Five Reasons You Should Co-Create Classroom Norms with Students at the Start of Each Year

5 Jan

I remember having my outfit, backpack, and supplies laid out on the living room couch in preparation for the first day of school. For me, the first day of school always brought out feelings of excitement—with a healthy dose of anxiety. I was excited to see my friends and immerse myself in the social aspect of school, but I was also nervously wondering about the teachers that would be on my schedule. I wondered how the teachers' classrooms would make me feel. Would they be strict? Would they be welcoming?

Typically, I got the teachers with strong classroom management skills who made their positions in the classroom known. The feeling of walking on pins and needles the whole school year was too familiar. Every first day of school brought optimism though: maybe this time I could get a teacher who made me feel seen, who made me feel I belonged. After the joy of seeing my friends, finding my homeroom, and getting my schedule though, I would ultimately meet a harsher reality. Traveling from class to class, every teacher used the first few minutes to lay down the law. I remember immediately feeling small, helpless, and—in many cases—intrigued by the level of detail that went into the class rules and regulations. In my mind, the first day set the tone for the rest of the year, and the message was clear. I was the student, and in order to gain access to the knowledge the teacher held, I had to obey and comply.

As an educator, I know that classroom rules provide structure, but I also question how these rules differ from the student code of conduct embedded in district policy. What if, instead of having both, the student code of conduct governed student behavior, and we co-created classroom norms with our students to govern our interactions with one another? Might this be a more effective approach?

The research on this is clear: allowing 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. So, in consideration of this approach and its benefits, below are five reasons to co-create classroom norms with students before launching into this fall’s curriculum.

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.


Co-Creation: A design process in which input from the students and teacher equally plays a central role from beginning to end in the creation of a product

Classroom Norms: Agreements among members of a classroom about how they will treat and interact with one another

Student Agency: learning through activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and initiated with appropriate guidance from teachers. Student agency gives students voice and choice in how they learn. In short, student agency is personalized learning.