The Power of Restorative Conversations
Student gets upset.
Teacher kicks student out of the classroom.
Student receives disciplinary action from the teacher.
Student enters the classroom the next day and the cycle repeats itself all over again.
This incident is typical in schools across America, and for students of color and males, in particular, the percentage of disciplinary incidents is often higher.
When I’m working in schools across the country, I encounter teachers who struggle with student behavior on a daily basis. In many instances, the constant struggle occurs with the same set of students. Teachers feel disrespected, powerless, frustrated, and…. hopeless.
I worked with a teacher recently who decided to take a different approach. After receiving coaching, he discovered that he didn’t know why one particular student refused to follow his directions. The teacher was frustrated and wanted a simple solution. I encouraged this teacher to take the “restorative conversation” approach. What the teacher discovered afterward was profound: having a restorative conversation with his student provided an opportunity to view the student with a different lens. After peeling back the layers, the teacher had a greater understanding of what the student was really going through in his life. The teacher also discovered that he didn’t have a relationship with this student…at all. What happened after the restorative conversation was transformational. The student began to come to class on time and participate in all instructional activities. The student actually became the teacher’s biggest ally and encouraged other students to follow the expectations set for the classroom.
What I know for sure is that students don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.
One of the most powerful ways that teachers can build relationships with students is by having restorative conversations. Restorative conversations allow the teacher to demonstrate empathy, teach children how to resolve conflict, and most importantly, allow students to have a voice. It’s an opportunity for both the teacher and student to express their feelings about what’s going on in the classroom while setting high expectations. When we do so, we actually humanize ourselves in the eyes of students. They begin to see us beyond the “teacher standing in front of them”.
Here are the important elements to have in a restorative conversation:
- Send a strong message of care to the student.
- Give the student an opportunity to say “what happened”/give the student a voice
- Communicate to the student how it made you feel
- Reiterate your high expectations
- Create a plan together that sets both the teacher and student up for success
Restorative conversations can be done in a few minutes. When do we do this?
- When a student is upset,
- When a student chooses a consequence, or;
- If we lose our temper.
Students are willing and motivated to learn from teachers who care about them, who demonstrate empathy and transparency and provide predictability, structure, and consistency. Most importantly, teachers are able to build positive life-altering relationships with students. Implementing this practice, if we are intentional and take the time to do it, sets us on a path to transform schools.
The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians, and Administrators by: Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel, Ted Wachtel
The Teacher’s Guide to Restorative Classroom Discipline: by Luanna H. (Hazel) Meyer, William John (Ian) M. (Martin) Evans
by Vynesha Johnson, CT3 Associate
For further reading, visit these posts:
- Punishment or Restorative Practices: The Only Two Choices in School Climate?
- How do you turn around a class that you’ve let get out of control?
- Truth or Consequence: A Road Map to Success
- Childhood trauma often leads to behavioral and academic issues. How can we help?
Our self-paced online course on classroom management, student engagement, and building life-altering relationships with students is taken by thousands of educators per year. What are you waiting for? Click here to learn more and get access to 6-8 hours of content, classroom resources, and hundreds of videos, including examples of restorative conversations with real students.