Norm-Setting at the Beginning of the Semester

It is easy to have a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to establishing class norms. In this video, Gretchen Brion-Meisels discusses an alternative approach, where class norms are framed as aspirations and goals that need to be affirmed and reaffirmed as the course unfolds. She begins by introducing a key quote that establishes her philosophy on learning, then reminds students about this way of thinking as the semester proceeds. As she explains, she does this because her aim is not to construct norms that “make people happy” but rather to create a classroom culture where students challenge each other so they can authentically grapple with the course content.


Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Lecturer on Education

Student Group



Harvard Graduate School of Education


Partnering with Youth in Educational Research and Practice

Group Size

23 students

  • Consider providing a starting point for class norm-setting by using a quote or set of principles that can prompt students to think aspirationally about how they want to interact with each other over the semester.
  • Be intentional about the norms you and your students are constructing. Whether your purpose for using course norms is to help students grapple with challenges, create a sense of safety, or facilitate strong discussion, it’s important to connect your norm-setting to the goals of your course so this exercise doesn’t feel like a checklist item.

Collective classroom agreements can give students a sense of ownership over the classroom environment (Ambrose et al., 2010).