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Leading Adult Learners


22 Jan

Norms and agreements: foundational to your learning culture

Posted by Joan Dalton

A focus on the ways we treat each other provides a powerful doorway to developing shared norms grounded in social-ethical values, and to the co-construction of mutual agreements on which they are based. Such norms are now commonplace in most schools and educational workplaces that we know.

However, constructing shared norms is one thing: bringing them to life in your school is quite another. Norms work only when they are lived in action, rather than simply posted visually on school walls.

A new school year offers the perfect opportunity to revisit, reflect on, and review your school’s current norms and values. This is particularly important when you have new team members, to involve and uncover their thinking for common understandings and shared commitment.

If your purpose is to bring norms back into people’s consciousness at the start of the year, the following excerpt offers a practical and meaningful way to involve all staff in this.

Strategy one: Observe and enhance existing norms

Observe and enhance existing norms, points 1, 2, 3

Observe and enhance existing norms, points 4, 5, 6

C. Dalton, Joan (2020) Learning Culture for Learning Impact (pp 64-65)
Hands On Educational Consultancy Pty Ltd, www.leadingadultlearners.com

Strategy one, Observe and enhance existing norms, achieves the purpose of bringing whole team norms back to front of mind in a personalised and relevant way.

If your purpose, however, is to have team members more intensively reflect on, analyse, and review existing norms, then consider using the questions in Strategy two to engage staff in dialogue and discussion.

Strategy two: Revisit, reflect and review norms

  1. As you reflect on our current norms (on display), which of these do you believe worked well last year, and how do you know?
  2. As you reflect further on our norms, which ones did you find challenging or hard, and how do you know?
  3. Which of our norms (if any) no longer serve our needs? Say why.
  4. What norm or norms aren’t on our list that might be important to include this year? In what ways might these assist us?
  5. What benefits do you see in having our norms: how do they help us?

Whilst there are many ways to uncover thinking and record ideas in partnerships or small teams, a Gallery Poster Walk is one that works particularly well in partnerships because it’s relatively self-paced, raises energy by requiring physical movement from large poster to poster, and gathers quite a lot of data in a relatively short time.

Gallery Poster Walk

Prepare ahead of time

  • Have a large visual of school norms on display and have five large pre-prepared posters set out around the room, on walls or windows.
  • Have coloured dots, post its and coloured markers ready, either at a central collection point or near each poster.
  • Be sure to include a list of school/workplace norms under the tasks on each poster.
Gallery poster walk

Step 1

Introduce the purpose

’How we treat each and work together is at the core of our relationships and team effectiveness, so our intention now is to review our school norms to see what worked for us last year, and what changes (if any) we might need to make as we undertake a whole new year together.

Taking this time will bring our norms back to front of mind again and offer our new members of staff the chance to become familiar with them and contribute their valuable insights.’

Step 2

Explain the process

Take your group through each of the five questions and the related tasks on posters; clarify as needed, and explain the Gallery Poster Walk:
- It is self-paced: partnerships can start at any poster and undertake them in any order they wish.
- Key to success is the dialogue between partners around each one before they agree and record their partnership thinking.
- There is an overall time limit of ___ minutes. (It may take between 15 and 30 minutes: you know your team best regarding this.)

Step 3

Form partnerships: undertake the Gallery Walk

Form partnerships: match any new team member with someone who is already familiar with school norms so they can help with any questions and clarifications a new member may have.

Encourage partnerships to manage their time so they can complete each poster.

Monitor group progress in case you need to alter or extend the time a little.

Step 4

De-brief the learning; consider next steps

Time permitting, review the results on each poster, encouraging questions, comments, and clarifications between and from partnerships.
[ If time is short or the data seems complex, invite all team members to review these during the week and bring their thinking to the next meeting, indicating that this is when you will look at themes, any changes needed and next steps. ]

Consider organising a small voluntary group to take away and analyse data on the posters, bringing back to the whole group what they have identified and present recommended next steps.

To learn more…

Whilst ongoing attention to your learning culture is integral to daily leadership work, the start of a new school year is an especially important time to do so. This blog post focuses on one aspect, that of revisiting and reviewing your school team’s existing norms.

Learning Culture for Learning Impact: A Hands on Guide

Additional strategies around the construction and use of shared norms and agreements can be found in Learning Culture for Learning Impact (2020), along with other aspects critical to the growth, development, and maintenance of your learning culture.

In this book you will find…

  1. Create a learning-focused environment
  2. Increase relational trust: learn what is important to each other
  3. Establish core purpose and role clarity
  4. Co-construct and use shared norms and agreements
  5. Use skilful Learning Talk for learning impact
C. Dalton, Joan (2020) Learning Culture for Learning Impact (pp 64-65) Hands On Educational Consultancy Pty Ltd, www.leadingadultlearners.com

And finally

David and I wish you and your team and workplace community a positive start to the 2023 school year. May it be a safe, healthy and highly successful learning year for all.

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