(Re)orientation – field notes from teachers, students, administrators, & parents
By Paul Kim
As school communities work to reconnect people and enhance their collective wellbeing as well as the teaching and learning they are engaged in, they should do so with a clear sense of purpose knowing that gathering changes people à la Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.”
To help school communities design with purpose as they gather together again, we might consider applying lessons from other effective practices in our schools and remind leaders of what is needed most right now, which is not an urgent return to “normal.” Instead, school communities should dedicate time and space at the beginning of reopening to gather in groups, large and small, and give people permission to be vulnerable and spend meaningful time in safe spaces. This will help reorient the community.
To do this, here are some “field notes” to inform reopening processes:
Restorative practices “can dramatically improve the school climate and strengthen the social and emotional skills of young people and adults.” Although I have changed the context of this statement from punitive discipline to the reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era, the value of the practices remains.
Bringing Restorative Practices to Your School: 6 lessons learned from … a community-oriented, restorative approach by Laura McClure October 10, 2016
1. Restorative approaches are all about building community and strengthening relationships… Schools can foster this sense of community through daily or weekly circles, in advisory, or in any class — provided teachers get the support needed to facilitate the practices. Circles help participants better understand each other, engendering a sense of empathy and connection… Adults can also have their own circles, creating a safe place where they too can connect and explore challenges.
2. Circles are powerful, if you respect the process. Circles borrow traditions from indigenous peoples: You sit in a circle around an object that has meaning for the group. You pass a talking piece, and everyone must wait till the talking piece comes to them before speaking — including the facilitator.
3. Circles can be strengthened by a curriculum that sequentially builds skills. The circle naturally asks participants to use social and emotional skills that they may not have fully developed, including active listening, handling strong emotions, and respecting differences. A sequenced curriculum can guide circle keepers in gradually building these skills.
4. When problems do occur, you have an array of restorative responses to choose from. Circle provides a foundation that can both prevent problems and help handle them when they arise.
5. Everyone needs to be part of the gradual shift. Using restorative processes takes skill. It’s best if a regular member of the school staff can serve as the restorative practices specialist/coordinator.
6. It takes a dedicated principal and school-wide planning.
Possible prompts for circles – create meaningful opportunities to gather and share:
1. What is something that if I knew it about your experience during COVID-19, would help me be a better teacher for you?
2. What is something that if I knew it about your experience during COVID-19, would help me be a better classmate for you?
3. What is something that if I knew it about you r experience during COVID-19, would help me be a better support for you?
In September 2017, Jennifer Gonzalez posted a piece titled “What Teachers Want You To Know: A Note to School Administrators” on her Cult of Pedagogy blog. In it, she lists 5 actions that teachers wish administrators would take to help them become the best teachers they can be for students. Today, as we reestablish ourselves in schools, these potential actions by school leaders may be even more important.
1. TREAT TEACHER TIME AS A PRECIOUS COMMODITY: Drastically reduce meetings. Trust that unstructured time will be used well.
2. DIFFERENTIATE YOUR LEADERSHIP: Address problems on a case-by-case basis. Provide choice.
3. GIVE SPECIFIC FEEDBACK: A quick email with a specific comment can go a LONG way toward making teachers feel seen and appreciated.
4. REGULARLY CHECK IN WITH YOUR EGO: Some of the worst mistakes we make can be traced back to attempts to protect our ego.
5. FIGHT FOR US: By going beyond administering and working to create real change for your teachers and students, you become a leader.
There is a fair amount of research about the positive impact of restorative practices in schools. This is a different application of those practices but their strength will likely also have great value in this context.
Adopt & Adapt
Adopting and adapting this solution should be simple. Restorative practices are used in a variety of schools across the country and have been adapted accordingly. Overall, this solution could be implemented quickly but would need commitment from leadership to dedicate meaningful time to the reorientation process.