If you knew that developing a positive relationship with a child was at the heart of what would help them be successful in school and in life, would you invest the time? Would you be willing to give up the “love of power” for the “power of love” if it helped you to create a more caring classroom community? Finally, would you be open to the possibility that by changing your mindset you could ultimately change the outcomes for your students? If you said, “yes” to these questions, then you are on your way to becoming a restorative practitioner. Keep reading to explore these three fundamental ideas for creating a restorative model of classroom management.
Positive relationships are key to effective learning and living. If you use restorative practices right, you will save lives (Berkowitz, 2014)! Research shows “that kids who felt connected to school . . . smoked less, drank alcohol less, had a later age of sexual debut and attempted suicide less …they do better across every academic measure. There is something in that bond, in that connection to school that changes the life trajectory––at least the health and academic behavior. It is very powerful––second only to parents in power. In some contexts it’s more powerful than parents.” (Saulfer, 2011). Since our relationship with our students is so significant, we need to be mindful of how our own affect is affecting our students. Research shows that humans are directly affected by the mood of others in our presence; this phenomenon is known as affective resonance. “Affective resonance refers to the process of social interaction whose progression is dynamically shaped in an entanglement of moving and being-moved, affecting and being-affected” (Muhlhoff, 2014). It is therefor essential that educators know how to keep themselves upbeat and positive as part of the process of developing a positive classroom and school climate. Along these same lines, in order for optimal learning to take place, it is important to create an open, safe, peaceful and joyful atmosphere. When students feel safe and connected, they are in a reflective state of mind and are calm, alert and open for learning. On the other hand, when they are in a reactive state of mind, such as in fight or flight mode, their brain is using its energy to protect them from threats and therefor their cognitive functions such as memory, learning and moral reasoning are impaired (Saulfer, 2011). Youth ages eight to eighteen spend more than seven hours a day being bombarded on a daily basis with often negative messages from a variety of different forms and sources of media (KFF, 2010). We must be the change we wish to see by consistently modeling positive behaviors and attitudes by reaching out to our students in ways that show we care in order to counteract all the negativity that they are exposed to and ultimately creating conditions that are conducive to learning.
Giving up the love of power for the power of love helps to create positive conditions for teaching and learning. Research from the Ministry of Education in New Zealand on School-Based Initiatives such as the Positive Behavior for Learning framework show that “opportunities for learning and achievement increase if:
- the school environment is positive and supportive
- expectations are consistently clear
- children are consistently taught desired behaviors
- children are consistently acknowledged for desired behaviors and responded to in a fair and equitable way” (ERO, 2014).
Instead of Zero Tolerance and harsh punishments, schools created these conditions by utilizing a variety of Restorative Practices. “Restorative Essentials are the everyday, informal interactions between adults and students in a school. Restorative Essentials emphasize relationships; respect, empathy, social responsibility and self-regulation, focusing on ‘keeping the small things small’ (ERO, 2014). One way that a restorative approach to the expression of emotions help to engage the high risk, high need student in the classroom is to operate within the “with” quadrant of the Social Discipline Window (Wachtel, 2005). Educators who operate in the “with” quadrant can help move students who come from insecure attachment styles, such as the disorganized-disoriented attachment style, to more secure attachment styles, empowering them to have more positive interactions with others, become more resilient, become able to adjust more easily to different situations, have better social and emotional skills, get higher grades and have healthier, more satisfying relationships (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004). “Restorative Circles support teachers and their students to build and manage relationships and create opportunities for effective teaching and learning time” (ERO, 2014). Affective statements and circles can help develop trust among students and staff and students and students. By participating in circles, students with lower self-esteem and attachment issues can over time see that they are not alone. In addition, they witness models for healthy communication styles and gain healthy strategies for problem solving, ultimately improving their sense of self. “Restorative Conferencing is a range of formal tools to help schools respond to misconduct and harm. These tools include mini conferences, classroom conferences and formal restorative conferences” (ERO, 2014). In the event that a formal conference is held, high risk/high need students are given the opportunity to reflect on their behavior with support of a caring community and make an amends ultimately realizing they made a mistake, not that they are a mistake. At the end of the conference they are reintegrated to the community, which can be very healing. Instead of just being punished, they now understand how their behavior can affect others and are given guidance on how to do things differently.
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration; I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming” (Ginott, 1965). Have you ever heard a teacher say something like the following to a student? “You are just like your older brother, he never turned his homework in on time either!” or “I knew it, the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Your dad was a poor reader and you are following in his footsteps.” It is heart breaking to think that in this day and age educators don’t realize that their words have the power to inspire or discourage. We often get what we expect, that is why it is imperative that we have high expectations for all of our students, while also giving those who need it a high level of support. Educators know (although I am not sure policy makers understand), that extremes such as drill and kill, managing by fear and force, getting rid of extracurricular activities, increasing classroom discipline, being the sage on the stage, preventing students from socializing throughout the day and putting in metal detectors do not improve student behavior and/or student achievement, and can exacerbate negative behavior and create more harm than good (Jensen, 2009). What does work is to “embrace the mind-set of change” (Jensen, 2009). Teachers need to truly believe that every child can be successful and they must be willing to offer their students the support, encouragement and teach the skills necessary to achieve. “Whether you think you can or you can’t you are right” (Ford). We need to pass this mindset down onto our students and remember it ourselves. We need to celebrate the small and large successes along the way.
Are you ready to be the change you wish to see by embracing the three fundamental ideas outlined for creating a restorative model of classroom management? It is quite simple, though not easy. When you commit to developing positive relationships with your students, give up the love of power for the power of love and embrace the mindset of change, miracles really do happen!
Beach, C. (2014). At-risk students: Transforming student behavior. Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, MA.
Berkowitz, Marvin. (2014) Keynote speech at the character.org Forum. Washington, DC.
The Education Review Office (ERO), Towards equitable outcomes in secondary schools: Good practice. May, 2014 Crown. New Zealand
Ginott, H. G. (1965). Between parent and child. New York: Macmillan.
Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching with poverty in mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010). Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years ago Retrieved from http://kff.org/disparities-policy/press-release/daily-media-use-among-children-and-teens-up-dramatically-from-five-years-ago/
Kennedy, J.H. & Kennedy C.E. (2004). Attachment theory: Implications for school psychology. Psychology in Schools, 41, 247–259 retrieved from http://sonoma.edu/users/f/filp/ed420/attachment.pdf
Saufler, C. (2012). School climate, the brain and connection to school. Retrieved from http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/Bethlehem-2012-Presentations/Bethlehem-2012-Saufler.pdf
Wachtel, Ted. (2012). Defining restorative. Retrieved from http://www.iirp.edu/what-is-restorative-practices.php