Creating Norms

Developing shared norms around innovative practices has been essential to moving school culture.

Photo of Martin Moran

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My school has developed an in-house design consultancy made up of teacher leaders who meet every other week to design professional experiences for our colleagues. More than any single initiative we took on this year, our development of our group's norms has been essential to promoting an innovative culture. These norms were created by the group over time, empowering everyone to be involved in both their creation and enforcement. The shared responsibility that these norms embody has made everyone consistently both accountable to and responsible for each other. 

First and foremost among these norms is the creation of "challenge slams," which are fifteen minute chunks at the beginning of every meeting in which one member brings a challenge s/he is facing in her practice. The group then spends fifteen minutes brainstorming ways to help that teacher through the challenge. This is led by a different teacher each time, so that we all share the responsibility of both helping others and organizing the sessions. 

Maintaining a culture is a sisyphean task that requires constant vigilance. Having an anchor like these norms has made it significantly easier to do so. 

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Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Martin, How are you? I think you are onto a great idea here, in fact, shared norms are one of my favorite methods of leading change. We would love for you to share it in the ideate phase.

A couple of questions that might help frame out this idea:
What’s this idea about?
Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?
How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal?
How’d you get this idea off the ground?

Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or want to talk the idea out in more detail!

Photo of Martin Moran

It might be tough for a principal to do it specifically. We've got a group of teachers specifically given the position of "culture movers" in the school and I work with them to lead groups in which they establish these norms. I think figuring out who your connectors/influencers are is the first step--if you can get them to be leaders in small group work, I think that will bear more fruit.

Photo of Tom Sayer

I love this. How do you think a Principal could instigate either a) a norm setting process or b) this specific routine?

It feels it came naturally to your group as you came together for the first time. It may feel less natural for in an established community. I think leading by example and being the first one to share problems being faced could be the first step. Get things going....

Photo of Moss Pike

I love this idea! You have teams making decisions (rather than individuals), and you devote necessary time and effort to building the team dynamic. There so much value, I think, in sharing our own questions or places where we're "stuck" within our teams, then devoting time to talking them through. What if faculty meetings progressed in this direction?

Photo of Martin Moran

The easiest part about it is that it's rooted in perceived teacher expertise. Teachers are always interested in helping each other, especially when they feel like the topic is in their wheelhouse. In reality, I'm not 100% sure how well we actually helped with any of the individual challenges, but the process brought people together.

Photo of Dan Ryder

Bringing people together is such a vital step; it's that active empathy enabling problem solving to happen more effectively and efficiently. Too often this gets ignored in favor of "fastest solution possible with least resistance"

Photo of Dan Ryder

I love the time frame for it; 15 minutes is doable, manageable.

What challenges did your staff encounter in getting this challenge slam routine to take root?

Photo of Martin Moran

Probably #1 was keeping the time to 15 minutes. As people got more and more into it, a lot of the ideas starting rolling through into 20, then 25 minutes. I had to get better at stopping the conversation, unfortunately.

The other piece was the element of "brainstorming" that the slam entails. The idea that we weren't going to solve this issue in the time allotted, nor that we were really looking for perfect solutions, so to speak, was difficult for some to grasp. It took awhile for people to get comfortable just riffing on ideas, asking following up questions, and generally just helping the person who proposed the challenge get a different perspective on it.

Photo of Dan Ryder

Did you use any sort of capturing/organizing routine to revisit the ideas that came up in the slam? Or was it more an "in the moment, enjoy the ride?" experience.

I really appreciate the follow up and the specifics. It's getting my brain turning . . .

Photo of Jennifer Auten

What a great idea to have different teachers lead and present an issue. I would guess that this helps not only the teacher who presents the challenge, but can be applied to other situations as well.

Photo of Brett Brownell

Hi Martin, looks like your contribution hasn't been published yet (as of Sunday night July 19). If you were ready to add it to the Discover phase, all you have to do is select the blue Publish button at the top of the page. Looking forward to collaborating with you!