Education Week: Ways to Implement Restorative Practices in the Classroom

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The new question-of-the-week is: 

What are practical ways to implement restorative practices? 

There is more and more interest in moving away from “traditional” school discipline and toward restorative practices. This series will explore what that kind of shift can look like—in practical terms—inside our schools and classrooms. 

You might also be interested in a very popular post that previously appeared here: How to Practice Restorative Justice in Schools

Today’s contributors are Karen Goeller, Jill Kester, Rachael Williams, Kara Pranikoff, and Cheryl Mizerny. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Adeyemi, Candace, Jacki and Mary Beth on my BAM! Radio Show. You can find a list of, and links to, previous shows here

Four Strategies for Promoting Restorative Practices 

Kara Pranikoff is an elementary school teacher at a public school in New York City. Her book, Teaching Talk: A Practical Guide to Fostering Student Thinking and Conversation (Heinemann, 2017), shares many ways to keep the balance of classroom discussion in the hands of the students: 

It was a beautiful springtime morning in New York. I walked into the yard to pick up my 2nd graders, and they swarmed to me, ready to begin our day. 

Hudson stood atypically off to the side. Bending down to meet his eyes, I asked what was going on. “I don’t want to talk about it now,” he said quietly. “But may I give a public-service announcement when we get up to our room?” 

“Public-service announcements” were statements that students needed to share with the rest of the community. Often these were messages that would increase our efficiency. (Can everyone place their jackets on hooks so that the space stays neat?) Or messages that would help us work better together.

(Remember, we need to have a calmer science class so we can do our experiment.) 

“I’d like to speak with everyone, even before we unpack,” he requested. I was unsure about the content of his message, but it was clear that Hudson needed to begin our day. 

Students entered the class, placed backpacks at their tables, and moved directly onto the rug. Hudson took a seat in the front corner of our meeting area, and I settled onto the bench in-between his peers. 

“I’m feeling a little sad today,” he began. “I just want everyone to know that last night my great-grandmother died. I want everyone to know that I might not want to play very much today.” 

The class responded with care. Some had questions that were typical of 2nd graders trying to get the literal facts: How old was she? How did she die? Then Hunter, Hudson’s closest friend, raised her hand. “How can we help you feel better?” she wanted to know. 

Restorative practices are essential for a community to care for each other and grow together. Our best learning happens when we feel safe and secure. This priority requires attention each day in order to bring together an entire classroom of diverse students. 

The tools which enabled the students to listen and support Hudson in his time of need were put in place in the fall—nurtured and practiced each day— so that by springtime they could be used, with independence. Here are some essential ways to develop these habits of mind: 

Have discussion in circle every day 

It’s said that one way to achieve closeness with others is to eat with them.

It’s not just the literal nourishment but the connection which is fostered by close physical proximity. The classroom equivalent is to set aside a space where the whole community can gather and face each other in a circle. This creates an area of inclusion where students can share their thoughts and ideas. 

Make space for students to speak and respond to each other independently 

Students’ ownership of their shared space requires the ability for them to express their thoughts freely. Speaking in partnership or small groups can be woven into every day so that sharing and building ideas, independent of the teacher, is a regular practice. 

Invite the lives of your students into the classroom 

Restorative practice honors the full being of each student. For this to happen, students must have the freedom to share what is on their mind. We must embrace the child as a whole, enabling them to express the joys that happen both inside and outside of school, as well as the struggles. 

Begin your day together 

Each day we transition from our home space with family to our classroom community. By gathering as a whole class first thing every morning, we make a commitment to welcome our day together. We can set our intentions and get our minds ready for what is coming ahead in our shared learning.