Growing up, my parents weren’t really grade-obsessed. It was all about effort. They always said a C would be fine if I had done my best but a B wouldn’t be if they thought I hadn’t. I never really tested them on it, but I am fairly certain that they would have held true to that. Behavior, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter. I knew that if I got into trouble at school, I could count on getting twice as much trouble once I got home. Maybe this is why I’ve always been a rule follower. I guess it is an inherent part of my being. I don’t know whether there is something genetic about it or if it is the way that I was raised.
Whatever the case may be, I started teaching with a mindset that there really was no excuse for bad behavior. I created a set of rules that I was pretty sure covered everything I wanted without being too overwhelming for students to remember. I posted them on the wall. I intentionally taught them at the start of the year. I enforced the rules when necessary.
A funny thing happened, though. As I worked to build a collaborative classroom environment where students engage in meaningful discourse about mathematics, I started thinking more about norms. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted kids to act and how I wanted them to interact. After a lot of thought, I came up with a set of norms.
- We are a community. Everyone has to contribute.
- Everyone has good ideas to share.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated.
- Everyone makes mistakes. That is how we learn.
- Anything worthwhile is hard work. It takes lots and lots of practice.
I had one of my student aides create a poster with the norms. I posted the poster at the front of the room. I intentionally taught the norms.
It’s been about five years since I started using these norms. I still have the class rules posted, but the only time I ever talk about them or do anything with them is the first day of school. Instead of enforcing rules, I find myself focusing a lot more on norms. On those rare occasions when things go awry, I find myself reminding students of norms. The funny thing is, this works so much better than rules ever did. So, for this rule- follower, it’s all about the norms.