Classroom management is hard but Better than Carrots or Sticks offers a wide variety of strategies and ideas to consider for improved interactions with students. As I’ve read and reflected I’ve even found myself with calmer interactions in difficult moments with my own children at home. Find reviews of earlier chapters here.
Chapter 5 seems directed toward administrators and leaders of whole school buildings. Even so, there are some ideas to take into a classroom setting. This quote on page 110, “We have found that educators need to clarify their thinking about justice if restorative practices are to truly take hold, which requires a significant shift in thinking…” sets the tone for the chapter.
I imagine that developing restorative practices will take a lot of time. The authors also confirm one of my suspicions, “Students need to know that they are valued by that the behavior is unacceptable.” – page 110. No matter the classroom management tool or perspective, it is never easy to find the exact line of showing a student we care while making it clear that certain behaviors are not acceptable.
So what are we to do to begin the journey of creating effective, restorative practices in our classrooms? The authors seem to be pointing me toward changing how I think about and approach behaviors from the beginning. Students interact among their peers and negative actions harm their relationships with one another. Instead of asking, “Why did said student do that?” I am going to work to ask, “How has said student damaged relationships and what can he or she do to restore those relationships?” Simply changing my focus at the beginning will hopefully set the tone.
Smith et al suggest that restorative practices should ask students to:
- Acknowledge their behavior.
- Express repentance.
- Commit to not repeat the offense.
- Offer to make amends.
If I’m honest with myself, I typically focus on how the student is harming others in the room but I forget how important it is for students to acknowledge their behavior and to find a way to demonstrate repentance. I imagine that part won’t be as easy as it seems listed above among the other ideas. On page 113, “Restorative practices must be about reintegration, not marginalization.” As I reflect about this, I think this is going to be difficult to accomplish. In general, students have been trained to marginalize other students who don’t seem to follow the rules. Reintegration is going to take time with whole groups of students, not just students who offend the rules.
Smith et al suggest 3 phrases to formal restorative practices on page 115.
- Phase 1: Unwind: This phase is for the victims of the action. Space to calm down, to restablish identity and to brainstorm ideas for ways to move toward restitution, repair and healing with the offender.
- Phase 2: Rewind: This phase is for the offender. This offers a time for reflection, review and creating a course of action to repair relationships.
- Phase 3: Windup: This is when observers of the conflict become involved. Observers support both the victims and offender in the healing conversations and process. This is the point where teachers are involved. Serious conflicts may need an outside person like a counselor or principal to be involved if the classroom teacher is part of the victim or offending group.
In the classroom setting, formal classroom circles are recommended by the authors for many conflicts that exist within the class of students. These circles fall in the windup phase which means teachers must do the work for the victims to have an unwind phase and the offender to have a rewind phase. My guess is that a classroom circle without this time for each group will not be as productive as it could be. The authors even suggest that these types of formal classroom circles “should be run by trained facilitators rather than by the teachers of the students involved.” To really create restorative practices, a school must devote resources to create this. It seems this can’t be completely implemented without a strong commitment from building leadership. As Smith et al point on on page 118, “In fact, it might be the teacher rather than the students who needs time to unwind before moving forward.”
Calling in a counselor, colleague or administrator might not always be practical, depending on the situation of the school. But we can be reflective ourselves and when we are a member of the victims make sure we have unwind time before we implement any processes. This makes sure that we have processed anything that might create bias in ourselves before we act on any sets of behavior. Students who do not meet or expectations damage their relationship with us. We need to first acknowledge that. Second, we need to be extremely thoughtful with how we proceed. Constant reminders of restoration and reintegration can be the basis of our response if we take the time to unwind our own issues as a result of the action.
The chapter continues by giving examples of ways to run circles, ways to negotiate victim and offender dialogue and when to use high stake conferences for more serious behaviors. In all situations it is clear the the unwind phase is extremely important for all parties involved but especially for the adults interacting in the situation. Even principals need to take an unwind phase to reflect and remove any feelings of personal harm to insure that all response interactions are focused on repair and restoration. It is also clear that truly implementing restorative practices is going to take time, commitment and a lot of teamwork.
Restorative practices seem a natural fit to a comprehension based classroom. We do some of this work regularly by continually checking in with students and inviting them back into the comprehended message. But how do we extend this outside our classrooms? I think it is easy when we hear stories or view official types of discipline in our situations to cast off what is happening around us with a simple comment like “That’s not what is happening in my classroom or I’m focused on the students in front of me in my room.” But how will we change the systems that we help create if we don’t step outside of our comfort zone and extend these ideas to the larger community around us?
As we bring restorative practices into our classrooms we need to add this work with our colleagues in PLC and department settings, we need to invite our principals to see this work, we need to serve on committees and we need to treat our colleagues with the same focus on restoration. This work is a way that we can change the systems we are a part of and it will add benefit to so many more students than just those in front of us that we work for everyday.