Schooling, Math, and Restorative Practices

Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs) has been writing lately about the intersection of "teaching to change the world or teaching to reinforce the world as it is." I feel this pushmepullyou all the time. I went into teaching as a subversive act. I know the rules, am a rule follower, and feel the most effective way to invoke change is through a systematic approach. My job is to help students get through the system, but also feel empowered to change the system, and my tool is information. 

I just completed a 2 day training learning the tenets of Restorative Justice and learning how to build community through Circles. (John Golden mentions a few resources, here and @cheesemonkeysf SF )

My take away is that a school that embraces the tenets is setting a tone of community, and responsibility. We want to follow the rules if they are fair and we feel that by abiding them we will be comfortable and safe. If we start with Circles (though I am scared about my ability to be effective at it) all over the school, then the practice of checking in, feeling empowered to speak in front others, being vulnerable, and learning to listen lends itself to a safe classroom environment that enables students to take academic risks in front of each other and a growth mindset that supports, "mistakes will be made,  that is human nature, growth happens when you choose to correct them."

Elizabeth at, shared this gem, that I am making a huge poster of, from her teacher Fred Orr, "My learning to swim drowns no one." I mention this, because this is what I want for my students to honor more than anything else--for themselves and others. And if I am interfering with this process in anyway because my classroom isn't a safe space, then I have failed.  (Glenn said his only rule is, " Your behavior must contribute to the learning of every person in the room, including your own.”) And of course, we have to make it transparent, that we do have the authority to do whatever is necessary or whatever we can at that moment, to keep the classroom safe. Hopefully it doesn't involve removing a member of the community because then he or she loses power on all kinds of levels: they don't get the information to be powerful, they don't get to practice a corrective move after a mistake, and they may have to figure out an annoying way to "save face."

What I learned is that listening and speaking from the heart are skills that students (students of any age that lack these skills) need practice at and words for. This includes more than "I" messages, but non-combative language to ask for a preferred action. (Ex: I feel frustrated when you talk to me when I am trying to find out what the directions are. I would like you to wait until the teacher is finished.) Hopefully you have done enough circles so that the talking student doesn't think the listening student is a freak.)  So we start with fun and easy talking points, "if math were a genre of music, what kind would it be, What is the best thing about being a teenager, what word or words do you always say and what do they mean," (I say Groovy, and it means, "that is cool, I like it") and then go deeper, "What is something you don't like about being a teenager, if you were any age, what age would you be and why, what historical event has made the greatest impact on your life?" When students feel comfortable going deeper, and the teacher has shared as authentically as possible, maybe, hopefully, when you ask for an action from them, they will understand you are not trying to lord power OVER them, that rather, you are giving them the power to change a behavior that is having a negative affect on you or member of the class. 

One of the early activities we did was to establish and agree to values. "Respect, patience, humility, yaddah, yaddah..." were written on the index cards we were given. We went around and spoke our word with a "just enough" reason why we chose the value. The powerful part occurred next--on the back, after the first go round, we were asked to write what action we take that shows the value. Then we went around again. Yup, we hear the words and nod affirmatively that they are valued, and how in the heck do we really know what it means to an individual unless we give them the opportunity to tell us!!! It was very powerful to see "respect," and learn what it means to someone you care about! (How nice it was to reflect on what Respect looks like to me, "Being fully present," btw)

In Circles there is a talking piece. so whomever has the talking piece is the only one speaking the rest are listening, and there is always a center piece, taken after the Native American tradition of imparting knowledge around a camp fire (as I understand the center piece idea). What is lovely about the center piece is the visual reminder of how to grow a community. Here is ours:

One last note, here is my favorite quote from the training, by James Baldwin,

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

How do you grow a community in your classroom?

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1 comment :

  1. Thank you Amy. It is a tough subject, but I value the conversation. If we don't start talking about it now, then we can't help our learners in the future. Thank you!


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