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Setting Norms and Expectations

Setting Norms and Expectations


In this lesson, students examine the processes for norm and expectation setting.

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Source: Globe, Clker, http://bit.ly/1CVSonk; Thinking Person, Clker, http://bit.ly/1EmDSQV; Post-It Note, Pixabay, http://bit.ly/1GAw4Q1; Blackboard, Pixabay, http://bit.ly/1GeHFSr; Uno, Provided by Author

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Hello and welcome. In this lesson, we will cover something pretty basic but extremely important to the success of a learning community, and that is the process of setting norms and expectations. Let's get started.

When I think of norms or common commitments, I draw a parallel to rules. One of my favorite games to play with my family, and even with students, is the card game, "Uno." There are many variations of the rules. For example, do you need to be out of a color before you use a Draw Four? If you don't have a match do you just pull one card from the deck or more? What happens if you forget to call "Uno?" Is there a penalty, and if so what is it? I have been playing for so long now it has become a habit that, before I even begin a game, I confirm that we are all abiding by the same rules, or norms, so to speak.

In systems thinking, one of the first things a site-based management team should do after being formed is work collaboratively to establish high-performing team norms and expectations. Norms, also known as common commitments, outline in detail the behaviors that the team members agree are important in order to maximize the effectiveness of the team. Once those norms are created, the end result is a set of expectations that help achieve a shared vision. Let's face it, meetings always have the potential of getting off track. By establishing and maintaining norms that becomes far less likely. Without norms, teams can be unproductive or even worse. I like to think of norms as rules participants must follow in order to ensure that collaboration takes place and everyone's voice is heard.

It makes sense to review norms at the start of each meeting because it sets the stage for a productive working environment. The process of establishing norms and site-based management following a systems theory is this: you start by asking team members what behaviors get in the way of productive collaboration, and conversely, what behaviors don't. Participants brainstorm ideas. The team then agrees on five or six behaviors that they want to use as the basis for their meeting expectations, and they are revisited each time the group meets. If violations occur, individuals should immediately be addressed by members and reminders given about agreed upon behaviors.

It is possible that you will find that the norms that you've established aren't providing you with the desired effect. In that case, other norms might be needed, and the issue should be immediately brought to the attention of the group. Best practices when establishing norms, include sticking to five or seven. Any more than that will only frustrate and stifle users. Agree to the norms by consensus, not a vote. They should be ideas that everyone can get behind. Include all team members in developing norms. Remember to revisit the developing norms process every time a new member is added. I will actually model this process a bit later.

Here is a really good list of some common areas that norms address. They are: meeting times, frequency, duration, expected behaviors when a colleague is speaking or sharing, confidentiality, decision making, participation, attendance, and overall expectations and requirements for meetings. Now that you have a better idea of what norms might look like, here are a few more tips that will improve team learning and ensure adherence and personal mastery of these norms. As mentioned earlier, begin each meeting by reviewing the norms. Include the norms at the top of all minutes. Post the norms in a visible place at the start of each meeting. And refer to the language of the norms when addressing violations, and revisit those that seem to be ineffective immediately.

Even with norms, not all teams achieve the same level of success. It's more than just having norms, it's about creating mental models, high-performing teams, and norms that share the following characteristics: use of sarcasm or insults directed at team members is unacceptable. When this happens, team members shut down and withdraw. Success is celebrated by the team and its members. This builds self-efficacy, confidence, and team commitment.

Here are a few more tips to consider when developing effective norms. Your teams will be made up of individuals with different backgrounds and roles. Keep that in mind. They all matter and are equally important. Furthermore, it's those individuals that will help keep one another accountable during the process. A colleague of mine always says, "People first, then paper." Remember to get to know one another. Have fun, take breaks, and work on camaraderie. Keep your eye on the goal. Don't let the obstacles along the way slow you down. And remember to occasionally take the pulse of your team by asking how it's going. This little bit of monitoring and quality assurance will help to catch small problems before they get big.

So here's an example: review the vision and mission of the school. For the purposes of this example, we'll keep it simple and say that it's to empower students to recognize and optimize their full potential. In this example, an RTI team has been put into place at the beginning of the year with all new members. The chair of the team opens the first meeting by asking the members what practices and behaviors have worked, and which haven't on previous teams they have been a part of.

The brainstorm might look like this: for positives, they find talking about students to be very productive. Teams often have great ideas, and solid documentation is often provided. For negatives, there's not always enough time during these meanings. People come late. The same people are doing most of the talking, and many people are distracted by the use of technology.

Next, the team would be asked to rank the behaviors and spend time discussing them. Based on the results of this ranking and discussion, the team creates its norms, and they might look like this: Equity of voice. Nothing can stifle a conversation more than someone taking the meeting hostage. Use of technology respectfully, this can be a tricky one since we rely on technology so much, but there is an etiquette that should be followed. Meetings will begin and end at designated times. Predictability and respect for our professional time is crucial. The team will focus on solutions. You don't want your meeting to become a gripe session. And finally, members will bring any documentation needed. Professionals come to meanings prepared. When you have your ranked list write it down and have your team agree to accept them. I recommend doing so by consensus. And I'll add one more: you want to celebrate the successful establishment of these norms.

So it's time for a quick recap of this lesson. We talked all about norms, beginning with what they are, and how to create them, and the process it takes to establish high-quality norms that will positively impact your work. We shared some common themes found in norms, as well as walked through an example of creating some.

Here's today's food for thought: practice setting norms at home with the people you live with. Have some fun with the notion of setting norms the next time you are having dinner with your family or friends. What would the desired outcome be? What kind of norms did you come up with? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompany this video. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Thanks so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Setting Norms and Expectations"

(00:00-00:15) Intro

(00:16-00:50) Uno

(00:51-01:13) Checking Norms

(01:14-01:46) Reasons for Norms

(01:47-03:01) The Process

(03:02-03:25) Common Norms

(03:26-05:06) Tips

(05:07-07:03) Example

(07:04-08:01) Food For Thought/Summary

Additional Resources

PLC Team Norms

Hickory Ridge Middle School in Michigan provides a tip sheet and template for establishing norms, writing SMART Goals, and tracking continuous improvement efforts through meeting minutes and team protocols. This process is based on the tips and process from Professional Learning Communities at Work published in 2006 by Solution Tree.

Learning by Doing 

This text from Solution Tree provides a helpful template that guides you through the process of establishing team norms. Visit the link in order to download the text.

High Performance Teams: Team Norms

This resource illustrates the difference between the norms that are typically used by teams and the norms typically used by high performing teams.