Start The Year Off Right by Checking in on Your Class Norms

6 Dec
Project Wayfinder

Wayfinder guides teachers to begin each year by co-creating classroom norms because the research is clear: enabling students to play an active role in their learning environment increases retention and transfer of new information while improving critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and academic achievement. Wayfinder’s Director of Learning and Engagement Tristan Love laid this out last fall and offered five reasons you should co-create classroom norms with students:

1. Co-creating classroom norms fosters BELONGING

At Wayfinder, we define belonging as a strong, meaningful foundation through connection. Co-creating classroom norms allows students to connect to their peers and teachers by collaborating on work that is inclusive of everyone’s viewpoints.

2. Co-creating classroom norms fosters STUDENT OWNERSHIP

Including students in the creation of classroom norms gives them a sense of control and a voice in the expectations they are agreeing to follow. Through authentic contribution, students own a part of the expectations that are set and feel a connectedness to the environment in which they are stakeholders.

3. Co-creating classroom norms fosters STUDENT AGENCY

By co-creating norms that are specific to a particular class, the learning experience for each class is personalized. The norms serve as a guide for how students interact and treat each other in specific spaces. Due to the various experiences students bring to the collaboration process, students decide how their interactions can support the way they learn best through exercising voice and choice in the norming process.

4. Co-created classroom norms are more likely to be FOLLOWED

Classroom norms are a community agreement. Classroom rules, on the other hand, are typically made by the teacher. Since co-creating classroom norms entails student ownership and agency, students are more likely to follow the expectations they have a part in creating.

5. Co-Created classroom norms support a POSITIVE learning environment

Collaboration is key to a productive learning environment. Co-created classroom norms embody an educational process in which students play an active role in their learning. As students co-create expectations in their learning spaces, they have the opportunity to discuss, collaborate, share, and listen.

Norms are only as good as they are functional, though. When you set your original norms together in the fall, you and your students were most likely reflecting on the behaviors and expectations you had experienced in different classrooms and with different students. Now that you and your students have a better understanding of each other and the functioning of the classroom, there’s a good chance that you could tailor them to be more useful.

Maybe some of the norms you set were last fall evergreen. A norm like Listen actively while others are speaking, for example, is unlikely to lose its relevance. But even norms like these could be more specific. Perhaps your students are great listeners, but their eagerness to respond leads them to talk over each other sometimes. In this case, an edit such as Listen actively while others are speaking, and wait until they finish to respond may be a more effective way to ensure that all students have the space and opportunity to comfortably share their thoughts in class.

Some of your original norms may have even grown irrelevant now, while new ones may be needed. Stale, outdated norms run the risk of becoming vague phrases on a poster or recitations devoid of meaning, rather than being a set of expectations everyone in class can hold each other to. To avoid this, take a few minutes to revisit your norms when you come back from winter break.

As you work with students to rewrite your classroom norms, we invite you to refer to the Community Agreements Check-In activity in the Wayfinder Activity Library. If you want to extend the re-norming process, check out the activity Community Agreements Poster. As always, these activities are flexible and can be altered to suit the individual needs and interests of your students.

Devoting a bit of time to revisit co-created norms reminds students that their voices are valued and that everyone in the classroom is empowered to shape their classroom experience. Removing, replacing, and editing outdated norms will help set a positive tone for your class as you transition into the spring term.