Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on the Introduction to Restorative Practices. It was one of the most powerful learning events that I have attended in my many years in education. For the past couple of years, I have been dabbling in the concepts of restorative practices, trying to gain an understanding of just what it is, and how we could use the ideas in my school building. Until attending this workshop, I’ve struggled to figure out just how to implement some of the things I have learned. This seemed like the perfect opportunity!
Today’s post will focus primarily on the principles of restorative practices as shared by Kristina Hulvershorn of the Peace Learning Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. But before we get into the principles, let’s talk about why we should be looking at restorative practices as a piece of our plan for handling behavior and conflict.
One of the things that I think we can agree on is that our more traditional methods of blame, shame, punishment, and exclusion just don’t effectively work for our stakeholders. It may make you as the teacher feel better when the student who has made a poor choice is removed from the room, but does it really solve the underlying problem? When we push students out, we’re providing the opposite of what they really need – an opportunity to learn to do better. When misbehavior occurs, it’s the perfect time to help students learn the skills they are lacking. As Dr. Ross Greene reminds us in his book Lost at School, “Kids do well if they can.” In addition, restorative practices help to address disproportionality of discipline on students of color. I hope we can look at restorative practices not as something new and different, but another tool to use when incidents of misbehavior occur.
So, what are the principles of restorative practices?
- Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community.
- Builds systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
- Focuses on the harm done rather than only the rule-breaking.
- Gives voice to the person harmed.
- Engages in collaborative problem solving.
- Empowers change and growth.
- Enhances responsibility.
Traditionally, our system of discipline in schools has been mostly based in punitive measures. Things like detention, suspension, or expulsion has been the primary method of handling student discipline. I know that in my own history, I had moments of discipline where the consequences were purely punitive. But let’s remember for a moment the root of the word discipline – it comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. That word is also the source of the word disciple. What if we began shifting our mindset on discipline towards the idea that it’s based on teaching, not on consequences? How might that change what you do when a student misbehaves?
Now I know the pushback from some of you – the real world won’t look at discipline as a teaching tool. If our students make these mistakes in the “real world” when they are older, they will face serious consequences, like losing their job, facing fines, or maybe even jail. You’d probably be able to come up with some great examples of times where this has happened. I agree that maybe this isn’t how the real world works. But here’s the thing: We’re a school, we’re dealing with kids who are bound to make mistakes, and we’re teachers. Shouldn’t we make it our goal to teach students how they should behave while they are still with us?
So, what can you do to start building a more restorative setting in your classroom? There are a few universal steps that will help you start down that path:
- Daily community circles – Think about sitting in a circle with your class every day. Take a few minutes to have students share how their feeling, a high or low point of the weekend, what they are looking forward to, etc. The ideas are endless, and if you are struggling to come up with topics, ask your students to submit them for you! These circles will help build safety and trust among your class, help kids make connections, and help you build relationships with your kids because you know more about their interests.
- Student-led norms/rules – What if all your classroom norms and rules were set by the students? I know there are a few classrooms in my school that use this. If you don’t, what ownership do students have in the norms? Most of the time, students will create norms that all can agree on, that meet your needs as the teacher, and then we can all agree to those norms and refer back to them on a regular basis.
- Explicit teaching of SEL skills – Social Emotional Learning is such an important piece that too often gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list (which means it doesn’t get done). If we want students to understand what is appropriate in our school, we have to take the time to teach them. It’s tempting to say “they should already know this!” but if their actions show that they don’t, then maybe it’s something they need to be retaught. Just like how you’d reteach a math or English lesson if you realized that students don’t understand, it’s important to reteach behavioral skills too!
- Restorative language (the use of affective language) – To the right you’ll see a screen shot of a document with sentence starters for affective statements (I’ve also included a link to the document at the bottom of this post). If you share this with your students, post it in your room, and begin using statements like these, the kids will too!
- Effort to build relationships – I think all teachers have stories they can share about “that kid” who has given them so much trouble, but then when you take the time to get to know them and what they care about, you begin to have more success. Building real relationships can help you get there with any kid! The community circle is one way to learn about kids, which can then help you find connections and conversations that you can have with that kid.
I hope to share more about restorative practices in the future, but here’s my ask to you: Take one of the 5 universal steps and give it a try. See what happens in your classroom. Does it change the way students treat one another? Does it lead to better relationships?
I know there are some of you who are already doing these things. If you have tried any of the ideas offered here, share with us what your experience has been. Let us know that positives (or struggles) you have found with these ideas?