Creating A Restorative Classroom Culture

Create Classroom Guidelines with your students. Even if you have a different group of students each class period… create the guidelines with each group.

  1. Do this as close to the beginning of the year or the term as possible. Preferably Day 1! Note, it may take a week or two of regularly visiting this until you have your final list.
  2. Preferably do them from scratch with no pre-written rules. Suggestions are in the Creating Classroom Guidelines handout.
  3. Work on this each day until you and the class have narrowed down the list of what everyone believes will make for a safe and engaging learning space…and everyone agrees to honor them.
  4. If you have multiple groups of students through-out the day, invite comments from the other classes on all the lists. Work with the groups until you have one list that all the classes have had input into and agree to.
  5. Create a poster of the final list and hang in prominent place. You might also take a digital photo of the poster so you can put it up on the screen as the students come into class each day (or at least on Mondays).

At least once a week check in with the class as to how they think they’re doing regarding honoring the Guideline Agreements.

  1. This is a great Circle Check-in Question.
  2. Ask them what they’re willing to do to improve.

Is behavior problematic? Use as an opportunity for a Class Problem Solving Circle.

  1. Develop questions to support them figuring out whether the Guidelines need revision, or the reasons for having difficulty honoring them, and what will help.
  2. Steer them away from “punishment”. Our kids are well trained to think that punishing those who violate rules is the answer. We want to teach them that the answer lies in understanding the context for the problem and meeting the need.
  3. If there are particular students who are disrupting and causing harm, it may help for you to address these students in a Restorative Dialogue/Conference separately, sooner rather than later, and prior to having to have a classroom Circle to figure out the problem.
    • In such a case, these students may need to acknowledge to the class the harm they’ve been causing and share with the class what they are going to do to improve things.

Community Building Classroom Circles.

  1. If this is new to you, ease into it. If it is new to your students, ease them into it. Start getting used to respecting the Talking Piece/Speaker with simple check-ins.
  2. Using the Circle format to discuss Classroom Guidelines is excellent.
  3. Mix up fun and seriousness in your Circles.
  4. If you are doing virtual Circles, have the students each bring their own Talking Piece, and establish an order of speaking as though they are sitting in a Circle. Put their number next to their name on the screen. Incorporate fun!*
  5. As you and the students become more comfortable with Circle, use the Circle time for longer periods and for a variety of purposes.
    • Use Circle for sharing stories about our lives (building relationship).
    • Use Circle for planning an event with them.
    • Experiment using Circle to teach content or review for tests.
    • Use Circle to discuss purpose for rules (to help them understand the need for rules they think are dumb) or to invite input into solving a problem.
    • Use Circle for class discussion about serious topics such as their experience of racism, or of bullying, or maybe their feelings about COVID-19.
    • Circle up spontaneously to address something that has come up that you know is distracting them or troubling them, whether a problem (behavior) in the class, something going on in the school or the community/world. 
  6. As your students become familiar and comfortable, encourage them to take turns “Keeping Circle”. Reading or leading the Opening and/or Closing. Planning an activity. Posing the Check-in question. Choosing which Circle Guideline or Value to have the Circle discuss.
  7. As they get good at Circle, encourage students to use Circle (Talking Piece) to resolve conflicts between them that do not require your presence.

Virtual Circles*

Yes, it is possible to do virtual Circles! Something is lost in not being physically present, but that which is gained still puts you ahead. Consider the underlying philosophy and foundation of Circle (and Restorative Practices): to honor that we are all connected (whether we like it or not) and that everyone has intrinsic worth/value and therefore deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Being listened to and “heard” (understood) seems to be the most common response to the question what does being respected look like?

Have everyone bring their own Talking Piece and then assign an order of speaking. If the class is large, do break-out rooms for lengthier discussions and then ask for summary reports when they all come back to the main room. Be creative and incorporate fun into your Circle time. Everyone demonstrates favorite dance moves to music you play. Or have everyone go get something from the kitchen that shows how they feel today (a wire whisk because I feel all mixed up; a cookie because I feel sweet; a glass – I’m full or empty inside; pepper shaker because I’m angry).

Using Restorative Questions to address mis-behavior / harm.

  1. This is really #1.
  2. And this won’t work if you are not attending to your own thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and stress/trauma triggers when your students are uncooperative, disrespectful, disruptive, and causing harm to you and others. It starts with your own self-awareness and ability to genuinely be centered in the WITH quadrant of the Social Capital/Social Discipline Window Model.
  3. Using all incidents of mis-behavior or harm as opportunities to teach our students.
  4. Learning the language and appropriate lines of questioning to accomplish this.
    • WHAT happened?   Never WHY?

If a child doesn’t know how to read…
…we teach.

If a child doesn’t know how to behave…
Do we teach
Or do we

“Discipline isn’t an extra thing schools have to deal with that gets in the way of teaching core subjects. Discipline IS a core subject. It’s a fundamental purpose of schooling.

It’s teaching them how to behave in a social world.Just like kids make mistakes in reading, in math, they make mistakes in behavior.”

Judith Kafka – professor of education policy and history at CUNY