While presenting restorative practices workshops, participants often voice the concern that such methods (forming class circles, engaging student voice and implementing restorative dialogue to repair harm and restore relationships) require too much instructional class time. I always appreciate when participants share this fear because it reflects sincere consideration of what is being presented, a need for deeper confirmation that social, emotional learning is valid and value for a productive use of class time.
When I ask teachers how much of their class time is spent dealing with disruptions, they usually laugh, shake their heads and report a number in the neighborhood of 40-60%, some say even more. Although it may seem obvious, it is important to make clear; if 40-60% of class time is spent dealing with disruptions, then only 40% to 60% is spent in academic pursuit. In other words, many teachers feel they are only able to be on task about 50% of the time. I’m not aware of any lesson plan that seeks to be on task for only half of the class period. I believe this is where much of the argument related to RP and time management is rooted. There is simply not enough time (or energy) for “another thing” when teachers are feeling behind. The answer to this dilemma is increasing the perceived value of being restorative and understanding how restorative practices positively relate to time management.
In their research on psychological connections to community, psychologists McMillian and Chavis assert that connection to and a sense of belonging in a community has a significant impact on an individual’s willingness to disrupt/hurt that group. They trust that they have a true mechanism for meeting their needs within the group and do not want to jeopardize their standing.
Moreover, from a trauma and adversity perspective, once a young person is “acting out” and disrupting critical class time, trying to talk them into choosing a different way to express themselves or trying to convince them that their behavior is negatively impacting others is a useless pursuit and negatively impacts time management. In this state, the young persons’ rational/reasoning mind has been hijacked and they are acting on emotion, not able to access reasoning or compassion for others. I believe the intentional and creative use of proactive, restorative class circles decreases the likelihood that students will be triggered to act out in the first place. When implemented correctly, circles can create healthy environments that allow for safe spaces to express emotional needs, including reparation of harm and restoration to a community where harm has occurred.In other words, by implementing restorative circles, teachers are creating a classroom culture in which community and connection are strongly valued. In such an environment, young people are likely to access their emotional vocabulary rather than their behavioral vocabulary and, therefore, cause less classroom disruptions. Ultimately, a decrease in disruptions will allow for an increase in instructional class time.
With this being said, it is important to note that operating in this way at the classroom teacher level requires support from the administration. I do not advocate pushing restorative practices into a classroom where doing so would create problems for the teacher. However, in my experience, most administrators understand and value the need for creating safe and connected classroom communities. The struggle is getting on the same page with others about the best way to achieve this healthy classroom. I suggest sharing your ideas about creating community through proactive and responsive restorative class circles with the appropriate people before attempting this new restorative strategy.
This is our first blog in a five part series. Look out for our next blog discussing effective methods for implementing restorative circles!