EL Education.

Collaborative Culture: Norms

How will norms help my students take responsibility for themselves and each other?

"Children learn and remember at least as much from the context of the classroom as from the content of the coursework." –Lawrence Kutner

Schoolwide and classroom norms are the foundation for respectful behavior among all in the school community. Norms that simply hang on a poster in the classroom or teacher's room will not create a positive school culture; they need to be discussed and used daily to guide interactions and behavior. Students and teachers must understand and own the norms and hold themselves and their peers accountable for the specific behaviors that define those norms. This takes dedicated time, every day.

Learning Target

I can explain how norms support a positive classroom.

Teachers and students must discuss classroom norms daily in order for them to come alive.


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Practice: Creating Class Norms

Learning Target

I can explain how to create classroom norms with my students.

What It Is 

  • Through a series of open-ended questions, teachers and students co-create behavioral norms for the classroom.
  • A set of norms should be concise (no more than seven), kid-friendly, and applicable to all members of the classroom community.
  • Norms are posted prominently in the classroom and serve as the reference point for all conversations about interactions among students and between students and teachers.

What It Looks Like

The students and teachers in the video below embrace norms in their classrooms, creating a positive and productive culture.

Why It Matters

  • Co-creating norms embodies the essence of self-discipline.
  • Students know and appreciate being genuinely included in the process of governing themselves and their classroom.
  • When implemented at the beginning of the year, norms creation also serves the powerful role of being the first message students hear about how their classroom is going to run: "I care about what you say. I care about what you think. We're in this together."

Practice: Connecting Classroom Norms to Schoolwide Norms

Learning Target

I can describe how schoolwide norms come alive through classroom norms.

What It Is 

  • Every school has a code of conduct--a list of disciplinary guidelines, norms, positive character traits or even a "list of words to live by"--that live in the handbook or on posters. To make school wide norms come alive, they need to be frequently discussed and reinforced in every classroom.
  • All members of a school community commit to character values or norms that list positive dispositions of character rather than behavioral rules.
    • Courage/compassion/respect vs. no running in the hallways/no improper uniforms
  • Individual classrooms analyze those character values or norms and name specific behaviors and evidence of what they look like.
    • We are courageous. This means we: Stand up for our classmates when they are being treated badly; Take the risk to ask questions and make mistakes in class.
  • These commitments and dispositions are discussed every day--in classroom meetings, advisories, and lessons--and students are publicly affirmed and celebrated for displaying positive habits, and held accountable for breaking them.

What It Looks Like

In the video below, teachers and students discuss school-wide and classroom core values and character traits that contribute to success.

Why It Matters

  • Common norms provide a common language of respect.
  • Coherent and consistent expectations throughout the school community support students on their journey to self-management.

Practice: Problem Solving and Consequences for Poor Choices

Learning Target

I can explain behavior is guided by choices and/or logical consequences.

What It Is 

  • Daily classroom management should always strive for positive reinforcement and behavioral correction that helps students grow.  
  • The goal of all problem solving with students is to encourage growth of their self-management and self-discipline. 
  • Consequences for poor choices should be relevant, respectful, and realistic.
  • Provide students with choices when giving corrections and consequences.

What It Looks Like

Watch how teachers in this video critique the behavior- not the person- and model self-control.

Why It Matters

  • Perhaps nothing you do carries more weight with your students than how you manage misbehavior. All your norms, circles, advice and advisory periods mean nothing if you don't deliver on what you say when it really counts.
  • Fair and logical consequences make students feel safe and supported. In turn, the classroom community is strengthened.

Dig Deeper

Synthesize & Take Action

For Teachers...

  1. Consider your upcoming week. Where could you smoothly integrate a discussion about or reminder of the norms? 
  2. Ask students to reflect on the learning target: "I understand how my personal choices and actions help me be a better community member."
  3. Think of typical misbehaviors you've had to deal with in your classroom. What would be relevant, respectful, realistic consequences for those behaviors?

For School Leaders...

  1. Become an expert on your school code of conduct or school character traits. What next steps will you take with staff to connect those documents with the norms of each classroom?
  2. It is important that school faculties embrace the same values and model them for students. This requires that teachers work together to name what those values look like for the faculty. Create a staff meeting agenda to focus on the development of faculty norms.