I don’t know if I heard it, read it, or just realized it, but I know that I believe it. When you are working with a group of adults over an extended period of time—whether in a professional development session, at staff meetings, or in a PLC—there are going to be norms.
Norms can be defined as patterns of social behavior typically expected of a group. In other words, norms are what happen when you put a bunch of adults together to work. And like I said, there are going to be norms. Whether you set them or not. For example, an unspoken norm might develop where the person with the loudest voice makes all the decisions. Or another norm might develop where everyone is always polite, never challenging the thinking of others. Or the group might develop an unspoken norm that everything is turned into a joke for the sake of a laugh and the real work never actually gets done.
As a facilitator of professional development, I can let norms develop and hope for the best, or we can intentionally set the norms for our work together. I opt for the latter. I want to be as intentional as I can about how we will function as a team.
Build Community and Trust
Before we set norms, I want to create an atmosphere of community and trust. A certain vulnerability is required of participants when setting norms, so we aren’t going to jump right into the norm-setting process. First, we’ll work on building community.
Community is built through talk and sharing. Of course, we always have the incidental chitchat and pleasantries at the start of our time together, but that’s not enough to build a strong community. I won’t leave our community to chance. I intentionally plan an activity that promotes community building. Here are some activities I have used in the past:
Online character surveys such as Via Character Survey
Collective Autobiographical Poem, borrowed from Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
These activities, or others that you might use, help bond the group, creating a sense of unity and teamwork before we even begin.
Talk About Ourselves as Professionals
Next, I facilitate a conversation about ourselves as professional learners. I ask the participants to remember times when they’ve worked within a group of adults. I ask them to think about planning with other teachers, participating in staff meetings, professional workshops, or any situation where they were asked to collaborate with others. I ask them to think of both positive and negative experiences of group work. We sit in silence for a minute, silently collecting our experiences. Then we share. We talk about group experiences that worked for us and group experiences that didn’t. We talk about things that annoy us (people showing up late, people not pulling their weight). We talk about things that help us thrive (feeling heard, being productive). We put it all out on the table.
Brainstorm and Categorize Norms
Then I display the guiding question, “What norms do you need this group to follow so that you can be successful?” I ask each teacher to use index cards to write down norms that are important to them as learners. Teachers are invited to write anywhere from one to four norms, each on a separate index card. I remind them to write the norm using positive language. For example, instead of writing, “Don’t be late,” write “Be on time.” Then we group like norms together and create a finalized list. Here are the norms created by my most recent group of teachers:
1. Everyone participates, and all voices are heard.
If your PLC is not working for you, speak up. This is your time.
2. Come prepared.
Take five-ish minutes at the beginning of the PLC to take care of your personal needs.
3. Be productive during PLC time. Stay focused on the work and the agenda.
Be conscious of how you use your cell phone during PLC time. It is okay (and preferred) if we laugh and enjoy the time as well.
4. Be solution oriented. PLC time is not a gripe session.
Agree to the Norms
Finally—and this step is really important—I give each participant a draft of the norms and ask, “Do you agree to live by these norms when we are together?” Typically, everyone nods, but I let the question settle in the room for a moment. I wait. “Is there anything on this list you’d like to modify or change?” I ask. This opportunity for teachers to speak up is really important. You can see in the example above that our norm of “Come prepared” was modified to include the caveat that teachers should take “five-ish” minutes at the start of our time together for their personal needs. This modification was the result of a teacher speaking up after the creation of the norms.
This norm-setting process was integral to our PLC work throughout the year. It set a professional tone, yet sent the message that we were a team. It set the expectations for how we would function, not leaving our team dynamic to chance. When you are working with a group of adults, there are going to be norms. You might as well establish them at the outset.