This really rings true for me when I think about how we tend to address misbehaviour in schools. Often, when there is a conflict of some kind, a dispute, a lack of cooperation, teachers can understandably feel frustrated. We may respond by getting angry, by shouting, blaming, embarrassing, or trying to control a situation through fear of punishment etc. We can feel a pressing pressure to ‘control’ thirty other people sitting before us. Archaic, retributive school systems promote a mind-set that usher teachers in this direction. Sometimes we feel the need to remind students that they will not “get away with it”, that “they’ll be sorry”, that they must do what we say, “why?”, Well simply “because we say so”. This approach may appear to work; to ‘solve’ or (more likely) to pause/postpone the problem for another day.
But I’d urge us all to ask a new question so that we can enjoy the response of a new answer –
What is our intention?
What are we trying to achieve? Teacher 5 of my study spoke about the fact that she was authoritarian and had control in her classroom, she appeared successful because most of her students did what she said. She had the skills and authority to address problems but she found herself exhausted at the end of the day, she was regularly entering into power struggles with her Student X or Y which affected her well-being and her relationship with the other students. She now seeks to promote and engage restoratively because, through her reflective practice, she realised that her idea of success expands far beyond control. She re-connected with her original motivation to teach and wanted to share her gifts with her students who, I believe, are so lucky to have her.
When reflecting on our ideal classroom, what does the landscape of our own Promise Land look and feel like?
For me, it’s a happy classroom where students are engaged and enthused. My personal definition of success as a teacher is that my students feel good about who they are and what they are doing when they are in my classroom, and perhaps (the hope is) by extension in their own world. The restorative approach helps breathe life into this intention when things appear to have gone wrong. We are
working in the ‘WITH’ box; having high expectations of one another and supporting people to meet these expectations; engaging in restorative conversations that separate the deed from the doer, that seek to understand before being understood, just as the insightful Stephen Covey encourages us to do. This classroom is light, free, easy, happy, engaged. It is full of grace and hope- hope that we will be successful, that we will learn, and that we will connect. There is a soft, flexible energy that feels good. As educators, we know that learning is state sensitive, and this type of environment is a wonderful scaffold upon which to build meaningful and authentic learning.
I’m inspired by the amazing example of the Babemba Tribe of South Africa who live these restorative values in their community. When a member of their tribe does something ‘wrong’, they gather around them in a circle and take turns to remind the ‘wrongdoer’ of something good they have done; a reason why they like/value them. They understand that the correction for poor behaviour is not punishment, but love and the remembrance of identity. They believe a teacher, is someone who knows their song and sings it to them when they have forgotten it. As Alan Davidson states in his blog,
“They are not fooled by the mistakes you have made or the dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused”.
I’m inspired by such a vision, a classroom that honours the worthiness of all who learn within it. It’s a beauty-full way to revere, to call forth the very best of who we are, especially when life may have smudged our capacity to reflect it. As teachers, we are honoured with the opportunity to remind our students of their inner loveliness so that they consciously choose to behave and engage in a way that reflects their true being; so that they are inspired intrinsically by their inner guidance, as opposed to being controlled by a fear of external punishment or retribution.
In my Promised Land, we live, as Brene Brown says, ‘whole-heartedly’, imagine how and what we’d learn in a world like that!