Emotional intelligence (EQ) is our ability to recognise and regulate our own emotions, and those of others. It is “the most important overall success factor in careers” (Goleman, 2001, p. xv). Restorative Practice (RP) develops our emotional literacy and helps us to understanding the complex world of our emotions which informs connection to the self and others. It is essential for good leadership, positive relationships, and undoubtedly a happy, successful life (and classroom!!!) (Golding, 1995).
My personal definition of success as a teacher is that my students feel good about who they are, and what they do when they are in my room (and the hope is, by extension, in our world). This is not something that you will necessarily find on a policy document but I do feel that our welcomed journey towards change in education and the acquisition of key skills breathes life into this intention; acknowledges that feeling good is a key to unlock learning, understanding that learning is state sensitive, and we should, therefore, be sensitive to our inner state of being for effective teaching and learning to take place.
Restorative Practice is a way of being that allows me to bring this to life in the classroom. Key restorative skills include basic communication skills: “active listening; the ability both to express feelings and needs and to encourage others to do the same; interpersonal emotional literacy; relationship building and conflict resolution skills” (Hopkins 2006, p. 5). A simple 5 minute check-in circle, using a talking piece at the beginning of a class, asking students how they feel on a 1-10 can offer huge insight into how we can meet that person in that moment, it also gives the opportunity for us all to be aware of how we are feeling so that we can live from a conscious space.
A quick sharing of the highlight of the weekend, or asking people to think of and share what makes them belly laugh can immediately shift the energy in the room. Suddenly you see students smiling and nodding to others, or laughing out loud in that moment at a funny memory. Maureen Gaffney’s TEDx explores how we need a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative emotions/interactions in order to flourish. How can we put Joy (Inside Out) in the driving seat?
Relationship building questions allow us to consciously create her blue glow in the classroom and to connect with the students we spend every day with. There are so many daily demands on teachers to meet learning objectives, fill in rolls, check and correct homework etc. and this may indeed take five precious minutes but rather than take away from learning time, it scaffolds a space for academic learning to occur. It develops a methodology that can be used for teaching, learning and formative assessment. It builds life skills, facilitates oral and emotional literacy, develops communication skills such as active listening and authentic sharing. Such engagement allows us to tap into students’ personal scripts, it changes the energy in the room, breathes the connection that fosters an enthusiastic, safe, and collaborative work space. In summary – IT FEELS GOOD!
The better we feel, the more we learn/ allow/ engage/ connect. I love Maya Angelou’s quote and try my best to use it as my compass to guide my intention and interactions with young people in the classroom. Bring to mind a teacher or role model who has made a difference in your life. How did you feel in their presence? Equally, can you remember a classroom where you felt fearful, nervous, angry, or exposed? What were these teachers feeling when they negatively spoke , embarrassed, or shouted at us? Were they conscious of the impact of their words, I wonder, or were they, perhaps more likely, just lost in their own “stuff”, doing the best they could in that moment? So the question is, how can we hold hands and do better together? I believe the answer lies within recognising and regulating the world of emotions.
When we encounter problems in the classroom (living room or boardroom), anger can often dominate our responses and cause us to react as opposed to respond. Anger is always a secondary emotion that has its roots in some other emotion. It is a mask we wear and even when it is suffocating or corrosive to relationships, it can, sometimes, feel ‘safer’ than understanding and exposing how we really feel.
I would urge us to consider what causes us to get angry in the classroom and what the root feelings might be? Only then can we transform and resolve this feeling. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge and when we are authentic, reflective, and solution-focused, we can become the thermostat instead of the thermometer (Jim Kwik).
Indeed working in community in the classroom offers many valuable opportunities to develop our students’ emotional intelligence but I believe it begins with the self. As teachers we need to be aware of how our thoughts, feelings and emotions influence how we behave and engage with others. We need to pause, reflect and pay attention to this as such insights can lead us towards learning, connection, and fulfillment. Our power lies in our response to an event, or in our ability to positively influence the thoughts and feelings and response of another. But how can we do this? Asking ourselves and others some restorative questions can facilitate such insights.
These thinking questions often elicit feeling responses. As teachers and leaders in our class we can choose to model this by sharing how we feel/have been impacted by an interaction or situation. Not in a way that cements or limits students into cycles of to negative behaviour:
“How dare you speak to me that way!””
“You are a disgrace!”
”Who do you think you are speaking to?”
But in a way that separates the deed from the doer, that models the use of emotional language, that offers students a space to reflect and understand the connection between their own thoughts, feelings and actions. Using restorative language helps us to achieve this by offering structure and meaning to the world of our emotions. It is characterised by using I and an emotion. The intention is to authentically connect and share how we feel in order develop empathy and understanding. The focus moves away from blame and judgement (which fosters disconnection) and instead focuses on needs, solutions and the empowerment of choices (which facilitates connection). Marshal Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication offers wonderful guidelines to facilitate such restorative conversations. (Non-Violent Communication). Often students do not have this vocabulary to navigate and share how they feel and we need to consciously model and explicitly teach and develop their emotional literacy (for example a mood wall).
Sometimes the teachers I have had the privilege of working with express how using restorative language can make them feel vulnerable or exposed. It may feel safer to hide behind a mask of anger, especially when we have others watching us. I have also, in these reflective circles, heard many teachers share anecdotes about how a throw away or angry comment by a teacher, when they were a student, still impacts them twenty years later. Such reflective practice is at the heart of conscious engagement. It reminds us of the golden rule of the world’s major religions, not to treat others in a way we wouldn’t like to be treated ourselves. It facilitates compassion and, I believe, new capacities of mind and heart, it helps us to realise our words and the energy we bring can be very powerful and long lasting. I have and can feel vulnerable and frustrated too, at times, but (on my best day) when I connect to my values and my personal definition of success as a teacher, it inspires me to use restorative language instead of perhaps mirroring a quick and cutting comment.
I have experienced and understand the success that the former can offer, how it can unlock cycles of negative interactions, and empower people to understand how to meet each other’s needs instead of getting lost in blame, anger and frustration. I have heard many other teachers’ success stories too, and success doesn’t always lie in a magic wand that changes every student, but success can very much lie in liking who we are in our classroom and getting to live our values. There is immense power in vulnerability as Brené Brown’s TED illustrates. We need it to live wholeheartedly, to fulfill the basic human need of connection and belonging. I’m learning that the easiest thing in the world is to cynically dismiss something. So even if the idea of using restorative language in the classroom causes you to raise an eyebrow or want to roll your eyes to heaven, I would urge you to listen to the heart and perhaps give it a try.
Maya Angelou’s quote reminds me of my favourite teacher in school, Mr John Cronin. He’s the kind of teacher who visits you during your first year of college when you are struggling and feeling a bit lost; the kind of teacher who, even though he is now a busy principal, takes time to send a Christmas card every single year to his past pupils. He is a special type of human that the world is lucky to have.
He has made a big difference in my life and I try to pay this forward. He recently inspired me once again, twenty years later, when he gifted me a beautiful poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
…Don’t go where the path may lead,
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
What lies before us and what lies behind us
Are small matters compared to what lies within us
And when we bring what is within out into the world,
For me, restorative language, and being tuned in and guided by our emotions, is somewhat of a new path in schools. It supports a new epistemology, a way of being in the world that exists long after the facts have faded from students’ minds; a broadened lens of success from the acquisition of points to the importance of key skills. It creates a paradigm shift from punitive to restorative, from understanding that authentic power lies internally – honouring values and conscious choices, instead of externally -trying to control others. It offers a trail for what lies within to emerge, in order to breathe empathy and connection. For me, on a spiritual level, this creates the miracles that Emerson speaks of, the little shifts in perception from fear to love (ACIM)!