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Setting Classroom Norms

Author: Lisa Rodriguez Subject: All subjects Created: 2017-02-06
From The Author Having taught English, Study Techniques, and Computers at three different institutions, both at the Community College and University settings for about 10 years, one thing remained constant: Setting the ground rules or norms for the semester as an interactive activity, regardless of the class size, set the tone for the student to faculty and peer to peer interactions. I started by highlighting my expectations, but later revised my approach to begin as a conversation to allow for maximum student input. Only after the list of norms was complete did I add my needs and expectations if they were missing from the list. I always congratulated them for their efforts and willingness to engage. I don’t know if there is any correlation, but incidences of negative behaviors were very low in all my classes. Although there were occasional issues, between this activity and the “statement of student conduct” referenced in the school catalog and linked in the syllabus, there was little need for corrective behavior on my part. Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D. - Lisa Rodriguez

Impact on Faculty

Feel more comfortable enforcing boundaries and addressing behavioral issues among students
Know the campus expectations for student conduct in the catalog
Be able to utilize a short in-class “norm” session
Effectively communicate expectations to the students
Understand how to refer students to campus resources

Impact on Students

Student might feel validated by being given opportunity to lend voice to learning environment and involved in setting classroom norms
Students will understand and/or respect classroom boundaries and behavioral expectations
Student will know where campus resources are to assist them outside of class with conduct or self-care issues.

Toolkit Survey

Toolkit Overview

Setting classroom norms is a short exercise, about 20 minutes of the first day of class, wherein the instructor solicits suggestions for creating a civil and democratic classroom environment. It is based on a collaborative new faculty mentor relationship wherein department wisdom was passed on to me about how to achieve the best outcomes in the milieu of “teaching smarter, not harder.” I later wrote an article on this for an experimental database of similar toolkits for teaching in Community Colleges back in 2003 called (out of Riverside Community College and of which Mt. SAC was a part).

Steps To Implement

I found it worked well when I waited for the norms exercise as 3rd of 4th activity. I usually did the following: reviewed the syllabus, shared a 5 minute story about my educational path, asked for a show of hands checking for stress levels in my classroom such as a show of hands for those working more than 20 hours per week, with families at home, and/or taking full time classes. This broke the ice enough to enter into the conversation about setting norms. It helps to have large post it pads, but white board and later taking a photo and posting that on the class website helped remind students what we agreed to. I never had more than 35 in a classroom so I was able to just prod for participation rather than put students into groups. It also helps to give them language to use such as “I prefer it when,” rather than, “I hate it when…” before beginning the activity. Essentially, call for ideas of what makes for a civil classroom safe to express opinions and vulnerabilities. Second, make a list of those behaviors that might threaten that environment.