How Norms Influence School Culture

Norms aren’t something we always think about, but they’re everywhere. Norms are the reason we wait in lines at the grocery store, make eye contact while chatting with a friend, and brush our teeth before work. A norm is simply a behavior that’s standard among a person or group of people. Norms exist on the international level in businesses, families, and even in schools. Norms govern our behavior and help us manage our expectations. Norms are present everywhere in our schools and can critically influence student learning outcomes.

The Chicken or the Egg?

In many ways, a norm is the result of a culture. If your school culture is very collaborative, a norm for checking your work with others might become standard.

But norms also have the power to create school culture. If you create a norm to listen to others, provide positive feedback, and value timeliness, your culture will reflect those values.

But is your school culture actually reflecting your values? Sometimes we become so comfortable with our norms, we don’t think about how they may be negatively impacting our culture.

Modeling Norms That Shift School Culture

In our experience, a culture shift is usually necessary to skyrocket district, school, and learner performance. Why? Because values don’t always align with actions. For example, a school may value student innovation, but its norms place an emphasis on standardized testing. A culture change is needed to refocus the school’s goals on what matters.

School leaders set and maintain norms for their educators, learners, and other administrators. As a leader, if you want to see a particular behavior from your team, you can adjust behavior through your cultural norms. For example, if you want to do more student-centered learning, you might create a norm for students to lead the first 20 minutes of class each day. The key is to consistently setting an example of these norms by holding yourself and others accountable for following them.

It’s not always easy to change behavior. Luckily, educational leaders can help create and model positive norms that reinforce the culture they want to build in their districts.

RELATED: Cultivating Equitable Support for Teachers & Students


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