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This story comes from our founder, Roy Burton, who used restorative practices to turn one student’s disrespectful behavior into a healthy, cooperative relationship.

I was working at a failing school where disrespectful students and “acting out” was a normal, daily occurrence. I would tell people that the disrespect was so plentiful, that it was being offered “buy one, get one free.” My normal morning ritual in schools is to greet everyone in the hallway upon entering the school; both teachers and students. Initially, I didn’t get very many responses from either group — but I continued on with my routine.

One group of boys walked by me everyday. They wouldn’t respond to my greeting, but when they were a short distance away, I would hear one boy saying, “**** you.” I continued to greet them the same way, and continued getting the same response. On the third day, I waited in the hallway and approached the student in his group of friends. I asked him if I could see him in my office. His friends began with the “Oooh, you’re in trouble!” routine, but I let them know that he wasn’t, in fact, in trouble, and that I just needed to ask him a question. I told the boys that their friend would catch up with them later, and thanked them for understanding.

When we got to my office, I began with affective statements, a powerful restorative practices tool used at the beginning of a conversation in response to misconduct or disrespect. I said, “I am here to help. I’m not perfect, but I need you to stop being disrespectful to me, in front of your friends and in the hallways. I deserve better. I hear how you speak to the other teachers in the school. I know that there is a lack of respect from the teachers towards the students. Please help me make a change in this school, to make it a better place.”

From that day forward, the student was never disrespectful to me. While he still had issues with some of his teachers, I was able to intervene when he acted out in class. This three minute conversation yielded a new, positive relationship.

Affective statements help the listener (the student) understand how the other person (the teacher or facilitator) feels because of the listener’s actions. These conversations should be conducted in private, so that both parties feel comfortable sharing with one another. Also called “I Statements,” affective statements typically look like this: “I feel ______ (emotion) when you _______ (behavior).” This can then be followed by a desired outcome. In the situation above, Roy asked that the student stop using inappropriate language as a response to his morning greeting. While every situation cannot be immediately rectified by affective statements, it’s an effective way to introduce a concern, and gauge the listener’s response.

In his book, “A Practical Introduction to Restorative Practice in Schools,” Bill Hansberry illustrates affective statements as an arc that begins with preparation on the part of the teacher of facilitator, continues on to participation between the listener and facilitator, and ends with a follow-up. He describes preparation for the facilitator as simply adopting the appropriate mindset to conduct the conversation: calm, cool and collected. Participation is the most important part of the process: it’s where feelings are exchanged, and relationships can be built. Follow-up can take the form of a gentle “pre-correction,” reminding the student of the boundaries set during the conversation before the behavior is repeated.

How have you used affective statements to address disrespect or misbehavior in your classroom or school?

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