A Denver third-grader named Luca sat down in a circle with his classmates and started a conversation like this: “If you were an animal for a day, based on your mood and feelings today, what animal would it be?”It was the best conversation, say classmates Ellie and Lina. “I said I’d be a monkey because I was feeling silly,” says Ellie. “And I said I’d be a panda!” says Lina. “Because I was feeling lazy and hungry, and pandas are lazy and they eat all the time!”
The point of the circle conversations, also known as “peace circles,” which take place every Monday morning in every classroom at the Denver elementary school of Luca, Ellie and Lina isn’t about giggles. The point is to build community and foster the kind of student-to-student and educator-to-student relationships that lead to supportive classrooms.“When you go to school here, you get to know each other,” says fifth-grader Trinity. “At my old school, we never got to know each other or to understand each other.”
Classroom circles are just one of the restorative practices the educators in this Denver elementary school have adopted over recent years. Many of their students also practice their conflict-resolution skills in “peace walks,” and get regular, positive feedback through daily one-on-one check-ins with dedicated, full-time restorative practices specialists on their campuses.
Often, this all takes place under the eyes of visiting educators who want to see and hear what happens in public schools where educators care more about creating a community built upon kindness and not consequences.
When visitors come to the elementary school the first thing they see is the “tone-setting” that takes place in all classrooms. In fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, the teachers pull a chair to the front of their classrooms, sit down to face their students, and say, “Let’s get ready for the day,” with quiet huffs of deep, calm breathing and the faint strains of classical music.
The school’s restorative practices coordinator drew footprints and conversation prompts onto butcher paper that was eventually printed on dozens of vinyl tarps and distributed to classrooms, the playground and the cafeteria.
The way it works is both parties in conflict—either two students, typically K-3, or an adult and student—step onto the mat and engage in a guided conversation. It always begins with an “I feel” statement and ends with an agreed-upon plan to avoid future conflict.
Meanwhile, at a high school in the same school district, visitors observe students entering school, walking past a Black Music Matters poster through the front office, where staff smile and greet every student, asking about their weekends, or after-school activities or well-being. They do this intentionally so students see and feel the genuine level of care and love they have for their students.
The high school students also have hands-on involvement in school discipline, doing peer-mediation and low-level restorative conferencing. They even sit on employee interview committees and if they feel like a job candidate wouldn’t be a good fit on their campus, they say so.
Sound too idyllic to be real? Both the elementary and high school have been engaged in restorative practices for several years. The changes to their school’s culture have not come overnight and they require whole-school staff commitment—plus training, re-training and funding for dedicated restorative practice coordinators. But it can be done! If building real relationships with students is your top priority anything and everything is possible with restorative practices!
This is why I have invited restorative practices expert and national trainer, Bill Michener, back for the second in a series of webinars I am hosting on restorative practices. This free one-time only webinar will be Thursday, July 23, from Noon-1:15 pm EST.
In the first webinar of the series, Bill introduced us to the basics of restorative practices, along with the fundamental process and benefits of using them with students. In this Part 2 webinar, Bill will focus on “how to” effectively integrate restorative practices into your school, community organization or agency. He will also share stories and examples of how you can use restorative approaches virtually with students if meeting in-person isn’t an option for you right now. He will also facilitate restorative circles during the webinar – much like what the Denver elementary school models – so you can experience first-hand the power and influence they can have on students’ attitudes and behaviors.
Register TODAY to ensure you have a seat reserved. Space will be limited in this “how to” conversational webinar to give you ample opportunity to ask questions of Bill as he gives you step-by-step instructions on what you need to do to bring restorative practices to the students you serve. If you believe you need other colleagues and staff to hear this information with you and be part of the conversation, encourage them to join you in the webinar. I don’t want you to regret not having the support and help you need to put the steps you learn into action after the webinar!
I look forward to seeing you in Thursday’s webinar so you can take what sounds idyllic and turn it into a reality for your students!
IN CASE YOU MISSED THE FIRST WEBINAR ON RESTORATIVE PRACTICES…