With the new school year upon us, teachers have the opportunity to reconnect with returning students and forge relationships with new students. In addition to teaching reading, math or science, teachers need to be positive role models and anchors in students’ potentially tumultuous and hectic lives.
Many students list positive relationships with their teachers as the most important contributor to their school success. Similarly, positive relationships with peers buffer against poor school outcomes; students who are well liked by their peers tend to do better than those who are not.
Restorative practices focus on relationship building, both proactively to prevent problems from occurring, and in response to problems with the goal to restore things back to normal. But what specifically can teachers do to build and re-build relationships with their students and among their students? A number of practices have been identified:
• Teach students to become aware of how their behavior makes others feel. To do so, teachers can use affective statements, e.g. “When you raise your hand, I feel respected.”
• Model and teach active listening to show students that their voices are valued and need to be heard in the school community. Ask them about what triggered a certain action, paraphrase their answers to ensure that you understand their meaning, or ask follow-up questions.
• Proactive circles allow teachers and students to check in with each other, share experiences, and get a better understanding of different perspectives. It is important that students are familiar with the circle rules, including honoring confidentiality, allowing everyone to speak, and speaking only one at a time. Circles can focus on a specific topic chosen by the teacher or the students.
• If a student has engaged in inappropriate behavior, teachers can use affective questions to restore their relationship with the student and the student’s relationship to the classroom community. Affective questions, e.g. “What were you thinking at the time?” “What needs to happen to set things right?” encourage students to take responsibility for their actions and repair any harm their actions might have caused.
• Reframing encourages students to change a negative perspective into a positive perspective. A student who tends to focus on “I can’t do anything right!” could be encouraged to think about all the positive contributions he or she is making to the classroom community.
Taken together, these and similar practices can forge important bonds between students and teachers and among peers.
Relationships provide important social capital that students can use to negotiate academic and social challenges they encounter daily. For example, students who have a trusting relationship with their teacher are more likely to ask him or her for help with an assignment, or what to do about another student who they feel is bullying them. The alternatives, such as trying to ignore a problem, waiting until things improve, or trying to take matters into their own hands often make things worse.
School personnel’s interest in restorative practices is increasing. Many school districts across the United States have or are in the process of adopting restorative practices. Below are some useful links to the theoretical foundations of restorative practices, its specific components, and its practical applications. Click on the name of the of the link to go to the web page.