Seven Norms of Collaboration

Building a classroom community based on respect by intentionally teaching social and emotional skills all year!

Photo of Elizabeth Fitzgerald
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One aspect of my master’s program was learning and utilizing the Seven Norms of Collaboration. As I practiced these norms in working with adults, I realized that my students were capable of using them too. Instead of a classroom management system that takes away points, recess, or stamps, I decided to approach this year differently. I adapted the Seven Norms of Collaboration to meet the needs of my students, and then I spent the first weeks of school teaching my students our norms and expectations of working together.

    Basically, I started by teaching a different skill each week, and initially had only very rough ideas about how to do it. I would introduce a norm to my students each Monday morning, we would talk through it, role play...etc, and then the expectation was that we would work hard and focus on that all week long. So, for example, if we were working on active listening and a student kept interrupting, I would stop my teaching, remind students of the expectation, and then practice it a few times. It was SLOW for a while, but the kids really soaked it in and have risen to the occasion! 

    Today, if you walk into my classroom, you see students setting social and academic goals for themselves, collaborating in groups, and monitoring progress toward their goals. Our discipline problems have been minimal — the occasional spat at recess — and I feel like our classroom community is built on deep respect. My students are comfortable living in a state of cognitive dissonance, and we have guidelines for how we disagree respectfully with one another. I cannot imagine teaching any other way, and most importantly, I hope that these are skills that stick with them for the rest of their lives.

    My original plan was to just teach the original seven norms of collaboration, but then it morphed into what the picture shows... I just kept adding a new skill every time I saw a need in my classroom. This week, for example, we are working on "Considering another perspective" because we have a new student in our classroom who only speaks Spanish and another new student transitioning from another classroom, so I thought my kids needed to be explicitly taught how we interact with people who think differently than us.

    I also ask the kids each week to set a personal goal for themselves about what they need to work on. At first some needed coaching about "You should work on...," and I had to model what my personal goal was, but again, now they've got it!

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Photo of Geneva Hinchliffe

I love this. I can imagine having resources for teachers to integrate these different norms into their classroom. I teach secondary education, so I'm interested in how this might manifest in specific content areas. Maybe these norms are promoted through various class projects?

Photo of Michael Schurr

Right on! This idea sounds a lot like the way I run my classroom. I love how you're intentionally teaching the norms of collaboration. Erin's question raises a good point. Running a classroom and building a community around the norms of collaboration really resonates with me. However, I am curious how we relate the collaborative work back to empathy. I am sure the connection is there. Is there any research that shows a correlation between collaboration and empathy? Or, vice versa? Does one need to be empathetic in order to effectively collaborate? Maybe we can think of some activities that require students to be collaborative and empathetic at the same time. I feel like the idea is really solid, we just need to make the connection to empathy explicit. I would be happy to continue fleshing this idea out with you. Excited to see how this idea evolves.

Photo of Elizabeth Fitzgerald

Thank you for your comments, Erin and Michael! I didn't explain clearly!

Several of my norms encompass empathy including "Consider Another's Perspective" and "Presume Positive Intent." I think that these norms challenge students to have empathy, even if that word is not explicitly stated. I also appreciate your question about research... I don't know! I can only speak to my experience in that this group of students is different because of these norms. They display empathy constantly throughout the day stating things like "_______ is frustrating me, but I think maybe he is angry about _______" or when I am having a bad day, they might say "You know, Mrs. Fitz, sometimes we all get frustrated, have you tried.....?"

I would love to continue the dialogue as well as expand this idea. I'm always working on new social/emotional norms to add!!

Photo of Michael Schurr

Awesome! Thank you for clarifying. I'd love to flesh this idea out with you in more detail. I am especially curious about how students are formulating their perspective without making assumptions. Might be a way to create norms or protocols around empathizing with a peer. Or maybe you have already done this. Excited to work on this with you.

Photo of Erin Quinn

So often we assume students can do something - like collaborate - without actually having taught them. How do you think this process helps your students develop empathy?