Collaborative Norms

The norms of collaboration, developed by Garmston & Wellman (2009) define the seven essential capacities and skills needed to develop high-performing groups that thrive in professional learning communities.  In order to develop shared meaning of new learning, gracefully reach decisions, constructively collaborate and continually move forward with PCL, we adopted the seven norms of collaboration.  These norms help ground our talk in constructive conversations that lift everyone's professional growth as we work with a sense of urgency to accelerate student achievement within the means of a collaborative culture.

The seven collaborative norms include:

  1. Pausing
  2. Pausing before responding or asking a question allows time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.

  3. Paraphrasing
  4. Using a paraphrase starter that is comfortable for you – “So…” or “As you are…” or “You’re thinking…” – and following the starter with an efficient paraphrase assists members of the group in hearing and understanding one another as they converse and make decisions.

  5. Probing for Inquiry
  6. Two intentions of posing questions are to explore and to specify thinking.  Questions may be posed to explore perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations, and to invite others to inquire into their thinking.  For example, “What might be some conjectures you are exploring?”  Use focusing questions such as, “Which students, specifically?” or “What might be an example of that?” to increase the clarity and precision of group members’ thinking.  Inquire into others’ ideas before advocating one’s own.

  7. Placing Ideas on the Table
  8. Ideas are the heart of meaningful dialogue and discussion.  Label the intention of your comments.  For example: “Here is one idea…” or “One thought I have is…” or “Here is a possible approach…” or “Another consideration might be…”.

  9. Paying Attention to Self and Others
  10. Meaningful dialogue and discussion are facilitated when each group member is conscious of self and of others, and is aware of what (s)he is saying and how it is said as well as how others are responding.  This includes paying attention to learning styles when planning, facilitating, and participating in group meetings and conversations.

  11. Presuming Positive Intentions
  12. Assuming that others’ intentions are positive promotes and facilitates meaningful dialogue and discussion, and prevents unintentional put-downs.  Using positive intentions in speech is one manifestation of this norm.

    7.   Pursuing a Balance between Advocacy and Inquiry

   Both inquiry and advocacy are necessary components of collaborative work. Highly   effective teams are aware of this and self-consciously attempt to balance them. Inquiry provides for greater understanding. Advocacy leads to decision making. One of the common mistakes that collaborative teams may make is to bring premature closure to problem identification (inquiry for understanding) and rush into problem resolution (advocacy for a specific remedy or solution). Maintaining a balance between advocating for a position and inquiring about the positions held by others further inculcates the ethos of a genuine learning community.


Adapted from: Garmston, R., and Wellman, B. (2009) The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups, 2nd edition. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.