Community Circle In a Senior Class

Today was day two of restorative justice which saw us in the circles as a participant as well as getting a chance to facilitate.  I found this experience helped me gain the confidence needed to run circles more frequently in my classes.  

I didn’t post this last time but the idea of restorative practice is to ask the right questions that will lead students to understand their actions had implications because they had to think deeper.  The following questions will help get away from the “I don’t know” response students give when we used to ask “why did you do that”.

 
I have used these before without knowledge of the program and have found they do get students to think and they lead to more meaningful steps to solving problems. 

Last year I did complete tribes training which I feel helped me understand the basics of the circle and the need for consistent use so that students saw it as multidimensional.  Those are the two keys to being successful with this practice.  If you don’t build the foundation with the students and have them experience how powerful the circle can be for getting your voice heard, shy students will not gain the confidence needed to share their input into the classroom.  The other part is using it for other purposes so that students start to gain the idea of community and that the circle is for sharing, good and bad.

The major trouble I have seen in the past and even today is the idea that in order to use these circles you need to gain a level of trust with your class.  In a secondary classroom this proves to be more difficult as we only have them for 76 minutes a day, try to implement our rules, and cram curriculum into their head.  This year I have found that I sense a stronger community with my students, and that is why last Thursday I attempted an impromptu circle.

My grade 11 class was upset with their results on the last test.  In order to diffuse the situation and have the students still trust that I had their best interest at heart, I formed a circle.  I explained the rules about no put downs, which is already established day to day, and that you had a right to pass if you weren’t comfortable sharing this time.  I was nervous as I had never facilitated a circle before but knew that this was needed more than new content to keep the class cohesive.  The prompt was the key as I focused on what the class could do better to help them prepare (what I could do) and what they could do/would like to do better in the future.  By making them think about the second part it took away from the blame on me or someone else and made it into a we need to do all these things to make it better.

At the end a couple of students turned and said, this was amazing and appreciated it because it let them voice what they didn’t like and what we could do to make the future tests and assessments better.  Since Thursday I have found that they are doing the things they said they would to better prepare and are appreciating the smaller things I have been doing to meet the needs they set for their success. 

I am happy to have been part of both sessions (tribes and restorative practice) and would recommend one, or both, to any teacher as a way of changing the mentality of the class and as a way to make a group closer, even for 76 minutes.

My next steps are to bring it to my other class and have check ins on Monday and Friday to see how they are feeling in order to help them socially, emotionally, and academically.

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