IT’S NOT TOO LATE!
Recently, a teacher invited me to observe his classroom to see if I had any suggestions for how to end the year in a better place. After a 90 minute observation, he and I talked for about 30 minutes and came up with specific things to try for the last few weeks of school. I applaud his courage and openness to do something different now – in May.
Teachers, students, administrators and even parents can feel frazzled and out of steam by May. It has been a long haul and a lot still needs to be done. Also, summer break is not a welcome time for all students – and this anxiety can manifest itself in many ways.
However, it is never too late in the semester to dust off our restorative tools and try something new (or old) in order to end on a positive note.
Recently, at a presentation about trauma-informed schools by Karen Simms of Meridian Consulting, I was reminded, once again, that restorative practices combine research and methods from many fields, including neuroscience, trauma, diversity science, organizational studies, culturally responsive teaching, leadership and effective communication. This is why high fidelity restorative approaches can transform classrooms and buildings over time.
With that in mind, here are SIX REMINDERS to help end the semester on a better note:
1. TRY FOCUSING ON CLASSROOM VALUES RATHER THAN RULES
As I talked about in my last newsletter, values (just like ethics and morals) are more powerful human motivators than rules.
“People who want to kick [a] habit for reasons that are aligned with their personal values will change their behavior faster than people who are doing it for external reasons such as pressure from others,” says Elliot Berkman, Ph.D. Director, Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon.
Rules and policies come and go. Today the dress code says no hats. Tomorrow it says hats are ok. However, values like kindness, lifting each other up, dignity, compassion, creativity, gratitude, support, and growth are universal – – and timeless.
May is a great time to review the positive messages on your walls and doors – and make a whole-class commitment – for the rest of the school year – to work on our values.
Examples of this, used by real teachers, are below.
2. TRY ASKING KIDS FOR WHAT YOU WANT RATHER THAN WHAT YOU DON’T
This is a small shift, which can have powerful effects. Studies have shown that people are more successful at shifting behavior when they can focus on what to do rather than what to avoid. Doing this in a calm manner without rancor also creates clear expectations and minimizes confusion, guilt, fear or defensiveness – which will all interfere with learning. If you can remember, include yourself in the reminders – as we are all working on our patience, gratitude, etc.
3. TRY VALIDATING POSITIVE WORDS AND ACTIONS RELATED TO CLASSROOM VALUES – EVEN IF KIDS ARE “OFF TASK”.
This idea builds on the power of internal motivation created by shared values – and supports the idea that part of being “on task” is living our values. When kids are doing anything that supports classroom values, notice it and make a comment about it out loud to reinforce that this matters to you. If you created class agreements together, or have positive messages posted on your walls, this is a great way to bring attention to them. When you try to re-direct kids using criticism, they are more likely to shut down for the next task. When you remind kids to be their best, it is easier to get re-focused with one’s dignity intact.
4. TRY REDIRECTING NON-CONSTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS WHEN THEY ARE STILL RELATIVELY SMALL
Conflict research shows that we actually need to LOWER our threshold for behaviors that have a negative effect on classroom climate, rather than waiting for the behaviors to escalate past a point of intolerance, when we need to do a more serious intervention. We still want to respond with patience and kindness, but we want to do it sooner. Again, you can use your shared classroom values to your benefit here. This also supports students in learning new skills – without completely doing it for them.
5. TRY VALIDATING HARD FEELINGS AND CHALLENGES AS OPPORTUNITIES
We sometimes worry that if we validate that someone is struggling we excuse their behavior or we lower the standard. Or, we can get into a power struggle about how much of a certain behavior is under a student’s control (choice) versus beyond their control. However, research shows that (a) when people feel accepted, they are more ready to change; and (b) framing something as an opportunity supports a growth mindset.
The following three examples are from teachers talking to students privately in the hallway for a few minutes:
6. TRY GIVING KIDS THE OPPORTUNITY TO PROCESS AND PLAN FOR THE TRANSITION TO SUMMER BREAK
For many of our kids, summer break is the prize at the end of a long journey. It is a time for family, enjoyable activities, summer food and relative freedom. However, there is a subgroup of our kids for whom any breaks from school are a tough time of uncertainty, instability, lack of friends and supportive adults, and hunger. As Karen Simms reminds us, one of the best ways to help kids with this reality is to allow structured activities that help them process and prepare. This may look like a small group conversation or listening circle. It may also look like a writing assignment or other project. It is important to talk about break in a way that includes the reality of all students, without making anyone feel ostracized or different.
“I know many of us are looking forward to the end of the school year, because: no more homework! However, there are many positive things about school that some of us will miss. Fold your paper in half. Now – on one side, make a list of things you will miss about school. On the other side, write down what can help you this summer even though you will miss these things? We will share out loud for those who want to.”
A Circle Example:
At the end of November last year, some teachers and I did a processing circle like this before winter break. Using a talking piece, the students answered:
Students talked openly about “hollering”, “hunger” and “hurt feelings” and were able to quietly support each other.
These kinds of circles or assignments also allow teachers to reach out to school personnel in order to connect kids to summer community resources – and to talk to the class about programs such as free food in the community, without mentioning any names.
As always, please reach out to me via email if you have questions or concerns. It’s never too late to go for a great ending. If you live in the Urbana-Champaign area, it’s also not too late for a classroom observation and private consultation with me.