Ever felt so busy putting out ‘fires’ in your classroom or dealing with challenging behaviour and classroom management issues that you felt a lack of personal connection with your students?
On the flip side, have you ever felt such a strong connection with your class that you felt that you could challenge them to tackle the toughest learning obstacles without fear and anxiety?
I have felt this way too!
Right now I am somewhere between these two extremes. Restorative Practices has been both my nemesis and saviour along the way.
One area of my own teaching practice that I have been focusing on this school year is building a stronger classroom community where students feel supported and support each other, where students can show vulnerability and feel safe to take risks, and where we are accountable for our actions and learn from our mistakes. I am a firm believer that the social and emotional needs of my learners need to be met first before any academic learning and growth can occur. That’s why I have been using the Restorative Practices framework in my classroom for over three years.
Since 2010 I have been following the Restorative Practices framework with mixed success. Occasionally, I experience real and meaning classroom discussions, personal student growth, and culture change in my classroom, but more often than not, I have felt that my students just going through the motions. Before attending the recent International Institute of Restorative Practices workshop in Port Coquitlam my understanding of this framework had plateaued and it was evident I was struggling to see the same value I had seen earlier in my career.
Halfway through the first day I suddenly realized what had been missing. Bruce Schenk, director of IIRP Canada, shared some images from a picture book titled, A Restorative Story: Mary Finds Some Money about a girl named Mary who stole some money from her next door neighbour, and it suddenly clicked. Not since the first year of implementation had I actually taken the time to properly introduce the design of Restorative Practices, or explained why this way of being was so important. As an intermediate teacher, I know that students learn a great deal from storytelling combined with visual cues. Soon after I returned from the conference I ordered a copy, and I am excited to share it with my students. I think it will help them to understand that building and rebuilding relationships is the essence of our community.
“Culture is like a story book; change
the stories and you change the
culture” – Unknown quote
The conference was also useful to refresh my understanding of two key concepts of restorative practices. The Compass of Shame, based on Dr. Donald Nathanson’s work, explains how people react to shame. Ever get the response, “It wasn’t me it was …” or the silent treatment from a student when you ask them what happened? That could be shame! I learned that shame is not good or bad it just is. We all experience shame to varying degree but it is how we deal with that is most important. Nathanson explains that people who experience shame show it in one or more of the following ways; attack self, withdraw, avoid, or attack others. Those who do not have opportunities to express shame in a safe and supportive environment may become disconnected from their community, whereas those who work within the Restorative Practices framework have a space to express their emotions and can lessen the intensity of them.
The Social Discipline Window, the work of Australian criminologist John Braithwaite, refers to the way we work with people, or in my situation how to work with students, staff, and families. It works on the simple principle that people reacted better to leadership when leadership works ‘with’ people rather than does ‘to’ or ‘for’ them. When I work ‘with’ students, I involve them in the decision making process and hold them accountable for their actions. The environment is high in support and high in expectations. This relatively simple graphic, now embedded in my mind, serves as a gentle reminder of the educator and person I strive to be.
“Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.” John Braithwaite
With renewed energy I have made some plans for the future of Restorative Practices in my classroom:
Return to explicitly teaching the restorative framework using Mary’s Story as an example, and remind students that the classroom is a place for building and rebuilding relationships.
Attempt, in a more formal manner, to directly link restorative practices to an increase in student engagement and achievement.
Continue to use classroom circles to connect each morning, and start to implement more academic circles.
To be more mindful of using restorative language in all aspects of my teaching, work, and life.