The best size for your math teams

How Do I Know If My Math Team Is Too Big, Too Small, or Just Right?

As I was recently catching up on Twitter, I came across the following question:

“Anyone have data on the ideal size for teacher collaborative teams? Is 2 too small? Is 12 too big? What’s ideal?”

The question is intriguing. Is there an optimal size for a collaborative team to be effective? Experience has shown me that a mathematics team of three to eight members is ideal. There is a large enough quorum to have robust discussions and build shared knowledge while simultaneously still small enough to make efficient decisions and ensure every person has been heard.

That said, I have worked with teams outside the optimal size who are highly effective. All of the team members fully engaged in the PLC process, unit-by-unit, and consistently created a collective response to student learning. I have also worked with teams (and even been a part of a team) that had an ideal amount of team members but were highly ineffective.

Despite the interesting question, perhaps it is actually not the size of the team that is most critical when working together to improve student learning.

Typically, you do not have control in the size of your team. If you are at a small school, you may only have one colleague who teaches the same grade level or course with you. On the flipside, if you are at a large high school, you may teach the same course with ten or more teachers. Since controlling the size of your team is not in your hands, paying attention to your team effectiveness through quality collaboration is the important factor.

Instead of focusing on the size of your team, consider the three Cs of Collaboration to ensure your team is effective. The three Cs are the foundation for creating effective teams.

Common Purpose

For teams to be effective, members of the team need to have a shared understanding of their purpose—why are the mathematics teachers working as a team?

Questions to consider as you evaluate your common purpose:

  • Does your math team have a shared vision for instruction and how their team instructional actions are aligned to the mission and vision?
  • Does your math team create SMART goals that focus on specified student learning and are used to celebrate small and large wins and drive the work?
  • Does your math team create action steps that are aligned to the established mission, vision, and SMART goals?
  • Does your math team identify effective team actions that all team members are held mutually accountable for completing?
  • How do your team agreements related to student equity impact team actions?

Commitments

For teams to perform effectively, members have to understand the expectations of how the team members are going to function and collaborate.

Consider the following questions as you evaluate your team’s collective commitments:

  • What norms have your team established to clarify how your team will behave and what your team will do?
  • How does your team communicate the common expectations for team actions?
  • How does your team come to consensus around answering the four critical questions?

Team Composition

When your math team is established, it is important to honor the talent that each team member brings to the team.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do you and your team members share and honor the expertise each team member brings to the team?
  • How does your team honor each member’s voice?

Teachers want to make sure the minutes they spend working in collaborative teams are minutes well spent. They want to know the work they are doing is impacting student learning and growing instructional practices. They want to know that their work matters! This is bigger than the overall size of a collaborative team. Consider your team and how you are pursuing the three Cs of collaboration, regardless of your team’s size. The goal is improved student learning, which means any size can be “just right.”

Mona Toncheff

Mona Toncheff, an education consultant and author, is project manager for the Arizona Mathematics Partnership (a National Science Foundation-funded grant). She is a former mathematics content specialist.

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