What is restorative justice?
As its name implies, restorative justice aims to restore relationships. It moves away from traditional discipline, which responds to an offender with a punishment meted out by an authority from above. By requiring wrongdoers to face their victims, consider the impact of their behaviour, and come up with a way to make amends, it holds them accountable for their actions and gives victims a voice. The focus is on long-term healing for all affected and reintegrating offenders back into the school community. (McCullough, 2007)
How can I practice restorative justice through building positive (trusting and caring) relationships with my students?
Observations of positive relationships within my school:
I was able to observe many meaningful examples of positive relationships being fostered during my pre-internship: student/student, teacher/teacher, and student/teacher.
Below are some examples that helped me better understand the practical nature of building positive relationships:
- One of the Physical Education teachers chose to coach a school basketball team, even though he had no prior experience (and frankly minimal interest) in basketball. Although it was only his second year coaching the team and teaching, they ended up being city champions. The teacher/coach took a risk and invested in his students/team. He told me that basketball is now one of his favourite sports and he absolutely loves coaching the team.
- School staff attending students’ extracurricular activities. For example, many staff members went to watch the basketball team at city championships. When students see staff members taking time out of their evenings to come and support/cheer for them, that goes a long way.
- Teacher presence. I noticed that teachers would be in the gymnasium or classroom prior to students entering the room, so that they could tell them hello or ask them how their day is going. The teachers would also be present in the gymnasium or weightlifting room during breaks and noon hours. Instead of time spent chatting in the staff room, teachers knew where students wanted to be (in the gymnasium), and so they made themselves present in those spaces. Knowing that a teacher is excited and prepared to be there certainly helps to foster positive relationships.
- Teachers sharing personal examples of their life in order to help students resonate with them. Teachers used appropriate and relevant examples that have occurred in their own lives during classroom instruction. Students were very engaged because they were able to catch a glimpse of what their teacher’s life may look like outside of school, and that it may not be so different from their own. When a teacher opens up to students (appropriately and professionally), that tells students that their teacher trusts them and makes their teacher more relatable.
Ways that I endeavoured to live out my inquiry question:
As mentioned above, I was lucky to have had amazing role models that showed me some ways that positive relationships could be fostered. Here are some specific ways that I tried to practice creating positive relationships with my students:
- Learning students’ names early on is HUGE. This was perhaps the most significant factor to creating positive relationships that I practiced. I had many teachers comment to me that it had taken them weeks or months to learn those same students’ names. When I saw a student and used their first name, it helped me to further connect with that student on a deeper level.
- Although some people may shrug off the power of using someone’s first name in conversation, I believe that we tie a great deal of our pride and identity to our name. When a teacher intentionally learns students’ names, this tells the student “They care enough about me to not only learn my name, but to remember it as well.”.
- Ways that I practiced memorizing students names included: having the class list handy at all times for the first week or so, playing a name game as a brain break in the classroom, and having students wait to tell me their name until I practiced saying it.
- Yes, there were times when I accidentally mispronounced or used an incorrect name. However, I apologized and make an extra effort to ensure that did not happen again.
- I never knew the power of a simple “hello” in the hallway or cafeteria. I intentionally would walk the hallway that I knew my students frequented, just to say hello to them and let them know that I wasn’t hiding away in the office or staffroom. In the cafeteria at lunchtime, I would see one of my students in line and ask him which kind of cookie I should try. I tried my very best to include my students’ voices whenever possible and ensure that I was focused on creating positive relationships with them. At the end of the day, I chose to be a teacher not for my own satisfaction, but so that I can be a constant positive mentor to children and youth. And if I can achieve and continue working toward that goal, then I will receive abundant personal and professional satisfaction.
- I attended the basketball team’s city championship game. I sat with some other staff members who were in attendance. One of my students saw me as he was walking by and yelled, “Hi, Ms. Orange!”. That moment will always hold a special reminder to me that students DO notice when their teachers go the extra mile to connect with students not just inside the classroom, but beyond school walls as well. The following week, I congratulated the players on the team that I was lucky enough to call my students. I acknowledged their success and I hope that they felt cared for and valued at that moment.
- While teaching a body image lesson in the classroom, I opened up about a personal story. I remember seeing all students’ eyes on me, none of them talking over me or to their friends – I had their full attention. They even clapped for me after I was finished telling the story. I had clearly resonated with some of them and they seemed to respect that I had trusted them enough to share such a personal story (that meaningfully related to the lesson content).
- During a Physical Education dance lesson, I had my students dance in a dance circle (AKA a “dance off”). I played some pre-selected popular wedding dance songs (e.g., Rasputin, Stayin’ Alive). I also took suggestions from my students, because if they related to the songs in some way, they were more likely to be involved and engaged. During other PE lessons, I asked my students which songs they would like to warm up to. I found that this increased their enjoyment because the music was more relevant to them.
- During a different PE dance lesson, I incorporated the use of basketballs in a dance because I knew that many students in that class enjoyed and/or played basketball. My co-op teacher told me that they seemed to love it! He said that they were very engaged with the dance (I relied heavily on his feedback, as he knows the class better than I did, and sometimes I was so focused on teaching the dance/lesson that it was difficult for me to gauge every student’s interest or engagement). Meaningfully and intentionally including students’ interests into lessons can go a long way when creating positive relationships.
- I earned my students’ respect by being a quiet leader. I did not shout or yell at them. I had an assertive and calm demeanour, waiting until they were all silent rather than yelling over them. I found that this worked well. My students (hopefully) knew that I respected each of them, and that I deserved their respect as well.