Restorative Practice is a way of being that aims to build social capital. The intention is to honour relationships above all else. RP has many effective reactive strategies that deal with conflict-resolution which can indeed transform relationships and negative dynamics. But by setting the priority of continuously nurturing relationships, it moves far beyond this. The proactive focus minimises potential conflicts that may arise and cultivates a healthy and happy space where people can indeed work WITH one another.
Using circles or quick check in/check out rounds in classes is one way to generate positive relationships. Reflecting and sharing in community can really inform a teacher about their students’ personal script; it can offer us all an insight into the current needs of the young people before us, or even perhaps our own needs on any given day; it has the power to shift a dynamic and usher in some positive energy that undoubtedly enhances the academic work that needs to take place in the classroom. A few examples of questions that I like to use are:
On a scale of 1-10 how are you feeling today? What was the highlight of your weekend? If you had a theme song for your life what would it be? Share someone that you admire? If you could invite any three people to dinner (living/dead/famous/known) who would they be? What are you looking forward to at the weekend? Share something nice that someone in this class has done for you. Think of three things that you are grateful for today?
I often do not have time to do a circle but a quick check in or check out at the beginning or end of class can take two minutes. I always find it is such a worthy investment of time, energy and consciousness. It is my experience that young people will cooperate and work harder when they know that they are cared for, when they feel seen, understood, acknowledged.
RP’s explicit practices such as using circles and affective statements are effective ways to help us to build social capital but these are only a compass to help us cultivate this benevolent way of being. As we all know a simple smile, a kind word while passing a desk, can help fulfill the restorative intention of building social capital. I find that school is becoming an increasingly ‘busy’ environment which can sometimes distract me from this intention. But my core of being knows that this is the most important aspect of school life. It underpins the success of all else, the scaffolding that we build learning upon. I remind myself of the importance of taking the time to say hello as the students enter the room, to smile, let them know that I are happy they are here and yes, sometimes I have to fake it ‘till I make it! But it allows the self-fulfilling prophecy to work to my advantage. I remember hearing the wonderful writer, Toni Morrison, in an interview saying that all children want to know is do our eyes light up when they walk into a room. I always try to keep this in mind when I meet my students, to remember their loveliness, even if sometimes life has smudged their capacity to reflect this. They may indeed sometimes need a little reminder but I love that I get to teach them this, see in them something that they may not yet notice or see in themselves. For me, this is where the magic is.
I think that the most important factor in maintaining a positive teaching environment is that the students feel good about themselves, their presence, when they are in my classroom. This a powerful and fruitful place to work in. Although I can sometimes forget, it is such a privilege to be able to work with young people in this way; to perhaps touch their spirit, to have them impact mine. They say if you dance with your heart, the feet will follow. Maybe teaching is the same, when we teach with our heart, the students, the learning will follow. The background music that positive relationships manifests makes for a synchronised and enjoyable dance.