Creating classroom norms is critical at the start of the school year, and whether we like it or not, the transition to remote learning is like starting a whole new school year. It’s a different environment, governed by a different medium, therefore requiring different norms.

As always, building classroom norms should be a democratic process. It should be responsive to the needs and diverse backgrounds of our students. Here are some tips for building culturally responsive remote learning norms within your digital classroom.

1. Allow the norms to develop organically.

Responsive Classroom has an excellent model for building classroom norms. They suggest allowing students to brainstorm classroom agreements. More often than not, students brainstorm lots of “little rules” like no running or put materials away.

“I’m not sure I can remember all of these rules,” I say to my students, as Responsive Classroom suggests. “Can we make some more general rules that are easier to remember?”

The digital classroom is no different. Within the first week of live online learning sessions, my students quickly identified some problems, as well as some rules, that would help us learn how to collaborate with one another.

“I can’t hear you, Mr. France,” one student said. “There are so many little sounds.”

“How could we fix that?” I replied.

It wasn’t long until a student suggested that we use the muting function to turn off our own microphones when someone is talking. The class agreed that this was helpful and made it easier to hear. Over the course of the next few days, this turned into a broader conversation about ways we could collaborate in our new digital environment.

They came up with lots of “little rules” like:

  • Post to Seesaw activities, not the journal.
  • Always post to share work.
  • Only use Google Hangouts with teacher permission.
  • School related things only
  • One emoji at a time
  • Stay on Meet the whole time
  • Stay muted so we can hear each other.
  • Stay on topic.
  • Only text with teachers’ permission.
  • If you’re late, don’t say hi in the chat.
  • Use texting appropriately.
  • Only use emojis when necessary or when it’s appropriate.

And afterwards, we came up with our “big, broad” rules that encompass all of these:

  1. Act like you’re at school.
  2. Use the tools appropriately to help learning.
  3. Be a problem-solver using the tools you have.

While we’ll continue to add to this list, it’s a great start–and inclusive of lots of scenarios that might arise as we continue exploring online learning together.

2. Take into account that home lives vary greatly.

I’ve heard of some teachers requiring that students keep their cameras on when in live learning sessions. I understand some of the rationale behind this. I want to make sure my kids are engaged, many teachers think to themselves. But there are some major flaws within this rationale.

Liz Kleinrock of Teach and Transform reminded me and the rest of her followers recently that we are very literally entering our students homes when they are participating in live learning sessions–and we aren’t necessarily asking permission to do so. Entering students’ homes makes all students vulnerable. Some are more comfortable with this than others–and for a variety of reasons, including aesthetic differences in their homes to the feelings that come up when a live camera is staring them in the face.

We must not only be aware of this. We must be respectful of this. We must honor our students’ right to privacy. We must also resist the tendency to make assumptions about students’ engagement based on what we can see and hear. Just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

Instead of creating a norm around camera usage, I keep my minilessons very short, allowing me a great deal of time to check in with students in small groups or one-on-one. During these times, we use Google Hangouts, keeping the camera optional. After all, they are posting pictures of their work to Seesaw, and I can always use that to check in on how they are doing with assignments that way.

3. Remember that rules are meant to be broken.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of creating classroom norms. But they’re also just meant to be a guide, not a set of ruthless and rigid rules. No, you shouldn’t kick your kids out of the live learning session if they break a norm. Consequences should be natural and restorative, and if you’re noticing that a given norm isn’t working for your kids, it might be time to have a conversation about better ways to respect the norm. It might even be time to change the norm itself. Overall, norms should be supporting your classroom culture, and if they’re not, it might be time to re-evaluate.

Nevertheless, if you keep equity at the center of your intentions for developing classroom norms, you will, without a doubt, be able to adjust your norms as you continue on this uncertain journey into remote learning.

30 thoughts

  1. Thanks for sharing Paul. Your insight on setting little and big, broad rules will come in handy as I get with my students soon.

  2. How can I individualize lessons so that the student’s IEP goals and objectives are being addressed?
    What is the best way to grade students in the self-contained classroom, especially if their attention span is significantly low?
    Do I need to remove daily living skills and adaptive skills from their IEPs and only address academic goals and objectives?

  3. Teachers, students and parents should be aware of their child’s surroundings and behaviors during every learning session. They may not be sitting with their child, but they should be close enough to monitor the actions of everyone during the lesson. Parent support is especially appreciated with the lower grades for reading and technology transitions during the lesson.

  4. Students home environments are very different and can pose problems for learning. When students are willing to try, we as educators must be flexible and adjust/change rules to meet their needs.

  5. I am glad you brought up that students might not be comfortable with the camera on. I found this to be true with several of my students.

    1. i agree and especially with some at home environments aren’t the best for some kids might cause them to feel uncomfortable

  6. This all seems logical and makes perfect sense when establish community norms. I have always felt it was important for students to have an active role in establishing classroom expectations so they are more to understand the need and more likely respect norms and rules.

  7. I’m obsessed with the way Responsive Classroom suggests setting up their rules/norms. It just makes so much sense, and it always brings everyone together and makes sure they feel heard. Thanks for sharing your take on how to do this digitally, Paul. It makes a lot of sense!

  8. Thank you for sharing. Students should feel supported and made to feel comfortable no matter how challenging their personal environment is. All teacher should do their best to encourage students that they can be successful.

  9. I always give my students leeway to set classroom rules and also consequences to fit each rule. When they set some of the classroom behaviour guidelines, they are more inclined to follow, or to face the consequences. Some may not fit the remote learning scenario but some are adaptable

  10. i thought it was interesting that the article said it was okay to break roles in different instances. Usually school is do this, this and this no if and/or buts. i believe setting goals and understand that peoples home lifes are different.

  11. I thought the collaborative practices are very effective and should be used more often to keep everyone engaged.

    1. A consequence is natural when it makes goes along with the behavior or action. I suggest finding more information on Responsive Classroom’s website about natural consequences!

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