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Setting Norms: Do This, Not That

When we work with teams about developing teams, there usually comes a point in time when we move from big picture thinking to very direct, detailed questions about when to meet, where to meet, how to group teams, which content areas to focus on, who should give feedback, how often, etc.

When developing (or aligning) expectations within a system, it's important to have clarity around the nuts and bolts pieces of the experience. Who meets where, and when, is vitally important. I guarantee your teachers cannot focus on the actual meat of the PLC if they are spending their mental energy just trying to remember which day the meeting occurs. Likewise, when we sit in meetings without clear agendas, we feel less safe and certain about the actual goal we're trying to accomplish--hence why we say the use of a PLC agenda (see our Simple Sample) is a non-negotiable.

What's a non-negotiable? Well, it's a not-so-gentle term that we use to clarify the must-do parts of the process. It's not optional to use or not use an agenda--it simple is part of the process. The same way it's not an option to leave your house and go to work without shoes on your feet. Some things are simply non-negotiable.

Norms, we would argue, are definitely one of those non-negotiable "things". While the urge to just get going with your PLCs can feel strong, we ask you to take a moment with your teams to set the stage for people to share what they need.

That's right: Norms are for the people inside of the team--so they can say what they need from each other. That means: they are NOT the administrator's expectations. Norms should capture the needs of each unique team, and each team should create their own. Every year.

Norms help leaders when something goes awry. Often, people ask us, "What do we do when our teammates won't meet expectations, come prepared, or join the conversation?"

Before we answer, we ask this question: "Do you have norms that you actually use?"

Usually, silence or shaking of heads ensue.


Norm Setting: What NOT to do

Setting norms at the start of every year is a pretty simple non-negotiable, but it's crazy how many of us are kind of mucking this up on accident. Here are a few tips on what NOT to do w/ this protocol:

Create a common list of norms for your entire building.
Create the norms as the administration and give it to your building.
Tell your teams, "You have 10 minutes--create your norms".
Set aside time for your teams to create norms, but then take all of the time talking about norms.
Criticize a team for the norms they include (or don't include).
Expect your teams to create norms without you building in the time for this to happen.

It's not too long of a list, and honestly the most important piece is to actually have your teams set them. Again, norms are there for teams to name their needs and--if the occasion presents itself--to address unwelcome behaviors, actions, and statements in the groups.


Norm Setting: What TO do (or at least TRY)

Now that we've cleared the air of some simple, avoidable missteps with norms, let's walk through another short list of what does help teams create meaningful norms:

Ask your teams to set/revisit their norms at the start of every school year.
Before creating or revising, ask your team to engage in an interactive activity to "preheat the oven" on the topic. People want to talk about their needs, but not without some warming-up first. Don't just jump straight to "write your norms." Use an activity to springboard into this!
Show samples of surface level norms compared to deeper, more thoughtful norms.
Lead by example. Share your own needs as a teammate.
Ask people to share what they don't want to occur--this will help them naturally compare to what they do want instead.
Provide prompts for types of norms they may need (i.e., behavioral, beliefs, communication, etc.)
Reiterate the WHY behind norm setting. Again, this should serve their team--not you.
Once norms are created, keep them visible for your team by including them on agendas or printing them to sit on tables. Make the norms visual!
Coach your PLC/Team leaders to revisit these norms throughout the year. Use the norms to reflect and correct within the team.


4 Simple Norm-Setting Activities to Try

All that really matters is that you do something w/ your team to warm-up before they write their norms. Still, doing something might feel a little too ambiguous for some of us right now, so here are 4 super-simple norm setting activities you could try!

Have other great ideas for how you create a sharing, open environment that prompts the creation of solid norms? Reach out! We'd love to hear from you and share your awesome ideas!

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