Rules vs. Norms

As I reflect on teaching a week of summer school, I've been thinking about the difference between classroom rules and classroom norms. Before planning this week of instruction, I had never thought intentionally about the difference. In fact, I'm pretty sure I treated them like the same thing when I had my own classroom or at least thought that if I had rules, I didn't need norms and vice-versa. My last year in the classroom, I shifted to starting the year with "norms" instead of rules, but in retrospect, they were actually still rules... called norms.

While rules and norms do have some things in common, they are are truly two different things that have effects on different dimensions of our classrooms. The intent of rules is to establish a safe and efficient learning environment and maintain some order to prevent chaos, while norms are about collectively deciding as a community how learning will happen - it seems to me that both are needed in all classrooms.

Both rules and norms establish some sort of parameters for how we act and interact in the classroom, but while rules set boundaries on behaviors that will create a condition for learning, norms establish expectations for how that learning will occur. Rules and norms both require some sort of expectation, whether stated or implied, that all members of the community will consider and adhere to them, but rules are generally decided on and imposed by an authority figure at the classroom (teacher), school (principal) or district (administrator) level, while norms should be decided, agreed upon, and upheld by students. Is there anything you would add to this list? What about equity?

I often share Jo Boaler's Positive Classroom Norms with teachers as we discuss classroom culture and encourage teachers to spend time starting to decide on norms with their students in the first weeks of school with the understanding that they will evolve throughout the year. I am experimenting with this in my professional development work this year and am excited to see how it goes.

What role will rules and norms play in your classroom this year?


  1. I think rules are what keeps everyone safe. My rules are 1. follow instructions 2. be on time, prepared, and ready to learn 3. No harassment or bullying of any kind, and so on.

    Norms are how students learn together as a community, which I want to develop with my students for the first time this year after the first few days of class. I talk about it a little in this blog post:


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