Normalisation is how the school imposes rules; the school’s capacity for ‘marginal practices’ and thinking outside the box.
All organisations require their members to conform to and comply with established norms and rules which are reinforced by authority structures and authority figures. However, norm and rule compliance is applied more rigorously in ‘public’ situations (this is called ‘front stage’ behaviours). Backstage, behind the scenes, rules are subject to negotiation. Take teacher-student interaction, for example. In most schools, the rules of engagement between students and teachers are bounded by formal procedures and protocols; for example Students are often expected to speak to teachers using a formal type of address. Outside the public space, however, for example on a school trip, these formal boundaries are often relaxed. This relaxation of norms and rules in certain situations is seen as healthy. Indeed, it has been argued that rule-breaking is essential to help organisations change.
Schools play a key role in getting their members to comply with society’s norms and rules. Compliance is rewarded and deviation is punished. Schools can also play an important role in supporting their members to explore new ways of doing things. As the old saying goes – rules are meant to be broken.
One measure of an effective, innovative learning organisation is the extent to which it balances rule compliance with rule negotiation and with rule-breaking.