Virtual restorative circles are the antidote for a great way to stay together when we must be so far apart. CA BOCES has been working with teachers across the region to focus on self-care, mindset, and the importance of positivity by providing virtual restorative circles. Virtual circles provide a place for teachers to connect, share ideas, and support each other through challenging times. It is also an opportunity for teachers to experience the social and emotional benefits of circle process and how this can transform into opportunities for supporting SEL with students through face-to-face, hybrid, and remote instruction.
The Restorative Practice Self-Care Circles followed the Kay Pranis circle process which includes an opening ceremony, mindfulness activity, establishing norms and guidelines, check-in rounds, guiding questions, and a checkout rounds. BOCES facilitators modeled through experiential practice with educators how these components could be present in instruction with students. We have all heard the popular phrase in education “Maslow before Bloom,” which is typically used to communicate that humans need their basic needs met before academic learning can be fully embraced. Self-Care Restorative Circles allows educators to embrace this phrase while embedding social emotional learning within the content they are teaching. Child psychiatrist Pamela Cantor told Edutopia in 2019 that “When we’re able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive development together, we are creating many, many more interconnections in the developing brain that enable children t accelerate learning and development.” Allowing time to integrate social emotional learning into academics and content areas allows schools the opportunity to build relationships and make connections with students.
Restorative Practice Self-Care Circles model instructional approaches for educators to learn different ways to build connections with students during each component of the circle process. For example, educators might choose to start their day with an opening ceremony. This could consist of a morning greeting, short story, quote, poem, or even a song. Many of these could also be used during what is called a closing ceremony or ending a lesson. Educators also had opportunities to practice multiple mindfulness activities for all ages including deep breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, and opportunities or self-reflection. All of which could be transferred to instruction with students. The most common component to educators was establishing group norms and guidelines. Most educators start each school year off with this. The restorative self-care circles model for educators how to provide 2-3 non-negotiable guidelines while encouraging the students to develop additional guidelines that could be transferred to any learning platform. Participants also engaged in a wide variety of check-in and checkout strategies including the Fist-to-Five, Emotional Weather Report, and much more. Many might ask where does academic content fit into the circle process? Academic content is embedded in each component, but most visible within the guiding question rounds. During this time educators can check for understanding, introduce new vocabulary, discuss homework, build schema for introducing new lessons, and much more.
Below are a few reactions from participants across the CA BOCES Region that participated in Restorative Practice Self-Care Circles:
“I loved the gratitude session! I have an app on my phone that reminds me to list something I am grateful for everyday and I love it.”
“Enjoy these meetings every week! Love seeing others feeling the same as me. Great hosts!”
“I enjoy this every week! Allows one to feel accepted and important!”
“If I could give this professional development 10 stars I would!!! This is the one session that I look forward to attending every week. It is very organized, provides essential and necessary information, and always makes me feel good!”
As educators we must make the commitment to prioritize self-care to successfully be able to help others. It’s like the saying goes “You must put on your own oxygen mask before you can take care of others.”
By: Jillian Putnam, CA BOCES Professional Development
Restorative Practices is becoming more common in the CA BOCES Region. Several districts have requested Restorative Practice Awareness training for staff as they begin to explore practices that teach positive behaviors and build relationships rather than punish. Climate changes daily but as we know changing school culture takes time, dedication, honest conversations, and an open-mindset. The CA BOCES Restorative Practice Awareness training provides an opportunity for teachers to reflect on the positive and negative impacts of current and past practices.
Restorative Practices range from informal to formal. Participants are introduced to the Restorative Practices Continuum which includes informal practices such as affective statements and questions that communicate people’s feelings, and allow for reflection on how their behavior has affected others to impromptu restorative conversations and more formal practices including circles and formal conferences. As you move from left to right on the continuum the processes become more formal, involve more people, and require planning and time.
During the awareness training, participants are exposed to affective statements and questions. Affective statements are personal expressions of feelings in response to others’ positive or negative behaviors. The idea is for teachers to make connections with students. Affective questions include questions that can be asked to the:
Person who committed the harm:
What were you thinking at the time? What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done in what way?
What do you think you need to do to make things right?
Person who was harmed:
What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
Participants gain an understanding of how to have small impromptu conferences with students to address specific situations and how to incorporate circles into the classroom. It’s always recommended that circles be 80% proactive and 20% responsive. Therefore, more emphasis should be put on building relationships and making connections with students.
Changing school culture is a significant challenge where students will become the beneficiaries of stronger schools and a safe and supportive environment for learning. Restorative Practices provide children and adults with a skill set for enhancing communication in all settings. We encourage schools to explore the restorative journey for their students!
By: Jillian Putnam, CA BOCES Professional Development
As the importance of trauma sensitive classrooms and the drive for becoming more responsive is at the forefront of our minds, at the foundation of these initiatives is the relationship building that is necessary to make any of those powerful initiatives a success.
In the article, "Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter" Sarah Sparks notes, A Review of Educational Research analysis of 46 studies found that strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both the short- and long-term with improvements on practically every measure schools care about: higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates.
Although the positives are profound, as educators we recognize there are challenges with building meaningful relationships with all of our students. There are time constraints, curriculum demands and large class sizes that can prevent those ‘little conversations’ from occurring. As the new school year is fast approaching, keep in mind the following strategies and/or trainings that can aid you in having those ‘little conversations’ that will improve engagement and bring about positive lasting results for your students.
The Challenges and the Strategies to Overcome Them
Time is our most valuable resource and there never seems to be enough of it. Within a school setting there are tight schedules and limited class periods.
Although class size varies and depending on grade level may grow or shrink from year to year, we may feel at times if there were only a few less students, more could be accomplished. Getting to know students can be difficult when there are so many and utilizing different games or whole group activities can help foster teacher-student relationships.
Gone are the days when we taught whatever we deemed important, today we are held to high curriculum standards and answer to testing data. The stress and pressure of getting through everything and delivering on academic goals is high. Luckily there are ways to steal moments that can help strengthen teacher-student relationships.
For additional information on Restorative Practice Training, please reach out to Jillian Putnam, Mark Carls, Kathryn Mendell or Jessica Rose.
By: Jessica Rose, CA BOCES Professional Development
School districts around the area have been looking for ways to help their staff build better relationships with their students and to hopefully come up with ways to reduce discipline issues. The West Valley school district led by their principal, Dan Amodeo and School Psychologist, Antonette Leonard, met earlier this year with Katie Mendell and Mark Carls about bringing Restorative Practices to West Valley. During the last staff development day before Spring break, Mark and Katie worked with the West Valley staff in the morning to give an overview of Restorative Practices and how it can possibly help the West Valley staff. Throughout the morning the teachers had plenty of open and honest conversations about what they already do in their classes and brainstormed some ideas on what they can possibly change at West Valley.
Many CA BOCES districts have been looking at Restorative Practices and have also attended many of the CA BOCES offered IIRP two-day trainings. The CA BOCES certified trained IIRP professionals offer dates in July and August for these two-day trainings, but they can also work with districts to offer full or part time trainings for any district. Participants in West Valley and other districts have been excited to see that Restorative Practice is ‘more than just circles’. Schools that adopt Restorative Practices give a common language to set expectations, build positive relationships and to help set up a ‘culture of caring’ for all students in a building.
By: Mark Carls, CA BOCES Professional Development