Building and Empowering Math Teams

“Many hands make light work,” claimed John Heywood more than 600 years ago. And we still find this to be true today. Especially in the world of education, when we join forces to serve a collective goal, our work becomes magnified and exponentially impactful.

By way of example, please humor me as I tell my own story. This past year, my school district adopted new mathematics resources. Because we had varied perspectives for what mathematics teaching and learning should look like, I brought together diverse teams on each campus to work and learn together. Each team had one representative from each grade band, K-2, 3-5, and 6-8, as well as an instructional coach, a SPED teacher, and an administrator.

Initially, during phase one, each team had the responsibility to represent their grade bands, taking inventory of what was working, what materials were needed, and what PD was requested. This one-way communication allowed them to take ownership of the needs of their staff.

However, there was a second intention, phase two, if you will, behind the formation of these teams: equipping the members as teacher leaders, both individually and corporately. Here’s the plan I implemented for evolving the teams from phase one to phase two…

  1. Monthly Meetings: During both phases one and two, I met with each team about every four to six weeks. During phase one, I gave the team assignments to talk with everyone they represented about their needs: materials, professional development, strategies and methods, etc. During phase two, I am now giving them things to take back to their teams: number talk strategies, games, manipulatives strategies, word problem methods, etc. This helps their colleagues begin to see them as the experts.
  2. Summer Symposium: The best way I’ve found to transition from phase one to phase two is to provide a common experience for the teams. This year, I offered a Summer Math Team Symposium where the teams came together to examine mathematics content across the grade-levels, pedagogical strategies, and leadership techniques. They created vision statements for what mathematics teaching and learning will look like on their campuses. And they planned for how to share important ideas with their colleagues.
  3. Teacher Leadership: An amazing (and deliberate) by-product of this effort is the empowerment of teachers to see themselves as leaders on their campuses. It’s thrilling to hear teachers confess how their discomfort with mathematics has been overshadowed by the summer experience and how excited they are to support their colleagues. In just the past month, I’ve seen the teams blossom as they presented mini math sessions for their colleagues, offered vision-casting seminars for their staffs, and tutored their colleagues in areas of discomfort. This effort is resulting in teachers taking on new challenges and supporting their colleagues unlike anything I’ve witnessed before.

So…are you interested in creating or taking part in such an effort…or at least in hearing more about how you might do something like this within your own sphere of influence? You don’t have to be a site or district leader to get this started. Sometimes the best efforts begin within the teacher ranks. We would love to hear your thoughts on building camaraderie amongst the math teachers on your staff.

And for those of you following Peggy’s journey with KP Ten-Frame Tiles, please click here for her latest entry. You may find great ideas in here to take back to your colleagues to inspire new conversations about the teaching of mathematics.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts regarding these ideas or your own journey. Please continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., works with teachers and leaders to develop system-wide change in mathematics teaching and learning.

PS – If you’ll be in Phoenix this Wednesday morning, August 29, please join us for our FREE leadership event taking place in the downtown area. You can learn more by clicking here.

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