Better than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management. – Chapter 4 – How to build informal restorative practice into classroom routines.

Chapter 4 of Better than Carrots or Sticks:  Restorative practices for positive classroom management excites me the most out the chapters I’ve read so far.  The chapter begins with a caricature of a student that struggled in a school system with what I’m going to call traditional discipline procedures.  Suspensions and removal from class happened frequently to this student and the authors admit that they failed him.  “…Phillip experienced a patchwork quilt of classroom-management practices that changed with every class.”  This quote from page 83 demonstrates the complexities that are wrapped up in the classroom management decisions that we make every period.

This chapter makes it clear that creating restorative procedures is a team, building and district level task.  I’ve spent much time trying to craft and refine the perfect discipline system, but so many times I did that in isolation with a thought toward my own classroom and teacher persona.  In the process I ignored the variables around me at the building level that I cannot control.  This has caused me to fight some battles with students that could be avoided.  As I process the ideas presented in chapter 4, my goal is to reflect with one eye toward our building level practices and procedures.  I may not be able to change those practices, but whether I decide to admit it or not, my management decisions will be interacting with them on a daily basis.

This quote starts off my thoughts toward peacemaking and peace building, “Schools that are more invested in peacemaking and peace building than peacekeeping seek to transform their efforts by making them part of the explicit, rather than hidden, curriculum.”  The students in my classroom need me to explicitly teach the practices that I plan to use in respect to management.  In my my world the number one management issue is working with students to use electronic devices productively.  I have a procedure in place where I ask students to put devices away with a Latin routine like this one.  This year, students have responded really well to this routine.  I also give them routine brain breaks and work time when they may use their device.  But here we are in November and students are starting to try and use them all the time.  Also, I’m not always using the routine, which is a mistake on my part.

Some great students tend to be the worst with managing their electronic device use.  They start to argue things like, “I can multi-task or I have good grades.”  This annoys me to no end, but the reality is I need to use those moments to teach the practices in my room.  Electronic device use shouldn’t be connected to how well students are doing in classes.  It is a school policy that students may not use school networks and technology for things outside of curriculum.  That is simply a rule; there is no good or bad connected to it.  Secondly, we have a rule that states that students may only have personal devices, headphones, et cetera out with permission from a teacher.  Once again, there is no good or bad connected to this idea.  It is simply a rule.

In November, it is clear that as a building teachers are letting up on teaching classroom practices and routines especially with respect to electronic devices.  I get it.  It happens to me to as decision fatigue is a real thing.  In my view, we have to continue addressing these things as students will need to be able to manage their personal device use in the work place.  For me, I can’t change if my colleagues are being consistent with their routines, but I can focus on my routines and commit to continuing these practices which begin with me telling students when it is appropriate or not to use those devices.  It is going to take time.  I need to have conversations with students about the reasons why.  But it is probably more important than any content in my classroom.

So how do I do this with a focus on restorative practices?

From page 85, “Beliefs about discipline are bound in our own experiences as children, educators, and parents.  Discipline is informed by our sense of fairness, which we develop at a very early age:  studies show that children as young as 15 months old can detect when food is not equally distributed to others.  Although our beliefs about fairness mature over the years, we’re never too far removed from the small child who wails, “It’s not fair!”

If I’m going to jump into this work, I must start with reflection about my own values toward fairness.  I am an only child which probably shaped a lot of my ideas about fairness.  I didn’t experience unfairness at home with siblings as there were not siblings around.  But I remember some specific experiences with my parents that probably shaped my 1st years of teaching in respect to fairness.

I attended one high school conference with my mother because I knew something would happen in the conversation between her and a teacher.  My math teacher at the time used to say she was our “math mom.”  I did not treat this woman well.  Each day I would try to sleep in her class.  She tried various things to keep me awake and when those clearly were not going to work she started sending me to the bathroom with transparencies to clean.  I was bored in her class and would finish the homework for the day while she was teaching the new lesson.  It got to a point where I would pick the transparencies after the homework, wash them and then attempt to take a nap.  I will never forget when this kind soul expressed to my mother my poor behavior followed by how she was our “math mom.”

I’m pretty sure my mother only heard the “math mom” part.  She made it clear to this teacher that I only had one mother.  I don’t recollect a punishment at home.  I don’t remember much else from that Geometry class.  Could this teacher have done anything differently?  With my mother’s attitude toward the “math mom” persona I’m not sure, but I know this lesson taught me as a young high school student that there is always a point that a teacher will give up with discipline procedures.

As my teaching career progresses I’m becoming more aware of an idea that students who achieve high grades don’t need as much explicit teaching of classroom routines.  I’m becoming more convinced that this is the wrong approach as it doesn’t require those students to become their best and it sets up a fairness problem with all students in a school.  “We must let go of the idea that accountability equals punishment (i.e.. ‘teach him a lesson’) and instead help students progress from acting out to remorse and repair (i.e., ‘I’m sorry, and I want to make amends’).”  – page 85.  My math teacher taught me the lesson that with my parents help I had more power than her.  I felt no remorse and I didn’t mind cleaning her transparencies.  We have to reflect on what message our policies actually send.

Better than Carrots or Sticks lays out the follow four informal practices to use to create a restorative environment:

  • Affective statements and questions
  • Classroom meetings
  • Informal classroom circles
  • Impromptu conferences

Whether I want to admit it or not, “the language we use influences how students see themselves and , in turn, how others view them.”  That is a powerful idea.  In the moments of management decisions, am I considering what affect my statements might have on a student?  If I’m honest the answer is no.  Those moments are personal.  So how do I change my perspective to an idea of a broken relationship versus applying a quality to a student based on my ill feeling toward their behavior?  It begins with remembering that I am upset in those moments.  When students break their relationship with me, I take it more personal than I realize.

Chapter 4 suggest to use identity-building statements in these moments.  In my Latin classroom, using terms such as a scholar, historian or linguist may challenge student to take on those identities and reframe the multi-tasking conversation to students achieving the most they can instead of centering it around my disappointment because they have broken the relationship with me in that moment.  Adding agency statements will build upon that as well.  Instead of saying things like, “you are distracted by the device or you can’t actually multi-task,” I can change the conversation by using phrases such as, “I see that you are not processing as many Latin messages as I know you can.  What can you do to insure that you are learning as much Latin as possible today?”  These types of statements move the conversation to students actions instead of to their interpretation about what I might be feeling toward them in the moment.

I’ve never really done a class meeting in such a way.  Better than Carrots or Sticks suggests “using them as vehicles for discussing matters openly with the whole class.”  In the above situation, I think it probably makes sense to talk to the whole class about what research actually says about multi-tasking.  This will also be a great time for me to demonstrate why I want them to build skills around managing their use of electronic devices more productively.  I think preparing a bit of a script on my end with affective statements makes sense.  That way when students start to express what they might view as unfairness I can help steer the conversation to restoration of our class relationships from a focus on how students are perceiving each other.

The authors suggest suggest to create a class meeting agenda that answers the following questions found on page 91:

  • What is the problem our class is having?
  • Why is this a problem?
  • How does the problem make you feel?
  • What can we do about the problem?
  • What is our best solution?

The authors continue in chapter four by offering an example agenda from an English teacher’s class meeting:

  • Call to order
  • Encouragement Circle
  • Old Business
  • New Business
  • Shout-Outs
  • Close meeting

I think sections such as an encouragment circle are essential.  Students don’t always know how to compliment each other and such a section of a meeting offers them examples and practice that are critical to creating a positive environment.

The authors suggest to add informal circles as a place for students to air their thoughts and opinions in a comfortable setting.  Processes like Socratic seminars give students a place to share but also to listen.  They are more open than a class meeting as their is not necessarily a goal to accomplish beyond allowing students to express their thoughts.  Beyond Socratic seminars, sequential circles, nonsequential circles, and fishbowls are useful ways to conduct informal circles.

Lastly, impromptu conferences are useful to use to address conflicts between students.  My guess is that many teachers use this strategy often.  But how do we make this a restorative practice?  What do we need to consider?

From page 99, “When teachers see conflict brewing, they should resist the temptation to simply issue a command…, because the command doesn’t teach the students anything.”  The authors continue by offering the following suggestions for impromptu conferences:

  • Keep it brief
  • Students aren’t threatened with punishment
  • The teacher asks each student for his or her version of what happened.
  • The teacher shares her own feelings
  • The teacher reminds the students that they are accountable to others.
  • The teacher asks the students to suggest ways to resolve the problem.
  • The teacher models how to communicate with someone who disagrees with you.

I’m thankful for chapter 4 of Better than Carrots or Sticks.  A couple of things are clear to me.  Creating a restorative environment is going to take an investment of time.  I need to commit to the time necessary to accomplish using the strategies listed.  Secondly, restoration begins with me.  I need to operate in a way that allows me to restore relationships with students when I feel disappointed.  I think that is going to be vulnerable work.  I will have to work on it daily and reflection will be important.

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