. Use research and evaluation instruments, such as surveys and interviews, regularly, to understand the participants' needs. Then, make sure that the design of professional learning or leadership development experiences meet these needs.

  5. Encourage collaborative leadership development & professional learning design that includes teachers or Teachers on Special Assignments, as much as possible.

  6. It is essential for all partners to be fully committed to creating the conditions necessary to achieve the partnership goals. Teacher leaders and the curriculum areas they intend to lead must both be stated priorities. Districts must recruit and incentivize teachers to accept leadership responsibilities, and be prepared to re-recruit to overcome attrition. Teacher leaders need to be given, and be willing to accept, time away from the classroom to learn, prepare for, and engage in leadership activities. Teacher leaders should be compensated for their time spent leading. Districts need actionable plans for deploying and supporting teacher leaders to accomplish important district goals and priorities. Teacher leadership needs to be consistently recognized and acknowledged.

  7. Practice, practice, practice! Being a teacher leader or a facilitator who prepares and supports teacher leaders requires skills combined with opportunities for trial and error. They both require regular, ongoing practice, reflection, and more practice. Developing teacher leaders is a long term commitment.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: During the pandemic, the district de-emphasized science instruction while prioritizing student engagement and students’ social-emotional needs. The pandemic gave rise to opportunities for teacher leadership, including increased collaboration at school sites and the desire for teacher leaders (TLs) to share successful examples of remote instruction. The district developed professional learning structures that allowed TLs to meet the new needs, and project TLs felt successful in supporting their peers. Through their work together, project TLs strengthened their own professional learning community and developed the necessary tools, knowledge, dispositions, and skills to support informal collaboration with their colleagues.


  • 2019, 2020 STEM for All Video Showcase
  • We are in the process of creating two websites to share tools and artifacts (e.g. a classroom video reflection protocol and videos of teacher leaders using it with peers) for leadership development and teacher professional learning that are crucial for scalability and sustainability. One website is the internal platform for the partner district and is highly specific to their context. The other is for a broader audience, including anyone interested in supporting teacher leadership development.
  • We also developed surveys and interview protocols. For example:
    • Teacher Participant Initial Survey
    • Teacher Leader Initial Survey
    • Semi-structured interview template to collect data about teacher takeaways and needs after their participation in a summer institute to develop their teaching practice. The data informed adjustments in the design of the summer institute that will allow us to sustain and scale this type of PL for different teacher cohorts.
    • Semi-structured group interview template to collect data about the needs of teacher leaders in their roles as teachers and as leaders, before their participation in online professional learning. It allowed ongoing adjustments in the design of the leadership development experiences to sustain this type of PL over time.

Collaborative Math: Creating Sustainable Excellence in Mathematics for Early Childhood Programs

PI: Jennifer McCray | Co-PIs: Erika Gaylor, Ximena Dominguez, Erin Reid

Target Audience: Head Start and other programs that serve children between the ages of 3 and 5

Description: Collaborative Math mobilizes entire early childhood sites—all teachers, assistant teachers, and instructional leaders—to promote the development of mathematical thinking among children. Participants rediscover and clarify for themselves the important abstractions that are the basis of early mathematics, and are coached to foster their development through routines, games, book-reading, and other developmentally appropriate activities. Instructional Leaders attend Learning Labs with their staff and follow these with an additional Leadership Academy meeting, to deepen content knowledge and gather support and ideas for on-site implementation. Between Labs, coaches at each site provide consultation to instructional leaders and group coaching on the implementation of new activities to each set of classroom teachers. Instructional leaders shadow coaches as they visit rooms, eventually taking greater responsibility for providing group coaching themselves. By emphasizing leadership and the entire site in these ways, Collaborative Math is meant to create greater possibilities for sustainability of the program.

Findings: In 2016-17 we implemented a randomized controlled trial and found that the fidelity with which teachers participated in program components as intended had a positive and significant effect on a measure of their attitudes, confidence, and beliefs about math teaching and learning (β = 10.25, s.e.  = 4.06, p < .05) when controlling for pretest scores on the measure and background characteristics.  We did not find any significant effects on children’s math outcomes in this first year.  After revising the program to integrate our findings, we offered it again in 2017-18 to those 14 centers who had previously participated as the control. When we compared the scores of participating children (= 291) to those of the children who had been in the control condition at the same centers in the previous year (n = 328), we found a statistically significant positive effect of Collaborative Math on the REMA Brief scores (effect size = 0.47) but no impact on WJ Applied Problems scores. This indicates that children made statistically significant and meaningful gains in the math skills assessed by the REMA-Brief during the year their teachers and instructional leaders participated in Collaborative Math.  While the effect size is relatively large, it must be interpreted with caution, since the two groups of children in the second, non-RCT study were not comparable on pre-test scores or age (both those variables were controlled for the analysis).

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: We will know more about the effects of our efforts to create sustainability after we complete final analyses this year.  Clearly, Collaborative Math was designed to mobilize the entire center as a way to create longevity for the intervention.  It remains to be seen if instructional leaders were able to continue implementation in ways that support improved teaching and child learning outcomes.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: COVID-19 has pushed us all to try new things.  One of the things we have learned, along with the perhaps unsurprising fact that it is difficult to provide early learning through a virtual format, is that there are some children who actually thrived in the new educational environment.  That is, while there were many disadvantages to trying to work effectively with preschool children through zoom or some other online mechanism, there were also some children who found advantages in this new medium.  This suggests the limitations of the ways we had previously been working.  The pandemic has given us an opportunity by acting as a sort of forced experiment and helped to make clear that while we were previously “doing our best,” it may not have been the best choice for all children.  In the interest of what is truly most advantageous for all, this is a moment when we can consider new and more differentiated approaches.  It may be best if we do not return to our previous state of “normal” early childhood education when the pandemic is over, but instead continue to experiment thoughtfully and carefully, finding new and better ways of teaching that include and address the needs of even more young children than we were previously serving well. 


  • The Idea Library is a set of videos and articles we have developed to help teachers and teacher educators think about early math. In particular, we have two video series that relate to teacher content knowledge. The Focus on the Child series presents clinical interviews with young children that help teachers see and hear their thinking; these help make clear the kinds of interests children bring as well as the confusions that can occur in their thinking as they develop. We also offer a Focus on Collaboration video series which shows processes for embedded professional development among teachers via co-planning, peer observation, and looking at student work together. While not topically oriented to content knowledge specifically, such processes are a powerful mechanism for deepening teacher thinking about mathematics. 
  • Project Website
  • 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase

Integrating Quality Talk Professional Development to Enhance Professional Vision and Leadership for STEM Teachers in High-Need Schools

PI: P. Karen Murphy | Co-PI: Jeff Greene

Target Audience: High school science teachers and their students, specifically, high school chemistry and physics classrooms at all academic levels in grades 10-12

Description: We partnered with teachers to develop, implement, and refine the Quality Talk (QT) professional development model, which is designed to enhance teachers’ discourse-intensive pedagogical skills and practices that facilitate students’ use of talk as a tool for thinking about, around, and with scientific phenomena. Teachers receive both initial and ongoing professional development (PD). During the initial PD, we introduce teachers to the QT model, including how to establish an environment conducive to productive discussions, a set of pedagogical principles undergirding the QT approach, and discussion elements and teacher moves that have been empirically shown to increase students’ critical-analytic thinking and scientific reasoning. We also provide teachers with a set of QT lessons designed to foster students’ discourse skills, including how to ask authentic questions and engage in scientific argumentation, as well as a set of QT-enhanced science lessons during which students can practice QT discourse while enacting scientific practices. During ongoing PD, teachers receive personal discourse coaching, during which they analyze their own discourse and collaboratively reflect upon ways to further promote students’ critical-analytic thinking and scientific reasoning. This work has resulted in a comprehensive professional development model that enahcnes teachers’ implementation of content-rich small-group discussions and scientific practices.

Findings: Part of the development and refinement of the Quality Talk professional development model included partnering with experienced QT teachers in order to provide salient information and support throughout the implementation of QT in the classroom. What we know from our partnership is that enhancing teachers’ discourse-intensive pedagogy requires support and resources for both teachers and students. Indeed, altering the discourse culture of high school science classrooms in high-need schools is challenging work. To provide support and resources, we worked with teachers to create:


  • Professional Development Materials: set of PowerPoint slides and activities to help teachers understand and implement QT successfully
  • Teacher Coding Workbook: designed to help teachers reflect on their own discourse
  • Coaching Manual: provides guidance for QT discourse coaches about how to bolster teachers’ facilitation of discussions in their classrooms

Discourse Lessons

  • QT discourse lessons: set of 6 lessons on types of questions and responses, including argumentation, that support content-rich, critical-analytic thinking
  • QT-enhanced science lessons: including sets of 6 content lessons in both physics and chemistry as well as 6 general and 6 advanced cross-content lessons which integrate disciplinary core ideas and are designed to be used in conjunction with the QT discourse lessons

Together, these resources provide a comprehensive overview of the QT intervention and have resulted in a PD model that can be implemented both with and by teachers. The final QT professional development summit, a Quality Talk training workshop attended by teachers from around the country, included presentations about the QT model as well as interactive learning opportunities led by expert QT teachers.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: Science education in the 21st century must adapt to increase students’ opportunities to learn about and pursue science careers while also promoting scientific literacy for all citizens. Even as the unique demands of the pandemic fade, science educators will need new ways to reach a broader audience who have a variety of affordances and challenges. Quality Talk’s model for promoting authentic scientific practices, including collaborative learning and discourse, can and will apply to all modes of learning, face-to-face, hybrid, and online, supporting improved science education in the 21st century.

Products: The Quality Talk website provides information about Quality Talk Science (QTS) to the general public. Available information includes videos about QTS and the QT model as well as samples of the QT discourse lessons and QT-enhanced science lessons for chemistry and physics at multiple academic levels.

The Quality Talk Workbook Series which we developed in consultation with teachers implementing Quality Talk in their classrooms are available here.

We have also published an article in the journal Science Education entitled, “Fostering High School Students’ Conceptual Understanding and Argumentation Performance in Science through Quality Talk Discussions,” where we show how the QT professional development model, with lessons delivered by teachers over the course of an academic year, improves students’ collaborative learning and discourse, as well as their conceptual understanding and scientific argumentation performance. The article is available here.

Modest Supports LogoModest Supports for Sustaining Professional Development Outcomes over the Long Term Teaching Strand, Early Stage Design and Development Study

PI: Cathy Ringstaff | Co-PI: Judith Sandholtz

Target Audience: K-6 grade levels; school and district administrators, professional developers, teacher educators, teacher leaders, policymakers

Description: Given the time and resources invested in professional development, it is important to find ways to extend positive outcomes over the long term. Similar to regular tune-ups for automobiles, the investment needed to sustain teacher outcomes may be minor in comparison to initial costs, but pay important dividends in terms of long-term function. This project investigated whether an intervention of modest follow-up support influenced the sustainability of outcomes for elementary teachers who had previously participated in professional development programs designed to improve science education. The modest support included: a) 2-day face-to-face refresher sessions scheduled in the summer; b) after school face-to-face meetings held twice a year with teachers grouped by geographic proximity; c) synchronous webinars and virtual collaboration sessions facilitated by science experts or professional development leaders and focused on topics requested by teachers; d) electronic support including an electronic newsletter sent via email, an online repository of materials, a closed Facebook group page, and a dedicated email address to ask questions; and e) $150 per teacher each year to purchase needed materials and supplies.


  • Several years after their initial professional development ended, we found declines in teachers’ sense of preparedness to teach science, their self-efficacy, their instructional time in science, and their use of targeted instructional strategies and inquiry-based student activities in science.
  • Our results reinforce the notion of providing follow-up support to teachers after professional development in order to sustain instructional changes, and suggest that even nominal follow-up support can stop a downward trend in instructional outcomes and teacher self-efficacy related to teaching science during the years after professional development programs end.
  • Our research found that follow-up support reversed declines in teachers’ sense of preparedness to teach science, self-efficacy, instructional time, use of selected instructional strategies, and implementation of inquiry-based student activities in science.
  • The improvements in outcomes started as early as one year into the intervention of follow-up support.

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: 

  • Given the limited resources typically available for professional development, administrators may want to be strategic in determining how to use them. For example, rather than using funds exclusively for initial professional development programs, administrators might consider reserving funds for teachers who have recently completed professional development and would benefit from minimal follow-up support in order to maintain instructional changes.
  • Offering teachers a menu of options for follow-up support could address differing teaching assignments, school contexts, and personal circumstances.
  • The emphasis on language arts and mathematics instruction in the elementary grades makes it even more important to offer teachers support for teaching science.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: Teachers exhibited a strong preference for face-to-face activities; and, though they highly valued opportunities to collaborate with other teachers given their rural settings, they took less advantage of electronic resources. Given the shift to online environments during the pandemic, teachers now may be more receptive to electronic forms of support or, in contrast, may more highly value and prefer face-to-face professional development.


  • Sandholtz, J.H & Ringstaff, C. (2020) Offering modest supports to extend professional development outcomes and enhance elementary science teaching. Professional Development in Education.
  • Zinger, D., Sandholtz, J.H, & Ringstaff, C. (2020). Teaching Science in Rural Elementary Schools: Affordances and Constraints in the age of NGSS. The Rural Educator, 41(2), 14-30.
  • Sandholtz, J.H., Ringstaff, C. & Matlen, B. (2019) Coping with constraints: Longitudinal case studies of early elementary science instruction after professional development.  Journal of Educational Change, 20(2), 221-248.
  • Ringstaff, C., & Sandholtz, J.H. (2018). From budgets to bus schedules: Contextual barriers and supports for science instruction in elementary schools.  In S. Uzzo, S. Graves, E. Shay, M. Harford & R. Thompson (Eds.), Pedagogical content knowledge in STEM: Research to Practice (Advances in STEM Education) (pp. 67-82). Springer International Publishing.

Supports for Science and Math LogoSupports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing and Expanding a Professional Development System

PI: Alissa Lange 

Description: The SciMath-DLL project designed and tested a professional learning model for preschool teachers to support young children's science, technology, engineering, and math learning, with supports for dual language learners. Co-developed with educators, the model was an intensive, collaborative, multi-faceted approach to improving the quality of early STEM teaching and learning. We are now reporting our results and adapting our approach to reach more educators and to reduce cost. Current efforts include creating a larger online and social media presence, building capacity through teacher coaches, planning a preschool STEM video library, and supporting pre-service students. The original preschool-focused work is evolving, and our expanded projects are all housed under the umbrella of Early Childhood STEM Lab. 

Findings: We found significant, positive impacts on educators' attitudes, beliefs, confidence, and knowledge related to teaching math and science, and towards working with dual language learners (under review, revise and resubmit). Findings related to impacts on teaching and coaching show promise - this paper is in preparation.


  • Project Website
  • Newsletter
  • Preschool STEM Institute
  • Extending Work to Pre-service Teacher Education: Resources, publications, and information related to extending our prior preschool-focused work to early and elementary education pre-service teachers
  • Journal Articles:
    • Brenneman, K., Lange, A., & Nayfeld, I. (2018). Integrating STEM into Preschool Education: Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47(1), 15-28.
    • Lange, A. A., Nayfeld, I., Mano, H., & Jung, K. (revise and resubmit). Effects of a professional development model on preschool teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge around STEM and teaching DLLs. 
    • Lange, A. A., Nayfeld, I., Mano, H., & Jung, K. (in press). Effects of a professional development model on preschool teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge around STEM and teaching DLLs. 
  • Books:
    • Lange, A. A., Brenneman, K., & Mano, H. (2019). Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3-5 Year Olds. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • Practitioner Publications:
    • Mano, H., Molina, K., Nayfeld, I., & Lange, A. A. (2019). Planting the Seeds of Engineering: Preschoolers Think about, Talk about, and Solve a Real Problem in the Garden. Science and Children, 57 (2), 80–84.
    • Lange, A. A., Dias, A., & Brenneman, K. (2016). Reflecting on Teaching Length Measurement to Young Children. Teaching Young Children, 9(5), 24-27. (product from SciMath DRK-12 predecessor project)
    • Lange, A., Mano, H., Lech, S.,** & Nayfeld, I. (in press). Playing around with number composition: Games, stories, and everyday problem-solving in the preschool classroom. Teaching Young Children.
  • Blogs: 

Synchronous Online Professional Learning Experiences for Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers in Rural Contexts

PI: Jeffrey Choppin | Co-PI: Julie Amador, Cynthia Callard

Target Audience: Grades 6-8 mathematics teachers

Description: SyncOn for Teachers provides high-quality online professional development to middle school mathematics teachers in rural contexts. We designed a three part online professional development model that included online course modules, Teaching Labs, and online video-based coaching. The online course modules emphasized practices that facilitate productive mathematical discussions. The Teaching Labs were designed to illustrate and make public the practices explored in the online course. For the Teaching Labs, a two-hour synchronous experience, a facilitator-coach pair enacted a co-planned lesson, which was video-recorded. In the Teaching Lab, we conducted multiple rounds of viewing and reflection on the videos, using structured prompts. We based our online video coaching on Content-Focused Coaching (West & Staub, 2003), which includes a pre-lesson conference, teaching the lesson, and a post-lesson conference. The coach and teacher met via Zoom to plan the lesson using a structured planning protocol. The teacher then implemented the lesson, recording it with a Swivl robot that rotated to follow the teacher, who wore a marker to signal the robot. The video was uploaded to a Swivl library shared by the teacher and coach, who both annotated the video. The annotations anchored the post-lesson discussion, conducted via Zoom between the coach and teacher.

Findings: We established that it is possible to conduct high quality professional development in a purely online context. The two most innovative features of our project have been moving Teaching Labs (demonstration lessons) to a purely online format and using video-based coaching. Given the lack of research in these areas, especially video-based coaching, we feel we can inform researchers and professional developers about how to productively conduct and research video-based coaching.

Another area we hope to make an impact is in describing the collaborative design efforts between the professional development team and the research team. Design is normally thought of as entailing cycles of planning, implementation, analysis, and reflection, with the analysis normally conducted from a researcher perspective. Given the time lag between implementation and meaningful analysis in our project, much of the iterative design was done by the professional development team. We transcribed all of the meetings of the professional development team and hope to describe what their design process entailed. We feel this is a much more prevalent and under-reported type of design work, and we have data to contribute to research in this area.

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: We found that implementing multiple iterations of our professional development program with an ongoing focus on improvement has resulted in a more sustainable model with higher quality outcomes for participants. We learned that a close integration of our three online components (Teaching Labs, Online Course, and Coaching) led to more positive outcomes for attendees. We also found that the order of professional development options, as well as the duration between offerings, made a difference in the perceived benefits of the program.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: One challenge we have faced is serving teachers in rural areas who live in various time zones. With our model, we provide professional development online synchronously, meaning that participants and our professional development team are available at the same time, and at times that do not conflict with typical teacher schedules. We have settled on 7:00pm EST and 4:00pm PST to overcome this conflict but recognize that reaching teachers in rural areas across the country means we have to consider our availability in different areas in conjunction with our participants’ availabilities.


RMT LogoThe Responsive Math Teaching Project: Developing Instructional Leadership in a Network of Elementary Schools

PI: Caroline Ebby | Co-PI: Caroline Watts

Target Audience: Districts, administrators, teacher leaders, researchers seeking to improve K-8 math instruction and develop instructional leadership capacity at the school level

Description: Over the last 2 ½  years, the Responsive Math Teaching project has been developing and refining a model for fostering instructional leadership through a research-practice partnership with a network of 13 urban under-resourced K-8 schools. The RMT project is built around five core components:

  • Developing a shared understanding of high-quality math instruction
  • Ongoing professional development
  • Building a school culture of instructional improvement
  • Leadership development for sustainability
  • Ongoing research for continual improvement

RMT timelineThe professional development program is a 3-year sequence called Experience-Teach-Lead. First, teachers experience responsive math teaching as learners, working through challenging high-quality tasks and engaging in rich discussions, and then reflecting on their own learning and the facilitator’s pedagogical choices and practices.  In the second year, participants (1) unpack, analyze, and rehearse instructional practices and (2) collaboratively plan, and teach responsive math lessons in their own classroom. In the third year, a smaller group of educators engages in learning to lead: supporting other teachers to use responsive instructional practices. By taking on a new cohort each year, the project builds knowledge and capacity for high-quality math instruction within and across schools. As new leaders are continually developed, the reliance on university-based expertise is diminished. (Note: 2017-18 was a pilot year, prior to receiving funding from NSF)

Findings: To date, over 200 educators have participated in RMT professional development. Four teacher leaders who have been involved since the pilot year are now supporting other teachers in the network by leading cross-school collaborative lesson design and Experience professional development sessions. Six additional teacher leaders are apprentice RMT leaders, learning to lead these sessions with the support of university-based mentors. At several schools, as the number of teachers who receive RMT PD grows, a culture is building around common language, tasks, and practices for instructional improvement. 

As we look forward to Year 4, an important goal is to instantiate this model into the day-to-day operations of schools in the network, drawing on Coburn’s (2003) conceptualization of scale-up as a combination of depth, sustainability, spread, and shift in ownership. The involvement of school and district leaders is key to this process. The gradual increase in the number of schools, principals, teacher leaders, and teachers involved will allow us to study whether the instructional vision and models are being implemented with depth (i.e., resulting in changes in classroom practice), and also to study whether and under what conditions these changes persist over time. 

Additional emerging findings that aren’t directly as related to scaling and sustaining PD:

  • Early findings from our research on the development of instructional leadership suggest that the Experience year, where teachers experience responsive math teaching as learners, is important in shifting their instructional vision (Munter, 2014), and in addition, that teachers draw on those experiences when planning and reflecting on their own classroom practice. We are currently analyzing the relationship between shifts in instructional vision,  teachers’ individual and collective participation in professional development, and classroom implementation (Kazemi & Hubbard, 2008).
  • In the same way that teachers develop and refine their visions of high-quality math instruction, teacher leaders who have participated for multiple years are developing and refining their ideas about how to best support teacher learning and growth-- their vision of instructional leadership. Preliminary analysis highlights some important shifts over time. Initially, many teacher leaders viewed their role as one of having expertise to share with others. Over time, as they participated in various leadership activities (coaching, leading collaborative lesson design, and planning and leading PD) their views of instructional leadership expanded and shifted in ways that were less transmission or “leader-centered” to acknowledge the importance of building rapport and trust, taking the time to understand individual teacher’s strengths and needs, and learning through active and social participation in a community of practice. In other words, their visions of leadership are growing to include the idea of being responsive to teachers’ learning.

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: We built sustainability into our plan from the start, knowing that many initiatives provide a short-term infusion of intensive support or training, and when that ends, the impact of the initiative fades out. We constantly tell ourselves and our partners that the goal of the university-based team is to make ourselves obsolete by the end of the project. To accomplish this, we think hard about what kind of experience and preparation our developing leaders need. For example, we have designed and refined a set of experiences for learning PD facilitation practices through pedagogies of enactment (Grossman et al., 2009), such as simulations, coached rehearsals, and collaborative inquiry into practice. 

We also realized early on that given the high rate of teacher turnover and churn in this large urban district, we would need to develop instructional leadership capacity in a cadre of potential teacher leaders at each school. In addition to the designated math teacher leader, we try to identify and recruit additional grade level teachers that might serve as leaders for their peers at each school. 

Finally, we continually work to communicate with and engage school, network, and district leaders in our work.  Maintaining a focus on math instructional improvement is an ongoing challenge given the multiple initiatives and crises that are competing for attention. 

Key Opportunity or Challenge: In response to COVID-19, we decided to replace coaching with online cross-school collaborative lesson design groups. These groups meet regularly on Zoom to collaboratively plan lessons and then reflect on artifacts from implementation. This format has several advantages: (1) it is more efficient because multiple teachers from different schools can be supported simultaneously; (2) it does not require released time during the school day, a commodity that is lacking in resource-challenged schools; and (3) teachers appreciate the collaboration with grade level partners from different schools, and meeting on Zoom makes that possible in a way it never had been before. 

Products: To build coherence through the different organizational levels of the instructional system (Cobb & Jackson, 2011), the project has developed a set of tools and structures to help leaders and classroom teachers engage around a new vision of math instruction and translate it into classroom practice, including the RMT Instructional Model, the RMT Planning and Coaching Tool, and the RMT Task Bank (not yet publicly available). 

Tru logoTRUmath and Lesson Study: Supporting Fundamental and Sustainable Improvement in High School Mathematics Teaching

PIs: M. Suzanne Donovan, Alan Schoenfeld | Co-PIs: Phil Tucher, Catherine Lewis

Target Audience: This project targets high school mathematics teachers, teacher-leaders and coaches, and mathematics departments. District and site administrators are targeted as essential supporters and protectors of teachers’ time and focus. The work applies to middle school as well.

Description: TRU-Lesson Study integrates the Teaching for Robust Understanding (TRU) framework and Lesson Study. Site-based work engages teacher learning communities (TLCs) in ongoing explorations of mathematics, student learning, and supportive and enfranchising learning environments.

Students emerge from classrooms as knowledgeable, empowered thinkers when (1) the content is rich, (2) students work at the right level of “productive struggle,” (3) all students have access to core content and (4) opportunities to develop disciplinary agency and identity, (5) optimized through formative assessment. These are the five TRU dimensions.

In Lesson Study teachers study content, collaboratively planning, teaching, and refining “research lessons” using observation data to examine how their pedagogical hypotheses fared. Lesson Study can build teachers’ content knowledge, collegiality, and attention to student thinking. In TRU-Lesson Study, the TRU framework is the lens through which teachers plan and evaluate lessons.

Successful implementation and sustainability require balancing district and site coherence with teacher autonomy. TLCs need dedicated time and protection from competing initiatives; they must have significant latitude in choosing focal problems in order to have the agency that will drive changes in practice. In TRU-Lesson Study teachers’ work is consistent with the TRU principles underlying productive change, while being tailored to site-specific needs.

Findings: A successful PD model must be designed to strike a balance between scaffolding PD experiences so that time is used effectively and teachers experience the satisfaction of making meaningful progress in their own practice, and turning the work over to teachers so they feel a sense of ownership.  Too little scaffolding and teachers feel like they are wasting time; too much scaffolding and teachers disengage because they feel no ownership.

Principals have a powerful influence. If the principal is not committed to protecting teachers’ collaborative time or does not communicate the importance of the PLC’s work, teachers will not become invested.

Meeting more frequently (e.g. weekly) allows teachers to sustain focus far more than meeting infrequently (eg. monthly), even if the total time in meetings is similar. 

Advice Re: Sustaining or Scaling PD: Enlist a range of partners early in the process and collaborate with them to see how they run with your ideas. Doing so provides a “stress test” of the key ideas, allowing you to better understand what’s essential and what can be varied. It also allows for observation of the contextual factors, including administrative support, that make a difference. Leading productive teacher collaborations is a highly skilled enterprise. It can be tempting to think about the content of the PD as being essential, and the facilitation as a logistical detail. But skilled facilitation is crucial to effective TLC meetings.

Key Opportunity or Challenge: Covid has created a demand for teacher learning about virtual instruction and technology management, replacing a focus on student learning. But recovery offers an opportunity to reorient to instruction that is powerful enough to accelerate learning. (See “It's Time for an Academic Reset.” Graduate School of Education, U.C. Berkeley.)

Forced teacher capacity building regarding the use of online learning technologies has created an opening for supporting teacher learning through online resources, including those resources that allow teachers to work effectively as teams to improve instruction (see


  • District Partnership Website
  • TRU Framework & Tools
  • Lesson Study Information & Resources
  • Publications
    • Schoenfeld, A. H. (2019). Reframing Teacher Knowledge: A Research and Development Agenda. In J. Star, H. Hill, & F. Depaepe (Eds.). Expertise to develop students’ expertise in mathematics: Bridging teachers’ professional knowledge and instructional quality. ZDM: Mathematics education, Volume 52, Issue 1, 2020. DOI: 10.1007/s11858-019-01057-5
    • Schoenfeld, A., Dosalmas, A., Fink, H., Sayavedra, A., Weltman, A., Zarkh, A, Tran, K., & Zuniga-Ruiz, S. (2019). Teaching for Robust Understanding with Lesson Study In Huang, R., Takahashi, A., & Ponte, J.P. (Eds.), Theory and Practices of Lesson Study in Mathematics: An international perspective (pp. 136-162). New York: Springer. ISBN 978-3-030-04031-4
    • Schoenfeld, A. H., Baldinger, E., Disston, J., Donovan, S., Dosalmas, A., Driskill, M., Fink, H., Foster, D., Haumersen, R., Lewis, C., Louie, N., Mertens, A., Murray, E., Narasimhan, L., Ortega, C., Reed, M., Ruiz, S., Sayavedra, A., Sola, T., Tran, K., Weltman, A., Wilson, D., & Zarkh, A. (2019). Learning with and from TRU: Teacher Educators and the Teaching for Robust Understanding Framework. In K. Beswick (Ed.), International Handbook of Mathematics Teacher Education, Volume 4, The Mathematics Teacher Educator as a Developing Professional (pp. 271-304). Rotterdam, the Netherlands: Sense publishers.
    • See All


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