6.18.2017

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! 

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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?












2 comments:

  1. We have also done some work with Restorative Practices at our school. These can be very powerful practices when put in place strategically within our classrooms and school. I think one of the most powerful practices are Morning Meetings or Circles.

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  2. Congratulations on being a top pick of 2017! I remember attending a session at a conference years and years ago about "restorative justice", which sounds similar to "restorative practices". Sounds like a great process and I will be looking into that more this summer. Thanks for the links!

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I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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