A vital aspect of the restorative process is the connection focusing on building and nurturing relationships. While there are many ways to do this within our school communities, here are several approaches to try as we set our sights on a new year.
Greet Students at the Door
- Greeting students at the door sets a positive tone which can increase engagement and reduce disruptive behavior. Spending a few moments welcoming students promotes a sense of belonging that provides them with social and emotional support, which can help them feel invested in their learning.
- In a recent study, when teachers started class by welcoming students at the door, academic engagement increased by 20 percentage points, and disruptive behavior decreased by nine percentage points — potentially adding “an additional hour of engagement over a five-hour instructional day,” according to the researchers.
- Nonverbal interpersonal interactions, such as a friendly handshake or a thumbs-up, can help make greetings feel authentic and build trust — as long as students feel comfortable with physical contact.
- When greeting students at the door, say the student’s name, make eye contact, use a friendly nonverbal greeting, such as a handshake, high five, or thumbs-up, give a few words of encouragement, compliment them or ask how their day is going.
Class Meetings and Class Circles
- While it does take time, regular class meetings/circles allow us to [connect] reconnect with one another, reorient ourselves to our school mission, and resolve simple problems in a quick and timely fashion (Fisher, Frey, & Pumpian, 2012). Class meetings can serve many purposes, including to plan and to make decisions, to “check-in”, and to solve problems or raise awareness (Vance, 2013). Both academic and social issues are appropriate topics for consideration, and once the process is taught, class meetings can be student-led.
- Circles are also a great way to build relationships with students at the start of the school year. Ice breakers, conversations around what type of learning community the students and teachers would like to have, and what they need to feel valued in their classroom community are great ways to begin.
Learn more about circles by reading our article, Circle Up for a Better Climate and Culture.
Modeling a Calm Presence
- Emotions are contagious, and when a teacher can model a calm presence through their tone, facial expression, and posture, students are less likely to react defensively. When the teacher listens to what is beneath the behavior, focusing on the student’s feelings, this type of validation says to the child that the teacher sees them and is trying to understand. When the teacher takes deep breaths, gets a drink of water, and creates space for reflection for a minute or two, they are modeling the regulation skills they want to see from students (The Role of Co-Regulation in Discipline, Edutopia).
Daily SEL Check In
- A straightforward strategy to redirect students is through the use of daily check-ins. “Emotions drive attention, memory, learning, and decision making. When students and teachers can recognize how they feel, communicate this information effectively, and regulate their emotions, learning and performance are maximized.” You might start with a tool such as The Mood Meter. It helps us learn to recognize emotions in ourselves and others, with increasing subtlety, and to develop strategies for regulating (or managing) those emotions (The RULER Approach).
2×10 Reach Out
- As we meet the day-to-day demands of the classroom, it can be challenging to find time to connect with students individually, but focusing on a few students each day will create opportunities for belonging and community development over the course of the term or year. For ten days in a row, for two minutes each day, have a personal conversation with the student(s) about anything. The only rule? Talk about anything except academics. This can be particularly powerful for students who may find it challenging to meet classroom expectations.
Use of Affective Statements
- Use affective statements to express what you are trying to get across to your students with “I” statements, not lectures. The use of an “I” statement allows you to share with students that you are hurt/frustrated with their actions (not them as individuals). Switching your language to an “I” statement (versus “you” statements) allows the student to understand the effect of their behavior. As you share your feelings with the students, be sure to listen carefully to their responses and keep an open mind. The use of “I” statements can lead to a successful conversation about a challenging/difficult situation (Adapted from Smith, Fisher, & Frey, 2015, p.105).
Teacher Driven Impromptu Hallway Conversations/Conferences
- Impromptu conversations/conferences are short, private conversations between an adult and a student designed to resolve a low-level conflict or assist the student in clarifying their thinking and decision making. Impromptu conversations can be used for minor infractions in the classroom, but they need not be reserved for when there is a problem. The adult uses “I” statements and asks affective questions to get the student talking.
- The use of informal restorative practices dramatically reduces the need for more time-consuming formal restorative practices (such as a restorative/responsive conference between student, teacher, and facilitator). Systematic use of informal restorative practices has a cumulative impact and creates what might be described as a restorative milieu — an environment that consistently fosters awareness, empathy, and responsibility in a way that is likely to prove far more effective in achieving social discipline than our current reliance on punishment and sanctions (Wachtel, 2013).
- As humans, we are wired to connect. “Our social interactions operate…something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as they orchestrate our emotions. Our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology. The brain-to-brain link allows our strongest relationships to shape us. Nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies. As we connect/interact [relationally], we create one another (Goleman, Social Intelligence).”
At the core of our humanity, we all desire connection. And, by nature, human interactions can be challenging at times, but taking time to establish, maintain, and restore relationships when necessary will move us all closer to being part of the classroom community we all desire.