S.I.E.R.R.A. Norms & Character

If you visit our school and ask students what makes our learning community unique, they will likely talk to with you about our SIERRA norms—the character traits that make us who we are at SELS. The acronym SIERRA stands for the six norms (strength, integrity, empathy, respect, responsibility, and adventure) and also embodies the incredible bio-region in which we live, combining sense of self, sense of community, and sense of place.

SIERRA Amulet Project

Samples from the SIERRA Amulet ProjectIn order to cultivate our SIERRA norms, help them come alive, and make them more tangible, we have undertaken the Amulet Project. At the beginning of their first year at SELS, students design and create a pouch in art class that encapsulates some physical materials that remind them of the norms. These pouches are displayed on the wall of our school library. Each week, we focus on a particular norm. Teachers or peers select a student or two from each crew who has really exemplified that week’s chosen norm. Students then share their amulets and some expression of the norm at our weekly community meetings each Friday. Sharing from our students is powerful and includes: readings, quotations, skits, interviews, and visual or performance art.

The SIERRA Norms


Possessing confidence to make the correct choice, even if not the popular one.

Looks Like: Standing up for others or self
Sounds Like: “I will/can do it” or “I believe in myself.” or “I don’t agree.”
Feels Like: Confidence, courage, empowering


Maintaining congruence between your values, actions, and words is vital to developing trusting relationships.

Looks Like: Doing the right thing even when no one is watching you.
Sounds Like: “I know what I should do.” or “I should do the right thing.”
Feels Like: A nice, warm feeling or truthStudents present their amulet to the school.



Having an understanding of others’ feelings, abilities, and situations helps students better comprehend why people are action or responding as they are.

Looks Like: Comforting one another; a hug, hand on a shoulder, a listening ear
Sounds Like: “It’s ok, it happened to me too.” or “I’m sorry you’re upset.”
Feels Like: Togetherness, caring for others and others caring for you, security


Treating people well demonstrates appreciation of the rights of others, and willingness to participate in creating a culture built on safety and trust.

Looks Like: Good listening, treating people and objects well
Sounds Like: “I hear you.” or “I am listening.”
Feels Like: Peaceful, gentle, kindness


Developing the internal mechanisms that externally honor SELS’ values and culture is crucial to creating a civil and well-functioning school community.

Looks Like: People fixing their own problems/doing their best work/taking initiative/having focus
Sounds Like: “Are you ok? I didn’t mean to.” or “I know what to do.” or “I know what the rules are.” or “I’m going to try my hardest/do my best.”
Feels Like: You did the right thing or you accomplished something


Confronting personal boundaries is a vital aspect of growth and development. As we nudge the edges of our comfort zone, we grow emotionally and intellectually.

Looks Like: Trying something new/risky
Sounds Like: Laughter or encouragement
Feels Like: Joy and freedom, or risky/scary or exciting

A K – 8th public charter school in Truckee, CA