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Setting Norms and Commitments

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Collectively deciding on norms and making commitments for how students will interact with one another is an important step towards creating a respectful, supportive, and productive class learning environment.

Benefits of classroom norms and commitments

Identifying norms and making a commitment to them early in the course and again at key points during the course can have many benefits:

  • Transparency: instructors and students clarify expectations of each other
  • Equity: making expectations explicit is fairer and more equitable for all students
  • Gravity: instructors convey the seriousness of class behaviors and their effects
  • Agency: students help shape their desired learning environment 
  • Representation: all students help shape the class learning environment
  • Empathy: instructors and students consider each other’s perspectives 
  • Accountability: students share responsibility for their learning environment 
  • Solidarity: instructors and students are united in a shared project 
  • Community: instructors and students can develop mutual understanding and trust

Formulating norms and commitments

Planning

  1. Wait until you have a stable cohort of students in your class to formulate class commitments. Do ice-breaker activities to help students get comfortable with one another. If possible, schedule activities that involve significant interaction after norms are formulated. 
  2. Decide which spheres of class activity, such as discussion, office hours, group-work, discussion forums, and so on, should be considered when formulating class commitments.

Facilitating

  1. Explain to students the importance of formulating class community commitments. 
  2. Make time for students, as well as the teaching team, to reflect on their past experiences to inform new norms.
  3. Propose, clarify, explain, justify, and refine commitments as needed.
  4. Share the final set of proposed commitments and record consent and commitment.
  5. Set dates with students on when during the quarter the commitments will be revisited. Give students the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback on the norms.

Areas to consider for norms and commitments

Charged conversations

  • Respecting privacy and sharing personal or course information 
  • Setting boundaries around the instructor’s roles and identities
  • Making commitments to not shame, humiliate, or exclude those whose comments have an upsetting impact
  • Deciding on terms that are so harmful as to never be uttered or written in class

See The LARA Method for Managing Tense Talks: An Instructor Sandbox for more.

Teamwork

  • Scheduling work sessions and deadlines convenient for everyone
  • Ensuring equitable workload and responsibilities that leverage existing strengths, as well as providing opportunities to practice new skills
  • Determining accountability mechanisms

Discussions and short-term group work

Peer review, feedback, critique, and assessment

  • Balancing honesty with sensitivity 
  • Determining what to give feedback on 
  • Determining what to do with feedback once is given

Office hours

  • Under what conditions students can or should visit
  • Appointments versus drop-ins
  • Individual versus group conversations
  • Documenting office hour sessions for those unable to attend

Online discussion forums

  • Connecting responses to the discussion prompt
  • Critiquing ideas and crediting people
  • Responding to others so as to sustain dialogue

Video conferencing

  • Turning on video and audio
  • Maintaining courteous and respectful non-verbal communication 
  • Minimizing distractions caused by notifications, other devices or applications, or background environment

Communication

  • Announcements and notifications from the instructor and teaching team
  • Contacting instructors, the teaching team, or individual students
  • Responding to communication in a timely manner

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