I am definitely not new to the concept of Restorative Practices. I attended a fly-by-night two hour workshop put on by my district back in March of 2015. I call it "fly-by-night" simply because two hours is not nearly enough time to truly understand the ins and outs of what kind of change Restorative Practices can make in a classroom or school. That focus was really on the circles. Easy enough to get a gist of because I started the very next day with a circle in my classroom. I realized if I had had the power of those circles behind me from day 1 that year, I might not have requested a grade level change.
That fall, I made the move to third grade. I implemented circles from day 1. What a game changer! I had an incredibly large class (30 students) and several students with very strong personalities. The circles are what saved my sanity, and probably theirs!
I have used these circles ever since. In addition, I have joined a Voxer group about Restorative Practices (we lovingly refer to ourselves as the Restorative Justice League). I have done a ton of reading and learning about RP on my own.
So you might wonder why I would want to attend this workshop if I already know so much about Restorative Practices. I'll tell you, I knew that my knowledge could only be enhanced by attending a true workshop about it. I was right. The entire first day was focused solely on an introduction to what Restorative Practices are. Day 2 focused completely on circles. Days 3 and 4 focused on facilitation of Restorative Conferences. Chances are, I probably won't have to do many restorative conferences in my current role but having the skills behind me is incredibly beneficial and I'm so glad I have that knowledge.
Being totally honest, I was a little worried that the first two days might just be review/refresher for me. But I was pleasantly surprised. I gained a TON of new knowledge and was able to really align my current practice with what I learned so that I can begin this next school year being even better with my work surrounding Restorative Practices.
Some of my biggest takeaways from this workshop:
1) It is incredibly important to separate the deed from the doer. I already knew this and I suspect most people do, but I think it bears repeating. It is critical that we separate the child's actions from the child. It breaks my heart when I hear an 8 or 9 year old child say "I'm just a bad kid." You know they didn't come to that message on their own! They have heard it time and again. We need to be proactive in supporting our students as PEOPLE but condemning the ACTIONS they sometimes choose to partake in.
2) All behavior is a form of communication. I have long been an advocate that when children (or adults) are lashing out in a seemingly chaotic way, they have some need that is not being met. This line of thinking reinforces that belief. If a child comes to school, slumps down in their seat and closes the hood of their hoodie so you can only see their nose, chances are, they aren't willfully being a pest. They are trying to communicate that something is going on within themselves that they do not know how to deal with or process.
3) The concept of shame. We consider shame to generally be black and white. You do something bad, you feel ashamed. But in this instance, we are considering shame as a disruption of a positive affect....let that sink in a moment. The workshop discusses the 9 affects people have, most of which are surprisingly negative. Shame is the first negative affect. It is not the same as being ashamed. Shame in this case is considered to be anything that causes discomfort. For example, I'm 8 years old and my parents had a big fight the night before so as I'm getting ready for school, my mom yells at me because she is still mad at my dad. I didn't do anything to her, but she reacted to her emotions to the closest person available: me. That is going to cause discomfort/disruption of my positive affect and I am going to take that to school in the form of shame. I might, in turn, lash out at my teacher or classmates because I do not know how to process my mom yelling at me for no reason that I could think of.
This was a huge mindset shift for all of us at the workshop and we kept coming back to it, probably because it was so foreign of a concept to us. I had never heard of shame being considered this way and it has sat on me very deeply ever since. This means we have to be incredibly sensitive and open to hearing what our students are trying to communicate to us because we have no idea what happened to them before they walked in the door to see us that morning that could be having an impact on their affect.
If we pause to consider that most people try to do the right thing as often as they can, and we assume positive intent, it can change how we view our students (and colleagues and parents!). Students more than likely do not sit up late at night plotting ways to disrupt the classroom or act out. They are communicating; something isn't right and they do not have the words to share what that something is.
The first two years that I taught third grade, I used a check-in sheet each morning. As the students came into the classroom each day, part of their morning work was to complete the check in sheet. It's very simple and kid-friendly.
I am also going to be very strategic with my circles this year. I have been very fortunate that most of my circles have been proactive and we have been able to just use them for community building and bonding and fun. There have been times I have had to use them to solve problems happening in the class, but it's pretty rare. This year, however, I want to be sure that our first two weeks we really focus on our school slogan (we took our school name and made it into an acrostic poem last year). I want to ensure that my students really and truly understand what each part stands for. The one I'm thinking of the most is our U, which is Use Integrity. Kiddos can easily identify that integrity means to be honest, but its harder for them to understand that integrity means doing the right thing no matter who is watching or around (i.e. not running in the hall because you think no one will see you).
I am going to display our entire slogan the first day of school but throughout the next six days after that we are going to focus on one letter at a time and really think about what does it mean to "be respectful"? What does that sound like? What does it look like? What does it not sound and look like? I think if I can really help them to see those traits in a way that makes sense to them, it will be an incredibly easy way for us to really build a community that cares about ourselves and each other.
One of my goals this year is to be very intentional with my blogging as I want to really capture the heart of this new classroom dynamic (co-teaching) by documenting it. But I also really want to document my work as a Lead Learner with Leading Educators and my improved practice as a practitioner of Restorative Practices. I will do my best to schedule times to blog so that I can share what I'm learning, what frustrations I have for reflection purposes and the celebrations along the way as we make new discoveries together.