Classroom Norms

Sitting at the airport waiting for my full flight gave me time to ponder airlines advertising. I’m bewildered with the airline’s messages on making planes more comfortable. Compared to what? These ads cause me to think more about uncomfortable planes mostly because their words are inconsistent.  The seats are small, the lane is tight, and the plane feels crowded.  I would rather they discuss the cost saving they provide.  I return to my reading consider Kristin Gray’s blog about the need for a conversation about classroom norms. In the same way as airline’s ads, why do we always discuss classroom norms? Are our messages consist?

We all agree with the value of listening to others as a classroom norm and consider the mathematical practices it supports. But are we modeling this importance with our classroom practices? We expect students to dig deep into the content and go beyond a surface level understanding. At the same time, I believe we model a surface level understanding of those classroom norms, especially “listening to others.”

Good teacher posts the collaboratively created norms on an anchor chart and refers to them once in a while.. You can see this when observing a classroom discussion. Students are comfortable sharing their thinking with the teacher, and other students track the speaker (a learned norm). Once a student shares his thought, everyone shifts to focus on the teacher. Why? The all-powerful source of knowledge will proclaim her/his judgment. If the teacher repeats the statement, students know it is valuable or correct. You see, the students know that the teacher is listening but listening 4 an answer not as much listening 2 to the student.

Great teachers model these norms with laser-focused intentionality. They “listen to understand” what the students are thinking, what misconceptions are revealed, and then consider how to shift the conversation to address them. Great teachers do not repeat what the students are saying but rather provide feedback and orchestrate conversation to move learning forward. Students become resources for each other.

This shift in modeling “listening deeply” transfers to students. Everyone’s voice is valued, and students feel competent to join the conversation. That’s a mathematical mindset culture. However, until the work of understanding the mathematical practices is done, we will continue to discuss developing classroom norms and anchor charts.

I challenge those curriculum writers to embed not only the mathematical practices within their lessons but include activities that move teachers’ learning forward (the mathematical teaching practices). By the end of the year, the curriculum should not only covers the content but also elevates the teacher practices.