By Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., coauthor of The PBIS Team Handbook
Humans are hardwired to connect to one another. We want to be seen and heard. We want to belong to a community that cares for us and to which we, in return, can contribute our talents and skills. Many schools are shifting the paradigm of education from the factory model to one that creates positive learning experiences for our students. Punitive discipline such as detention, suspension, and expulsion, when used with students from preK through high school, does little to effect change for students or schools in the long term. Instead, it can cause a disconnect between students and the school community.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a framework used by many schools to create a safe and effective learning environment for staff, students, and their families. Schools can implement tools and strategies based on the needs of their communities, thinking about what kind of school they want to create. Many schools are also adding restorative practices. This is a framework—a continuum of practices that can be used by schools to improve the quality of students’ lives, create community in schools, and put into practice the soft skills of social-emotional learning.
Like PBIS, the continuum of restorative practices can be based on a three-tiered pyramid model, with each tier of the pyramid representing a level of intervention. Brenda Morrison, director of the Centre for Restorative Justice and assistant professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, created this model to demonstrate how the practices can be used in schools:
- Universal Training: The bottom of the pyramid is for all staff and students. Interventions at this level affirm relationships among students and staff. Social-emotional learning occurs at this stage. Many schools use morning meetings or character education lessons to teach about feelings, emotions, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
- Repairing Relationships: The middle of the pyramid refers to targeted interventions for smaller groups in order to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. These interventions can be facilitated by a staff member and can focus on resolving conflict between students or between students and other staff members. At this stage, a conflict or misunderstanding is kept from becoming a larger concern.
- Rebuilding Relationships: The top of the pyramid is where we address bigger behavioral incidents that may involve bullying or violence. Using a Peace Circle, a trained facilitator brings together the offender, the person who was targeted or hurt, and community members—including parents, social workers, and others—to discuss the harm that was caused by the incident and determine how to repair the harm and make amends. Everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone gets an opportunity to listen to others.
Through restorative practices, students learn to put their emotional literacy into practice. They can discuss how an incident made them feel by using I-statements. For example, instead of saying, “Stop teasing me!” they can say, “I feel sad when you tease me. Please call me by my name.” I-statements can be used by all students. Younger students can identify feelings such as mad, sad, and happy, adding more specific feelings as they get older. Learning how our behavior affects another person helps build empathy. And it is through building empathy that bullying and violent behaviors decrease.
Teachers can also improve (and demonstrate) their emotional literacy by using I-statements with their classes. It is easy to say, “Sit down and be quiet!” in a loud, firm voice. But it turns into a teachable moment when you say, “I feel frustrated when you talk through my lesson. I need you to listen so I know you are getting all the information for the assignment.”
When processing a behavioral incident with a student, staff can ask the following questions:
- What happened?
- What were you thinking about at the time?
- What have your thoughts been since?
- Who has been affected by what you did?
- In what way have they been affected?
- What do you think you need to do to make things right?
This may seem like a lot of questions, but these questions can be asked in a matter of minutes anywhere in a school (playground, lunchroom, classroom, or hallway) once you have developed a relationship with the student. This restorative process helps students see how their actions affect others and allows for problem-solving and making amends. Restorative practices create a school community where people care for one another, allow people to be heard, and offer opportunities to repair damage to relationships. Students also are more invested in the people and the property of a community they feel a part of. Restorative schools see a decrease in property damage as well as a decrease in conflict.
When schools add the framework of restorative practices, especially when it is combined with the framework of PBIS, they are committing themselves to creating an environment of respect and inclusion that is safe, effective, and efficient. Everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone gets a chance to listen to others. We build empathy and we learn about our feelings. We build one another up. We enhance our learning communities and eventually the greater communities where we live and work.
If you are interested in learning more about restorative practices, check out the International Institute for Restorative Practices or Circle Space Services for training opportunities or contact your state department of education for trainings or workshops in your area.
Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., is a teacher and an advocate for students with special needs. During her twenty-plus years in education, Beth has taught in self-contained special education classrooms, implemented and coached PBIS teams, and worked as a behavior specialist. She was also a district program facilitator assisting staff with professional development around social-emotional learning and coaching them in supporting students with emotional-behavioral needs. Recently she has been teaching abroad and implementing PBIS at international schools. Beth loves creating positive paths to behavior change whenever and wherever she can. She presents frequently on social-emotional learning and PBIS in the US and internationally. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Beth Baker is coauthor with Char Ryan of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior
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