It’s Really Not All About the Rules – Creating a Collaborative Community

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.



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