Classroom Norms Synergized through Awareness as Learners - PEBC

Classroom Norms Synergized through Awareness as Learners

Moments that change your thinking
I was sitting on a cold aluminum bleacher watching a tied third quarter high school football game where both teams seemed to be running full throttle and creating sounds like cans being crushed. I turned my gaze, from the action-packed game to see my youngest son laughing, talking and meandering his way through the student-section with his elementary school peers. This burst of energy seemed to defuse once he entered the backseat of the car. My husband, oldest son, and I embraced this gregarious moment in the car by celebrating the hometown victory. The dialogue reflection gave us energy and closing to a memorable experience. I glanced and noticed my youngest son staring out the window with his headphones on. I realized the headphones were not plugged into a device. When we arrived home, I immediately asked my son about the game. This moment changed my life as a mother and teacher. He articulated that he enjoyed the game and was thrilled with the win, but needed time to recharge privately. My son was aware that he could be outgoing but also knew he needed to time to reflect internally on his experience. The internal reflecting gave him energy as a learner!

How can I plug into schema students already know about themselves as learners to impact classroom norms?
My son’s experience unleashed a passion for me to plug in more deeply into schema my students already knew about themselves as learners. My quest surfaced the emersion of three different authors. Chris Tovani’s book called So What do They Really Know? talks about giving students a survey to find out what students really know at the beginning of the year. This made me ponder how might I use this data to help students create purposeful classroom norms? At the time, I was also learning about Geil Browning, PhD’s work called Emergenetics. It is around Thinking Preferences and Behavior Attributes. This helped me to think about the types of questions I might want to ask my students on the survey.  Debbie Miller’s, “Our Promise to Each Other” from her book Reading with Meaning was an idea that could bring all of the work together in a cohesive way. The promise was a way to set the tone for learning and cooperation early in the year. The norms were phrased into a promise where all students signed an oath which hung on the wall as a third point for us to reflect back on each day.



The experience, with my son, brought all three of the ideas together for me. I wanted to create a survey around thinking preferences and behaviors for my students to complete that would activate their schema around what they already knew about themselves as learners. The data, from the surveys, could be analyzed by the class to create classroom norms based on the needs of the group. To apply my new learning, I decided to use six easy steps to include my students’ self-knowledge as we developed classroom norms.

Step 1: Create Google Survey or another tool to collect the data
Below are some possible questions for a survey (You could use a 5 point scale or always, sometimes, never, etc.)

  • I learn by talking about what I just experienced.
  • I learn by having quiet time to think after an experience.
  • I enjoy working in teams.
  • I like to know the schedule of the day.
  • Fill in the blank:
    • What are some classroom norms that have worked for you from previous years?

Step 2: View the results of the survey in a bar graph.
What are we noticing about the learners in this room? (Chart the responses)

Step 3: Chart Ideas for Norms
What are some important norms to put in place for all learners to be successful in this room based on the data? If many students said they need think time, we might propose a norm like, “I will support my classmates by honoring quiet time.”

Step 4:  Advocate for Norms




Invite individual students to advocate for certain choices. To keep the energy positive in the room, students can only talk about the choices they support.

Step 5: Vote
Have students vote for the top choices. Depending on the grade level keep the number of norms to a minimum.  I would recommend up to four for the lower grades and no more than six for the higher elementary grades.

Step 6: Signing of the Norms
Write the norms on chart paper and have each student sign at the bottom. The signing represents the promise they are making to each other to follow the norms.

This process will take more time than a teacher just establishing and talking about the rules. In order for norms to live and breathe in the classroom all year it is critical to invest in the time for students to create and synergize their own expectations for their classroom. Students feel ownership because the process:

  • has them surfacing their own schema
  • invites them to analyze the preferences of the group
  • has them determine norms to put in place to support all the needs in the room
  • creates an opportunity to advocate for their own ideas
  • empowers them to vote

In this way, we can spend our earliest days in school connecting with each student’s individual and unique ways of learning to cultivate an environment where everyone thrives.