Establishing Team Norms

Getting students to work effectively in teams requires lots of guidance and practice, as any of us who have tried team work in a middle school classroom know!  One of the first and most important steps is establishing team norms so that everyone understands what the expectations are.  Team norms could be developed by the teachers; however, my research investigation has shown that students who have a chance to be involved in the process of creating team norms take more ownership and tend of follow them more closely.

At the beginning of this school year (on day 4), I did a carousel activity in my classroom to create team norms.  I posted several posters around the classroom with the following questions on them:

  • What do I like teammates to say or do when working in a math team?
  • What do I not like teammates to say or do when working in a math team?
  • Why is it important to work in a team?
  • Why should I speak up when I don’t understand?
  • Why should I have to explain my thinking?
  • Why is it important for me to ask questions of my math team?
  • Why is it important to understand someone else’s thinking?
  • What is the best thing you did this summer?
  • What is a characteristic you look for in other people?
  • What makes a good teacher?

Students took a marker and were given about 1 minute at each poster to respond to the question.  I also asked students to place a star next to other’s responses that they agreed with.  The stars allowed us to see if more than one student felt a certain way in a given response, but having them still respond themselves pushed them to think a little deeper. Because I have small class sizes, I was able, after a few rotations, to let students rotate on their own until everyone was done.  You may need to be a bit more strict with a larger class size.  I also chose to tie in a few questions that didn’t pertain to team norms to begin getting to know my students.

Here are some pictures of a few of the carousel posters:

I was originally thinking of creating the norms by summarizing the responses with each class, but decided it would be difficult to have possibly 4 different sets of team norms for four classes.  So I took the data, summarized it myself (basically tying comments to team norms I have had in the past) and then shared with each class.   We discussed how certain norms fit with the comments they had made.  

This was a powerful activity for my students, bringing authentic classroom expectations to the forefront right away.  As the year progressed, I frequently referred students to the expectations that they had of one another as part of team management.

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