Restoring Circles

So earlier this week, The Corner was selected as a Top Counseling Blog of 2017 by Online Counseling ProgramsI'm so grateful for their kind affirmation:

Being a blogger is such a gift to me because I get to share what's going on in my corner while I collaborate with passionate caregivers around the world. One of those is school psychologist Julie Gordon-Buccitti. You might remember her guest post about Bucket Filling; well, today she's back to share about her school's experience using Restorative Practices. Welcome Julie! 


Hello from Momauguin Elementary School in East Haven, CT.  We are a grade K-5 school that has just completed our first year with our “new team” after a consolidation of schools within our district. Our school, which was previously a grade 3-5 school, acquired three new grade levels this year (K-2) along with new students, new staff, and new administration. With all of these changes that took place, we had much work ahead of us to establish and build positivity within our brand-new school community.

Earlier this year, our principal, several staff members and I were given the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop on Restorative Practices, one of the most helpful and informative workshops I have been to in some time. Right away, we returned to school and began implementing some of the techniques we had learned. We were so pleased with the responses from our students, and with the results we were seeing! At the workshop, we learned that Restorative Practices is a process that needs to be introduced one step at a time. This way, we can better achieve buy-in within the community and not overwhelm students or staff.
We also learned how to conduct Restorative Circles. In a Restorative Circle, all stakeholders involved or affected by a given situation gather and work together to repair the harm that had occurred and restore relationships. Using a series of carefully thought-out and non-threatening questions is key to conducting these practices. One of the most important things we learned in our workshop was to refrain from beginning a circle by asking, “Why did you do that?” Not only are we unlikely to get a definitive answer by using this type of question, but it also starts the circle on a defensive or even accusatory note. Instead, we used these types of questions from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). 

Click image for source.

We began by using Restorative Circles to address student conflicts. It was wonderful to see how the students responded once they were informed that our discussion wasn’t so much about “being in trouble” but rather looking for ways to work with them to repair the harm that had been done and move forward in a positive manner.  The focus was removed from being punitive and turned toward being restorative. Students then felt more comfortable and became very honest in their responses. They gained greater understanding of how their actions impacted others. Not only did these techniques help us to solve problems and decrease the chances of them reoccurring, but they also taught our students coping skills, listening skills, and empathy. Using Restorative Practices has helped our students learn to conduct better conversational exchanges, and it has given them an avenue in which to be heard and feel supported by peers and adults alike.

Having opportunities to listen to peers or adults express their feelings about how they felt as a result of others’ actions was a new experience and an eye-opener for many of our students. Not only was it helpful for those with hurt feelings to be heard, but it was also helpful for those who did the hurting to hear how their actions made others feel. This gave students an opportunity to think about and reflect upon their actions. It was also helpful for students to be able to share that it wasn’t their intention to hurt someone’s feelings and to have an opportunity to express remorse to the person whose feelings they had hurt. This was beneficial for all sides of any given situation.
We found that the more we used these techniques, the more we noticed that we weren’t seeing the same students returning with the same issues or concerns repeatedly. Through use of these practices, we have been able to observe teaching, learning, problem-solving, and increased understanding and empathy toward others. It has been a rewarding experience for children and adults involved, and it has helped us to build positivity within our school community!  
The students have responded so well to these techniques, that they have even requested Restorative Circles when challenging situations have arisen.

Moving forward and planning for next year, our amazing principal, Diane MacKinnon, has suggested expanding on our initiatives by incorporating a Restorative Circle time into our schedule for the upcoming school year. Our entire school will be starting each day with Restorative Circles, first thing every morning. We also decided as a staff that we would like to have all of the specials teachers and support staff go into different classrooms daily. This way, there would be opportunities for the non-classroom teachers to participate in circles in all of the classrooms over the course of the school year. 

I can’t wait to see how the students and staff will enjoy using these techniques, the sharing that will take place, and the building of connections and relationships. With positive relationships and connections in place with children, peers, and adults, our students will be ready to start their school day in a positive and supportive way and, in turn, will be better able to access academic instruction.  It truly is a win-win for all! 

If you would like to learn more about Restorative Practices, you can go to Facebook and like IIRP’s page here.  

You can also visit the IIRP website here.

To read more about Restorative Practices, check out these two excellent books from IIRP. Click on each book for more information. 
Thank you, Julie. 

We are looking into adopting Restorative Practices as well, so I have started reading these and am really enjoying them. Interestingly enough, when I was a teenager, the younger brother of one of my friends gave me a black eye and instead of press charges to punish him, my father invited him to remedy what he'd done by working alongside of us on the family farm, so restorative practices were actually modeled during my upbringing. I can't wait to unleash the power of the circle on our campus. Need more Restorative Practices resources?


Compassionate Conversions

Oh, how I love learning.
I am so on fire for new ideas
and eager to grow and be better!
Conferences do that for me;
so do conversations with colleagues.
And I've had both this week.

First, I went to Austin to speak at TEPSA. 
We started with a riveting game of my favorite icebreaker.
Click the image to watch for a few seconds.
We had a blast in this learning session and I was delighted to grow alongside one hundred elementary school leaders while we worked on inspiring grit, perseverance, resilience and a growth mindset.

Equally as amazing later that morning was seeing my friend and edu-hero Michelle Borba on stage doing what she does best:
Elevating empathy!

She shared so many strong ideas for infusing that glorious virtue into the heads and hearts as well as routines and rituals of our students and staff. The one that resonated with me was having students in conflict write down on their think-sheet reflections what they think the other person will say about what happened. Brilliant, right?

After she walked us through the 9 habits of empathic children
from her book UnSelfie, I asked talented teacher Julie Woodard if she'd make a SketchnoteAnd she did.

Isn't it fantastic?
A cellfie of Dr. Borba's suggestions.
My suggestion is that this be a poster. 
In every school.
In every state.
In every country.
To help our selfie-absorbed world come back.
But Michele is quick to remind us that
empathy by itself doesn't do much good.
She urged us to work to intentionally mobilize it to become
compassion which in turn turns into actionable kindness.

She shared several examples of compassionate conversions,
when children who have been hardened by life
are tenderized with empathy
 so that they embrace compassionate
and show kindness despite life's hard knocks.
Each one more poignant than the next.
Each one bringing us close to tears.
I truly feel like I could listen to her all day!

So I came home excited to collaborate at our Poolside PD event.
Check out the alternative seating options:
a wobble seat,
lounge chairs,
camp chairs,
towel mats,
pool noodles,

Each counselor made a Sensory bottle as a take-away,

a metaphor for how we need to hydrate to grow.
We swapped ideas and shared goals, dreams and plans
for the 2017-2018 school year.
It was so refreshing to sit with those passionate colleagues
and soak up their compassionate ideals.
We even role played an activity that I picked up from Kevin TuttIt's called The Hitchhiker. Here's how to play.

Set four chairs side by side and round up four volunteers. Ask one of the volunteers to take a seat in the first chair and pretend she's driving to her dream location. Have the other three stand off to the side. Ask the driver to think of their dream car. Ash the audience to name four emotions that they see every day at school. Say the emotions are happy, scared, angry and sad; each player will own one of those emotions. The objective is for the driver to start with her emotion then each time she picks up a hitchhiker, she picks up his her her emotion. At the end of the role play, they all exit one by one and go back to the emotion of the last person in. Check out their amazing job with the role play {here}. How could you use this in your professional development to raise emotional literacy with your staff? With your students? With their parents? How could it be a springboard for embracing empathy?

I can't wait to try it with my school family
and see how many compassionate conversions we can spark.
Happy weekend.


Your Plan BE

Today I'm excited because my guest post at Free Spirit Press went live with suggestions for your self-care arsenal. Click {here} or use the image to take you there for some sizzling self-care strategies for your summertime Plan BE.

My morning didn't start out all that great. In fact, I needed some stress management of my own because I was getting really stressed out over some paperwork that was due a month ago, that I completed but didn't quite do correctly. I was so frustrated that I almost gave up a speaking opportunity just so that I didn't have to mess with it anymore. Sounds silly, I know, but it is what it is. Thankfully I got some coaching from a friend whose kind words of encouragement helped me persevere and get it done, so it's all good. Sometimes we have to let someone else hold the umbrella, don't we? 

I'm also really joyful that this mindfulness treasure finally arrived. I ordered it months ago after reading Pat's review at Children's Books Heal, but it never came in. Then the order was cancelled. Then there was no record of the reorder. Another lesson in perseverance? I guess so. But here it is and I'm absolutely tickled pink about King Calm by Susan D. Sweet and Brenda S. Miles. First of all, isn't that such a clever title? 
And it's a must-have resource to help the children in our care learn 
to slow down and savor every second, 
to take in the sights, sounds and other senses 
of the world around us as life is happening, 
and to enjoy being in the moment. 
Now. Here. This.

Check it out; I enthusiastically recommend it!

And speaking of being in the moment, I must review my presentation for Wednesday when I go to Austin to lead a mindset learning session for some of the Texas Elementary Principals who'll attend the TEPSA Conference. What fun it has been to put together info for that one-hour to try to inspire and energize those passionate, fearless, joyful Lead Learners.

We'll launch with this reflection, and a dance, of course! 

Then on Friday, you'll find me here ... 

for some poolside professional development with a few of my local school counseling friends. Their pre-PD assignment is to bring an idea that they're going to try that is sure to make last year jealous. Can't wait to hear what's in store for them, for their stakeholders, and for their school families.

What's your Plan BE to decompress and refuel?


Happy Learners, Happy Class

Hello summertime!
So before we launched for summer break, this happened.

Art Guild students stopped by to letter our True Colors table. 

I rescued this table from a neighbor's trash over spring break
and painted a rainbow on it.
Then our artists put the finishing touches on it;
talk about your garbage to gold project.

Isn't it brilliant?

So today I woke up today feeling extra joyful. 
Pure and simple.
Not sure why, but I'll take it.

Maybe because I slept in and feel really well rested.
Possibly because I'm joining a ukulele band today.
Probably because of this stunning Sketchnote creation.

Doesn't this beautiful image just make you feel happy?

I collaborated with Texas teacher Julie Woodard to create it as a banner for our Bales Intermediate table at something new that our district is trying to welcome our new-to-our-district families called the FISD Registration Rodeo. I wanted something to complement our vision and integrate our six core values; didn't Julie do an amazing job? If you want to commission a special visual, find Julie on Twitter {@woodard_julie}. Or just let me know and I'll connect you with her.

My daughter resized it so we could print the 4X2 banner and voila.

A campus goal is that our transfer students feel welcomed at their new school, that they'll feel like they belong, that they know that they matter to us, and that they will be happy being a Bronco. I know we can't guarantee happiness, but I believe that they deserve a climate of caring where everybody uses our core values to intentionally be the rainbow in someone's storm. The storm-to-rainbow ratio can be disproportionate for our young people; we don't want school to be another storm for them to endure, but instead a sanctuary from the hurricanes of life.

So as I plan for next year, I'm thinking about ways 
to make sure we always move over and let those newbies in,
to make our school climate joyfully safe and happy,
and to bring our True Colors to life as we serve and grow.

I find myself reading and reflecting. A lot. 
Here are the three treasures I've mined from so far.

These two authors Todd and Adam serve as lead learners in their schools and the content of their book will surely make your heart sing. So many practical ideas for transforming your school climate with vulnerable examples from their own failures and successes to help you find the right formula for your school family. My favorite idea is the Day Maker phone calls to the parents and families of faculty members. It seriously gives me chill bumps to think about a Principal calling my dad to tell him what a great job I've done on something and to affirm him for his part in my work ethic and joy. Do yourself and your stakeholders a favor and delve in to your copy today. Your Kids Deserve It.

I'm so glad that the author of this handbook, Dr. Jenna Sage, reached out to me to put a copy of it in my hands and on my heart. I love the empowerment that the front cover represents and it only gets better from there as you dive in and turn the pages for practical suggestions on how to manage unwanted behaviors as you shape them into desired behaviors. I especially connected with the section on the functions of behavior. Behavior helps students communicate to get their needs met. Alabama Principal Danny Steele says it like this:

We simply must understand that students do not really want to throw temper tantrums or act out like sometimes they do. Once we can see beneath those behaviors to get to their root cause, we can offer appropriate replacement behaviors to equip and empower students to soar more successfully. If you strive for that Happy Class, then this book is for you.

My third recommendation is a book that you will want to Start {reading}. Right. Now! Its basis is this John Maxwell's reflection on leadership ... 

... with a bonus. The dynamic trio of edu-hero authors adds this fourth domain to Maxwell's three-pronged ideal: And grows each day.
Amen! Whether you are a new teacher, veteran teacher, administrator or even student leader, grow with these experts through the pages of this gem and I predict it'll leave you wanting the 2017-2018 school year to 
Start {back up again}. Right. Now.

Want another strategy for inspiring happy learners and a happy class?
Join the #JoyfulLeaders movement now.
Choose joy.
Look for it.
With intention.
Every moment of every day.

And when you find it, give it away!
On purpose.
To someone who has lost theirs.
Or to someone who hasn't but could use a booster shot.
You'll be glad you did 
because it'll make you happy, too.
You'll see.
Joy is contagious like that ... 
you give it away but it's still yours.
And it will serve as that beacon of light that we all need
on the darkest of days.
Trust me. I know.

How will you find joy today
so that you can share it with your happy learners 
in your happy class?

And now it's back to work for me as I prepare
for my workshop with Texas Principals in Austin next week.
I'm so grateful to have been invited to present.
If you're at the TEPSA conference, I hope you'll come to my learning session Wednesday morning at 8:30 to learn more about Inspiring perseverance, grit, resilience and a growth mindset.

It would make me happy to see you there.


That Knock On The Door

It was Thursday evening, just before we were to get ready for our Anniversary dinner out, when the doorbell rang. "Are you expecting someone?" I heard my husband ask. It's a funny thing, because people don't just drop by anymore. I feel like they used to, but now they don't. But as I reflect on how I felt when I opened the door and saw our friends from Colorado smiling back at us, boy do I wish we could bring back the knock on the door. Just look at the joy that their surprise visit brought to my heart.

We met when I first moved down to Texas, back in 1985. I'd accepted an offer to chaperone the dance team on a trip to Dallas; as luck would have it, Cynthia was on that trip as a chaperone, too. We connected instantly and before the weekend was over she asked if I would ever consider house sitting. Now that her girls were getting older, she was hoping to go along when David traveled to medical conferences. I'm so thankful that I said I would because they would end up adopting me and becoming a part of my forever family. They moved to Colorado years ago but were in town for our Superintendent's retirement party. So they stopped in to surprise us with birthday and anniversary greetings, to leave a graduation card for Joshua, who is named after Dr. Hearn, and to visit briefly. 

It was a booster shot of fresh air to see them again and it got me to wondering what other formerly-common-but-not-so-much-anymore practices, like that knock on the door, we could revive.

So as we prepare to head to Joshua's graduation,
here's my top five, not in any particular order.

5. Box Socials. You know, when you decorate a shoe box all fancy and take it to a gathering to be auctioned off and you get to eat with the highest bidder. We used to do this in 4-H and it was super fun. Is anyone else still doing Box Socials? 
{Be careful not to raise your hand too high or it'll count as a bid!}

4. Phone calls. Texting has kind of taken over as a major mode of communication. In fact, when the phone rings and it's not a telemarketer, my initial reaction tends to be: What's wrong? I don't' want the phone ringing to be a problem calling. Let's bring back the good old-fashioned phone call just to chat, to connect, to uplift and to update!

3. Patriotism. We would all benefit from getting back to respect and pride for our country and its traditions and core values. President Kennedy had it right when he told us: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. 

2. Pen pals. It seems that hand-written letters to friends, family and pen pals are becoming an lost art form. Let's not let that happen. I love getting real mail. In the mail box. Delivered by our mail carrier. When's the last time you wrote a letter to someone special, just because?

1. Thank-you notes. I was tickled pink when Joshua told me that he needed to take three blank thank-you notes to his English class last week. Could it be that Mrs. Simons was going to teach her seniors how to express their gratitude in a proper thank-you? Sure enough! So I sent along five. And I smiled.

There you have it, five things plus the knock at the door 
that I find myself campaigning for us to bring back. 
To make these promising practices common again. 
To connect us in a different way than social media can and does. 
To give us that special feeling that the Hearns' surprise gave me on Thursday night that still has my soul singing.
Who's with me?

Now I'm off to get ready for graduation.
I can hear the music in my head
and I'm happy for the Class of 2017.
Where are those darn tissues? 




Moving Beyond Trauma

This weekend, we finally rented the movie Sully.

The entire time we were watching it, I kept trying to imagine what it must have been like to be him. Sully. The Captain of that ill-fated flight. A hero to the 155 passengers whose lives he protected when he decided to make that emergency landing on the Hudson River after a birdstrike took out both engines on his aircraft. I couldn't help but wonder what it must have been like for him to experience that trauma. To survive. And then to have to defend his decisions to do what he had to do. It was very emotional for me to watch and it made me wonder how he is doing now, some eight and a half years down the road. 

It has also made me think a lot about my own trauma recovery.

For the most part, I navigate my new normal well.
The fact that it has been four years now helps.
Time tends to be a huge healer.
But still there are triggers that send me back to the scene of the collision
 on Sunset where I was hit head-on by that drunk driver.

And when trauma responses happen, it can be overwhelming; when the amygdala in the brain doesn't feel safe, it goes into overdrive. Fears are heightened and anxiety tries to take over. The startle responses can be so intense that I'd just as soon stay home as go anywhere. I start to feel so weak and vulnerable that it'd be very easy to retreat, but it's really important to keep moving onward.
 Life-saving even. 

At times like these, the message on a local marquee rings true:

Looking behind keeps us from moving beyond.

Calling on my therapeutic resources moves me forward.
 I can't afford to get stuck in the past. 
I'm not there on Sunset anymore. 
I have recovered. 
I am safe. 

How can you help someone in trauma recovery?

1. Listen to us. To understand, not to reply or advise.
2. Validate our experience. Say things like, "That must have been really scary." not "You're really lucky it wasn't worse."
3. Call and check on us. I was happy for those calls, even if I didn't feel like a visit right now.
4. Drive us to our appointments. That helped me so much!
5. Bring a meal. It will be a welcomed treat to not have to cook.
6. Pray for (and with) us. That brought me peace, comfort and healing.
7. Be sensitive to the anniversary date. That day can be difficult.
8. Send us an uplifting text or email. Trauma survivors heal from those booster shots of inspiration, joy and love.
9. Offer to walk with us. It's important for us to get outdoors for some Vitamin D periodically. That's easier to do with a friend.
10. Invite us out. Start small; maybe just a jaunt for a cup of coffee or some dessert. Every baby step matters.  
Thank you, Captain Sullenberger, for your courageous example;
I pray that you have moved beyond well.

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