If you’re an educator, you’re likely entering the final month of your summer vacation. As preparations for the upcoming school year begin, you may be starting to identify your teaching goals. Whether you want to focus on behavior management, or try to foster a more collaborative classroom, restorative practices can help you take a more intentional approach to education.
Focus on the positive
Easier said than done, but focusing on the favorable attributes of all your students can make it easier to form a mutually respectful relationship. This isn’t just about a feel-good, “positive vibes” mentality, it’s based on solid science. A 2012 NPR article took an in-depth look at two studies centered around teacher expectations. In the first study, conducted by researchers at Harvard University in 1964, those students whose teachers believed they would perform better in class, typically lived up to their educator’s expectations.
Researcher Robert Rosenthal “found that expectations affect teachers’ moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.”
In a more recent study, Robert Pianta, dean at the Curry School of Education, found that teachers can effectively change their beliefs about students by changing their behaviors, rather than forcefully trying to adjust their mindset. In this study, teachers were videotaped and coached on how they could respond to certain behaviors they found disruptive. Rather than telling a student whose called out that he’s “out of line,” could respond with, “please sit down before you give me the answer you wanted to share.” In this way, the teacher breaks the cycle of student unwanted behavior → educator trigger reaction → student escalation → teacher confirmed beliefs about student.
Use affective statements
Sometimes called “I Statements,” affective statements are a cornerstone of restorative practice. They’re used to reinforce positive behavior, or explain feelings when misbehavior happens without shaming the perpetrator.
- the transition to using affective statements starts with objectively observing the behavior. Try to look at the situation without judgement, and without taking it personally.
- Identify how the situation makes you feel, and the words you can use to convey those feelings to your student.
- Determine what you want the outcome to be. Do you want the student to approach his classmates without shouting? Are you looking for a way to address her inappropriate calling out? Be sure to base this need on a measurable outcome.
- Pull the student aside calmly, and deliver your affective statement. Encourage them to respond in the same way.
Introducing affective statements can have a positive impact on the entire school community — including teachers, administrators, students and their parents. In a study done by the University of Nebraska, researchers looked at a home-school partnership and parental involvement model called conjoint behavioral consultation (CBC). At the conclusion of the program, researchers found that “there was a decrease in the overall frequency of critical comments made by parents in all three cases that occurred over the course of CBC;” and “there was an increase in statements coded as positive evaluation across all three CBC cases.” By using affective statements in the classroom and sharing this method at parent conferences or open house, you can plant a seed of productive behavior management that can improve parent-child relationships at home.
Read the literature
Check out some of the following books for a more in-depth look at restorative practices and how you can implement the method in your classroom.
“The Restorative Practices Handbook is a practical guide for educators interested in implementing restorative practices, an approach that proactively builds positive school communities while dramatically reducing discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions. The handbook discusses the spectrum of restorative techniques, offers implementation guidelines, explains how and why the processes work, and relates real-world stories of restorative practices in action.”
Implementing Restorative Practice in Schools: A Practical Guide to Transforming School Communities by Margaret Thorsborne and Peta Blood
“Restorative practice is a proven approach to discipline in schools that favours relationships over retribution, and has been shown to improve behaviour and enhance teaching and learning outcomes. However, in order for it to work, restorative practice needs a relational school culture.”
The Psychology of Emotion in Restorative Practice: How Affect Script Psychology Explains How and Why Restorative Practice Works, edited by Margaret Thorsborne and Vernon Kelly
“[Affect Script Psychology] explains how the central nervous system triggers ‘affects’ which are the basis of all human motivation and emotion. The book presents a clear explanation of what ASP is, how it relates to RP, and how ASP helps practitioners to understand relationships, emotions and dynamics in their work. The chapters are based around case studies which demonstrate RP in criminal justice, organizational and education settings. They show how theory links to practice, and how having a deep understanding of the theory has helped practitioners to be successful in their work.”
“Richard Hendry offers a vision for how our schools could be, if we are willing to embrace a ‘way of being’ that nurtures personal responsibility in a climate of mutual respect. As well as showing teachers how to reduce disruption and develop good relationships, this book is also about improving learning in schools and building skills for life. Building and Restoring Respectful Relationships in Schools is essential reading for all teachers, especially department and year heads, as well as headteachers, policy makers and researchers.”