How Restorative Circles Create a Safe Environment for Students and Staff

How Restorative Circles Create a Safe Environment for Students and Staff

Every time a student gets suspended, that's time out of your class where they could be receiving valuable instruction. Every time a student gets in trouble in your class, it disrupts the learning environment. Every time you write a discipline referral or a detention, the discipline data goes up and suspension rates rise. These statistics can become overwhelming. Especially when there is pressure to keep those numbers at bay.  Restorative circles can help reduce the discipline data, keep students in your classroom, as well as support their social emotional learning and well-being.


Mindset Shift

Prior to implementing restorative circles, there needs to be a shift in mindset. Typically, the school discipline model is punishment oriented versus a restorative mindset. You see, when a student gets in trouble, more than likely there is a consequence, such as detention, phone call home, suspension, or back in the day a trip to the principal's office.  Misbehaving students often find themselves expelled or out of school for an extended period of time. This can cause long term issues, socially, academically, and emotionally.  Implementing restorative circles will foster a new mindset that helps with repairing and restoring relationships after a problem behavior arises. This helps students stay connected to the school community in a positive manner as well as creating a safe environment for all.

Form a Circle

According to the International Institute for Restorative Practices, “The aim of restorative practices is to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships.”  The restorative circle is a starting point to building relationships between students and staff while developing an inclusive community. It’s important to encourage student participation, set the norms for the circle, and create an equal opportunity for everyone in the circle to speak.  Empower your students by letting them create the rituals and routines for the circle.
Examples of norms could include:
       Everyone must participate
       Only one person speaks at a time
       Be respectful

In the Circle

Within the circle, the teacher presents a thought provoking question, a talking piece that is passed around,  and an encouraging space for engagement. A talking piece could be something as simple as a pencil, or something sentimental. The circle can be done in homeroom, it can be done at the beginning of class, or it can be done at any point when a conflict arises. The most important thing is to be consistent, implement it with fidelity to build a safe community within your classroom environment.

Building Positive School Climate

            In addition to circles within your class, you can use circles to restore conflicts that arise within the school day. For example if two students have a disagreement, you can have a circle with the two students and their teacher or trusted staff member. Communication is key as you work towards a resolution. This does not mean that the students won’t face discipline according to the school handbook, but in many situations, if they participate in a circle, their consequences may be less severe. The goal is for the students to understand their peers point of view, they don’t have to agree, but they have to come to an understanding, learn to respect the other side and learn how to handle a conflict with communication. Restorative circles help to create a positive school environment by restoring broken relationships.

Lifelong Lessons

Not all relationships can be restored, but teaching students how to communicate effectively, respect another point of view, empathize, and teach problem solving will not only create a safe space for your students but these lessons go beyond the walls of school

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