This review focuses on chapter 6 of Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management by Dominique Smith, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. Find reviews of previous chapters linked below:
I can honestly say that this has been a fantastic year. School has not been the same level of stress as past years. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my moments of stress. But, in general, I seem to be present much more than previous years. As I reflect, my work toward creating a restorative mindset simply in my daily interactions with students is a big reason why I am in a much better place this year.
Chapter 6 of Better than Carrots or Sticks focuses on the importance of mindset to create a restorative mindset. In general, the discussion centers around building wide types of initiatives but there are many ideas that can be applied to a classroom setting alone. In the past I’ve found myself blaming some of my frustrations on the large building that I work in. Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges, but I’ve realized this year that I can influence the daily interactions in my classroom. So what does creating a mindset to influence the daily interactions in my single classroom look like?
Page 133 starts with “We all know when we’re welcome somewhere.” Reflect on those appointments you’ve had that begin with a less than welcoming interaction. There used to be a hygienist at our dentist that ruined the experience for my whole family. No matter how much work I had put into brushing and flossing more between appointments this hygienist leaned toward every worst case scenario that might happen. We all tensed up when this person greeted us at the door.
Do I make any students tense up when I meet them at the door? There will always be personality differences but is there anything I do in my daily interactions that lead a student to tense up when they enter my room? Those are the daily interactions that I need to be aware of so that I can work to change that. This year I’ve used a password before level 1 and 2 students enter the room. I establish a password and the next class periods, for about 2 weeks, I meet students at the door and say something in Latin. Students must respond and use the password correctly within the conversation before they may proceed into the classroom. Honestly, some students are annoyed by it. Even so, it is a valuable 3-5 minutes as I have a chance to smile, be excited and, most importantly, have a first view into how the student’s day may be going. I’ve noticed that when I start with a password, I naturally remember to do things like smile and use students’ names when I speak to them. These seem like simple actions but they are easy to ignore when I’m stressed with planning and moving through the craziness of November and December days, but those moments are so powerful for all kinds of students.
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The chapter of Better than Carrots or Sticks continues by addressing areas that each school should pay special attention to in order to create a welcoming environment. I can’t control the front office or adult points of contact or bringing in new students, but I can remember that when I am in those spaces I have the power to create a welcoming environment with simple “hellos” and positive body language, even if only for a moment. I can work to combat obstacles to a positive environment in my space. Noticing positive behavior, which can start with my password interaction, needs to happen more.
The chapter continues by exploring the need for schools to use hard data to find links between practice and results. My initial response is that I can’t control this part, but if I’m being honest, there is a role for me to play. I probably should start sharing my password routine and examples of how it creates a mindset for me while it opens that first positive interaction with each student. Even so, a few of the ideas presented here are uncomfortable. One suggestion is to make the hard data public to staff, parents and the community. I think such an action will take an extremely strong leader as data is easily used to make assumptions that are not always productive.
About halfway into the chapter the focus shifts to creating an early warning mindset. This relates to data as the authors suggest schools should be regularly looking at attendance data, academic standing in courses, home situations, language ability and more to target students who more than likely need more welcoming relationships with adults in the building. The authors admit that this needs to be done behind the scenes as it would be damaging to label students a certain way which might destroy any chance at building the needed relationship.
The authors describe a setting at a school where the staff meet for 10 minutes every morning. They give a powerful anecdote of a staff member who brought up an interaction with a student at one such morning meeting. Five or six other staff members proceeded to explain similar situations with the same student. Each described what their individual plan was with that student. After the meeting, those staff members collaborated quickly to create a plan that was consistent for that student. Perhaps these staff members prevented a larger conflict with this student because together they made it clear that adults were thinking and caring about her. And it only took 10 routine minutes a day to make that happen.
As I think about the moments in my day that may seem wasted, especially this time of year, 10 minutes with staff members a day sounds extremely refreshing and uplifting. How can I get to a point that I see value in those 10 minutes instead of viewing them as another have to hoop to jump through?
The book ends with encouragement to continue learning. The bibliography is extensive and clearly there is more to explore and consider for restorative practices. I leave you with this quote from page 149 of Better than Carrots or Sticks to close out my thoughts of the power of restorative practices.
“Students who feel hopeful and cared for are able to achieve at higher levels – and the best news is that it is within our power to help them do so.”