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Tool: Setting norms

Purpose of this tool: This tool provides a process to set norms of interaction for your learning community. Forming learning communities is risky and challenging work. Though teachers often assume that they will naturally engage constructively with one another, this is often not the case. Setting norms can facilitate productive collaboration as it requires teachers to consider the behaviors that facilitate their learning. It also helps teachers identify unproductive behaviors, such as monopolizing conversations, silencing disagreement or rushing to judgment, and provides agreed upon ways of curtailing them.

How to use this tool: This tool should be used at one of the learning community's first meetings. It should also be revisited in later meetings, particularly when the group tries new approaches or practices or needs to engage in difficult conversations. Overtime, your group may find that it has begun to develop new norms of interactions. Revisiting stated norms can help the group to acknowledge the productive norms that have emerged and to deal with the unproductive ones that may have emerged, as well.

The group should appoint a facilitator to lead the group through the following steps: 

  1. Brainstorming. The facilitator asks the group to think about their expectations for the group and the behaviors that will help them to meet these expectations. The facilitator then leads the group in brainstorming all the possible norms. Remember to include the norms of risk-taking and expressing and respecting competing perspectives. If the group does not mention these, the facilitator should. During this time, the facilitator or another group member writes all of the norms offered on chart paper.
  2. Discussion. After brainstorming, the facilitator asks the group if they want to discuss any of the norms in further detail or if there are any norms that people want to question. The purposes of the discussion are to reach agreement on which norms are essential to the group's collaborative learning and to develop a shared vision of what those norms look like in action.
  3. Consensus. The facilitator notes that consensus means that all the group members can live with the norms and then moves the group to amend and/or approve the list.


Adapted from McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2003). The Power of Protocols. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 27-28.

Rich Text Format, for revising