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NYC Helpline: Manage Your Classroom
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More About Norms
Judi Fenton

The Norm-Setting protocol, which I use with both students and adults, is from the book The Power of Protocols (TC Press). I often start a new group, or a new class, with the "Hopes and Fears" protocol. This is in the same book and is a particularly good way to prepare students or group participants for setting group norms. 

With Hopes and Fears I ask participants to think about and write down what they envision happening in this group or class, both if their greatest hopes are realized ( they learn a lot, they make great contacts, they have a great year, they make some new friends, etc.), and if their worst fears are realized (which is often the opposite of the hopes-- they don't learn anything or get anything out of the class, everyone hates them, they hate their teacher...).  They can chart their hopes and fears as table groups, or we chart them as a whole group with volunteers sharing. After participants do this, I ask "What norms might we put into place so that your hopes are realized and your fears are not?"

Working with those answers, we begin to talk about what norms we must create as a group that will determine the ways in which we will work together throughout the life of the group. It is important to note that norms setting is an ongoing process. We revisit them often to make sure that they are still helping us interact in the ways that will sustain our learning community and lead to our best learning.  If we need another norm, we add it as the group evolves. For example, I was in one very large group in which participants were getting upset at one another for comments some viewed as offensive. The group decided to add the norm "assume good intentions," that is assume that everyone is there to learn and is coming from a good place in what they intend.  In turn, if we no longer need a norm, we lose it. 

Some norms to consider:

  • Assume good intentions
  • Respect all voices and learning styles
  • Be fully present (this means focus on the learning at hand and get rid of things that might distract from your learning like cell phones, newspapers, stuff on the desk, etc.) This is a particularly good one for group leaders, teachers, facilitators!
  • Safety and confidentiality
  • Take risks in your learning 

I have found that when students of all ages are involved in creating norms based on their preferred ways of interacting, that there is more buy-in, in terms of treating each other well and creating spaces to do their best learning. Norms guide a teacher, or facilitator of a group, in pushing students to create a supportive learning community.

Try establishing them with your students. I think you’ll find it well worth the effort.

See also: Judi's articles Setting Norms with Your Students and Some Classroom Management Tips.

Do you have a comment about this article? E-mail me!



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