Classroom norms refer to the behavioral expectations within an educational setting. They serve to facilitate effective learning and create a favorable environment.
Norms and rules overlap, but have key differences. A norm reflects what is normal, outlining the general expectations of students in the classroom. Rules, on the other hand, reflect explicit ‘yes’ and ‘no’ edicts.
It is true, of course, that norms are made up of rules – both implicit and explicit. But what turns a rule into a norm is the consistent, daily, unspoken high expectations to meet and exceed the ‘rules‘ that teachers set in the classroom.
Furthermore, rules are not merely yes and no restrictions, but can also be positive and affirming, and may include allowances for open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared responsibility.
Types of Classroom Norms
Generally, I like to split classroom norms into four categories. This helps in the explicit generation of the norms framework. For example, you could sit with students and talk through each of the four categories.
The categories are:
- Behavioral Norms: These are expectations for student conduct during classes. They are essential to setting the tone for a safe, productive, and mature learning environment. They may include statements of positive expectations about how to act as well as direct prohibitions against harassment or any inappropriate behavior. Above all, your behavioral norms should reinforce the basic principle of treating everyone—both peers and teachers—with respect and dignity.
- Academic Expectations: This pertains to the learning attitudes that each student should strive to meet. Such expectations can cover attentiveness, trying your hardest, timely completion of assignments, and active participation in classes. Note how these expectations don’t state target grades, but rather, expected attitudes toward academic practice. Positive academic norms might include fostering intellectual curiosity, and developing a lifelong love of learning.
- Group Work and Collaboration Standards: Groupwork needs its own set of rules. These norms focus on ensuring productive and prosocial teamwork. Examples could include effective cooperation and sharing norms among group members. They may involve every member’s participation, equitable division of tasks, respect for differing opinions, and collective decision-making. Generally, I find group norms need to be explicitly taught and regularly reiterated prior to group tasks.
- Communication Guidelines: Communication guidelines involve norms regarding the ways students, teachers, and classroom guests communicate with one another. Such guidelines may provide for courteous and respectful exchanges and encourage active listening. They underline the importance of open, honest, and respectful communication, creating a classroom environment that values everyone’s input.
Examples of Classroom Norms
- Always listen when someone else is talking.
- Keep your hands and feet to yourself at all times.
- Use inside voices while inside the classroom.
- Clean up after yourself, including toys and activities.
- Participate actively in class activities.
- Finish class assignments on time.
- Show curiosity by asking questions.
- Always do your best on homework, in class, and on projects.
Group Work and Collaboration Standards:
- Share responsibility, ensuring everyone participates in group activities.
- Cooperate fairly, taking turns and sharing resources.
- Use kind words while talking to others.
- Practice active listening when others are speaking.
- Raise your hand if you want to ask a question or share something.
- Express your feelings honestly and respectfully.
For Primary School
- Enter and leave the classroom quietly and orderly.
- Treat school property with respect.
- Keep your personal space tidy—your desk, locker, and other assigned areas.
- Refrain from eating or drinking in the class except during specified break times.
- Come prepared for class with the necessary materials and completed homework.
- Strive to improve in areas you find difficult; don’t shy away from challenges.
Group Work and Collaboration Standards:
- Treat each group member’s ideas with respect and consider them before making decisions.
- Maintain a growth mindset, even when tasks are challenging.
- Stay focused on the group goal.
- Speak respectfully to peers and teachers, avoiding disrespectful or hurtful language.
- When you disagree, do so politely, without resorting to personal attacks.
- Listen attentively when others speak and wait your turn before responding.
- Ask for clarification when you don’t understand something instead of assuming or making guesses.
For Middle and High School
- Keep electronic devices turned off and out of sight unless instructed otherwise.
- Treat the classroom, school resources, and personal belongings of others with respect.
- Consistently complete assignments on schedule to foster personal responsibility.
- Contribute constructively to class discussions and respect diverse opinions.
- Seek help from teachers or peers when struggling with course material to promote continued learning.
Group Work and Collaboration Standards:
- Cooperate fully in team assignments and projects, sharing responsibility and workload equally.
- Respect different ideas, fostering a tolerant and innovative team dynamic.
- Communicate constructively during collaborations, providing and accepting feedback graciously.
- Uphold respectful dialogue in person and online, avoiding any harmful or offensive language.
- Listen actively during all relevant interactions, showing interest and empathy.
- Use appropriate non-verbal cues during conversation to demonstrate engagement.
- Attend lectures and tutorials punctually to demonstrate respect for your professors’ time.
- Maintain an environment conducive to learning by only making productive on-task noise.
- Respect the communal nature of spaces like libraries by cleaning-up after yourself.
- Proactively plan academic workload, including coursework and research projects.
- Adhere to academic integrity, avoiding plagiarism and other forms of malpractice.
- Keep abreast with course readings and participate actively in class.
- Strive for a deep understanding of topics covered, beyond merely studying for grades.
Group Work and Collaboration Standards:
- Contribute significantly to group projects, honoring your commitments to your fellow students.
- Foster a positive collaborative environment, respecting different opinions and fostering healthy debates.
- Use professional language in academic settings, keeping personal and professional communication distinct.
- Show receptiveness in receiving feedback and be respectful when giving it to others.
- Capture complex ideas clearly in written and oral communications, avoiding ambiguity.
Steps to Implementing Classroom Norms
Classroom norms need positive buy-in from all classroom stakeholders. This includes the students, of course, but also parents.
Furthermore, we need to respect that norms change over time, and we will need to constantly return to them not only to reinforce our core norms, but to review and revise them as well.
Here are three key steps for ensuring your norms become well-established throughout the academic year:
1. Involve Students in the Process
When students are involved in defining group norms, they are more likely to understand their purpose and adhere to them. The will have ‘buy-in’, because they will feel like they had ownership in the development of those norms.
By consulting students, their perspectives and needs are reflected in these norms, which contributes to an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration.
For younger children, the process of collaboratively developing the norms also serves to develop their social skills, encourages democratic thinking, and promotes a sense of agency and self-efficacy.
2. Involving Parents in the Process
The norms you have in the classroom should reflect the desires and values of the students’ parents. Including parents in establishing group norms can create a home-school partnership that reinforces the same expectations in both environments.
Parents can also provide valuable insight into their child’s behavior or challenges, which can help in crafting more effective norms.
Moreover, parental involvement can foster a common understanding of expectations and can reinforce the importance of these norms at home. This consistent reinforcement between home and school makes it easier for students to internalize these behaviors.
3. Regularly Revisit and Revise the Norms
Norms are not set in stone. Periodically revisiting and revising group norms is a critical aspect of maintaining their relevance and effectiveness.
As groups evolve, what may be relevant at one point may not hold true at another. Regular reviews offer an opportunity to assess the efficacy of the norms and make necessary alterations based on shifts in group dynamics, academic requirements, and other external factors.
This practice ensures that the norms continue to meet the ever-evolving needs and challenges of students and the learning environment.
Challenges and Considerations
The following are some key challenges you may face when trying to set the norms you want to see in your classroom. I’ll weave-in some tips on how to address each one:
1, Balancing Rigidity with Flexibility
Classroom norms need to allow room for flexibility, freedom of expression, and individualism. On the other hand, they need to enforce general conduct and maintain high expectations.
Strict norms can suppress spontaneous learning opportunities. They may also make people feel as if they can’t express themselves genuinely or “be myself”.
But a lack of structure and inconsistency may lead to chaos and hinder effective learning. After all, norms are developed through consistency more than anything else.
So, the objective is to strike a balance where norms promote orderly conduct while also accommodating spontaneous manifestations of learning and communication. An ideal set of norms cultivates an environment not of restriction but of guided freedom.
2. Addressing Diverse Needs in the Classroom
Creating classroom norms that address the varied needs of all students can be a considerable challenge. Classroom diversity such as differing learning styles, cultural backgrounds, abilities, and potential language barriers, need to be taken into account.
For example, the norms should promote inclusivity, mutual respect, and a conducive environment where everyone’s requirements are recognized and accommodated. But at the same time, some common denominators are necessary.
This is often where talking to parents is necessary – what is considered acceptable by parents of diverse backgrounds? Is there some common ground at all? This may need to form the backbone to the norms.
See Also: What are Cultural Norms?
3. The Risk of Too Many Norms
While developing classroom norms, it’s crucial to avoid overwhelming students with an excessive number of expectations.
A multitude of norms can lead to confusion, prevent students from remembering them, or reduce their ability to follow them consistently.
Too many rules can make a classroom environment feel restrictive and stern, which can hinder students’ creativity and independence. Therefore, it’s necessary to focus on establishing a select, relevant group of norms that promise meaningful impact on students’ learning experience, behavior, and overall comfort in the classroom.
To close out this article, I want to return to my original point made in the introduction: norms are more than rules. They are consistent daily expectations. They are the living embodiment of rules. So, while the norms I outlined above appear like rules, they become norms through the daily reiteration of them, both implicitly and explicitly, in our daily practice as educators. Maintain high expectations and your rules will become the norms, and at that stage, you’ll realize you have a well-oiled classroom with students buzzing away productively before you know it.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]