Norm bleed

The impact of consistency between teachers

Hey 👋

Happy Thursday. Hope your amplification of desirable behaviour is going well. Today’s big idea is the last of this series, in which we explore how the norms of different groups influence each other…

Big idea 🍉

Norms are powerful. But the norms we amplify aren't the only norms that influence behaviour and learning in our classroom (or school). Let's talk about norm bleed:

Norms are the unwritten rules of conduct that shape the behaviour and learning of a group. However, multiple groups exist within, and around, any school. And the similarities (or differences) in the norms of these groups all have an influence on each other.

When the norms of adjacent groups are congruent, those norms will amplify each other. They will have a stronger effect in each context. Conversely, when the norms of adjacent groups are dissimilar, they will attenuate each other. Their effect in each context will be weaker.

This is norm bleed. And it’s going on in schools all the time, whether we like it or not.

For example, when a student moves between teachers within a school, and in each of those contexts they experience the same routine around how they enter the classroom or participate in a whole-class discussion or engage in practice, they will feel considerably compelled to conform in each situation.

“One dog barks at something, and a hundred bark at the bark.”

Chinese proverb

We can harness the power of norm bleed in schools by:

  • Pursuing consensus around the value of teacher consistency for students. At our school, we work hard to give pupils a familiar experience between classrooms because it helps them learn.

  • Getting together to tease out those key norms that we feel should be experienced by students across multiple contexts. In every classroom, we champion the asking of questions, periods of silent study, etc.

  • Where possible, capturing and codifying these norms in a form that can be shared with new staff and the wider community. Our school charter lays out the behaviours and attitudes we are working together to promote.

This last point is important, because norms don’t just bleed between classrooms, but between schools and families and other local contexts. The more we can work with parents and community groups to align around key norms, the greater their overall effect will be.

🎓 For even more nuance on the role of norms, see Theory and practice of social norms interventions: eight common pitfalls, by Cislaghi & Heise.

How consistent are the norms between classrooms in your school? What are the key norms you think should be shared across all situations? If such conversations are not already alive, how might you kickstart them?


• The norms of interacting groups influence each other.

• Where these norms are similar, they will amplify each other. Where they are not, they will attenuate each other.

• This 'norm bleed' not only happens between classrooms, but across schools and families.

Little updates 🥕

Remember: you can't buy happiness, but you can buy donuts. Till next Thursday.

Peps 👊

PS. If you’re in Aus and our paths cross (yes, I’m aware it’s a big place), please do say hi—it’s a real treat when I get to meet fellow Snackers in the real.