Building Community through Discussion

Class Discussion Norms

(In my class, these become our Community Norms and replace any “rules”)

A world community painted on hands with doves
Build a community of empathy and caring in your classroom through academic discussion.
  • Equity of Voice: Monitor your airtime. As a group member you are responsible to be a speaker AND a listener. You are also responsible to invite others to speak. Equal(ish) airtime is the goal. Our community values all voices.
  • Active Listening
: Eye contact, nodding, being sure you respond to a comment with a related question or comment. Build on what others say. Our community believes everyone should feel heard.
  • Respect for All Perspectives
: You will not agree with everyone’s ideas. Work to understand their thinking. Our community values diverse perspectives.
  • Safety to Share: Your language, tone, body language and overall behavior should invite others to share differing opinions. Approach others’ ideas with curiosity and an open mind. The goal is never to be right, it is always to learn. Our community values safety.
  • Self-monitor use of Electronics
: It’s hard to feel like your ideas are important when you are speaking to the top of someone’s head because they are staring at their phone or their laptop screen. Our community values you and your ideas.

*Adapted from the norms used by the New Teacher Center during the best trainings of my life!

How Can We Create A Community that Values these Norms?

I gradually release student responsibility. Here’s how:

  • Sentence Stems & Explicit Instruction. Require their use. Fishbowl small groups. Analyze their discussion as a class. Data collection tip- let observers record tic marks for certain sentence stems or behaviors you’ve agreed are important. Current Events Discussions are a great way to practice these skills within an organized structure!
  • Conduct whole group discussions- focusing on the norms and sentence stems. REALLY focusing on them. With the same vigor you focus on routines and procedure in September. You hate yourself when you relax about them in November and vow you’ll never do that again. Do better with this. They need the structure to feel safe.
  • Pull small groups for discussions (maybe even half the class). Coach them. Invite a few students to be observers/ analyzers with you. Share the highlights with the whole class. Find observation sheets here.
  • When you feel they are ready, divide the class into small groups (4-5 students max). Let them discuss! While you monitor, record excellent phrases and interactions and share them publicly as soon as it’s over! Provide students an opportunity to reflect on paper after discussion. Download my free Discussion Reflection Activity when you subscribe below.
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Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!

For the last two years I have been welcomed into many classrooms as a coach, or as my favorite mentor Jan so accurately describes: a thought partner. When she used that language two years ago during our first New Teacher Center Mentor Academy, I had no idea just how connected I would feel to that phrase today. I have partnered with some incredible thinkers over these two years. Some of these thinkers have been my fellow coaches, the teachers I support and their administrators.

Continue reading “Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!”


I am an educator, a dancer, an over-thinker, a dog lover, a writer and a pasta addict. This blog will be dedicated to education… mostly. Since I became involved in my school district’s initiatives around topics like co-teaching and standards based reporting, my wheels have been in a constant state of motion. Over the last five or six years I have poured my heart and soul into collaborative work with so many dedicated educators and district leaders. We have come so far and are so close to reaching our goals.

Last year I began the journey of a lifetime! I have spent the last academic year coaching beginning teachers and training with the New Teacher Center. I have been working with sixteen other coaches. They are brilliant, thoughtful, positive and driven. We share a common goal- to improve educational outcomes through induction. These coaches, along with our amazing trainers from NTC, and the beginning teachers I support- challenge me every day. We learn from each other and we think. We think critically, and are exhausted by it.

In this blog I will attempt to capture some of this thinking and learning. I hope to connect the great work I see and hear in classrooms all around our small state to the domains of our teacher evaluation system, which is based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. I want to share these connections because I believe in the value of Danielson’s work. I saw connections everywhere I looked this year. When teasing out what teacher actions contributed to student learning- teachers always found components of the domains. I want everyone to have access to those same ‘aha!’ moments I have, and for everyone’s students to benefit. I hope you come back often to learn more about this year’s journey!