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3 Restorative Practices for Classroom Conflict

June 29, 2021 / by Marcee Harris

As teachers know, relationships are at the core of any learning environment. After a year of trauma and separation during the pandemic, and despite the exhaustive efforts of amazing educators, many students reported feeling isolated and disengaged from their peers. Looking ahead to the start of a new year, educators should place intentional relationship building at the center. Beginning of the year activities need to prioritize opportunities to get to know peers, help teachers learn more about students, and develop a shared classroom community that feels supportive and safe. All of these efforts ensure that when conflict arises, your students will have solid connections to rely on.  

When inevitable conflicts emerge, those strong relationships will help repair harm and restore connection. Restorative Practices (RP) are great tools to have in your teacher toolbox for managing these inevitable setbacks. The RP framework is based on principles that work to proactively cultivate and sustain powerful relationships.  

“Restorative practices, in essence, replace systems that impose punishment and top-down systems of control on students in favor of a more communal, collaborative system of communication, expectation-setting and accountability.” 

Cory Collins, Toolkit: The Foundations of Restorative Justice  

Through Restorative Practices, schools can: 

  • Strengthen campus communities,  
  • Create a safer, more caring environment, 
  • Prevent bullying and reduce student conflicts, 
  • Reduce suspension and expulsion rates, 
  • Build awareness of the impact of one's actions, 
  • Develop a more effective teaching and learning environment. 

Try these 3 essential Restorative Practices in your classroom to develop a connected community that is able to navigate conflict with ease!

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that helps students learn to calm themselves, focus their attention, and interact with others in a positive way. Mindfulness practices have been found to strengthen developmental processes, increase academic performance, improve social behaviors, and decrease aggression. As educators introduce mindful techniques, students become more aware of how their bodies react to emotions, including anger and hurt feelings. They can work to manage potential conflict before it escalates. The digital resources below can help to encourage mindfulness: 

  • Conflict Escalator Lesson: Students learn to think about how conflicts can go from a small problem to a big conflict depending on how we respond to it. 
  • Meet Your Brain Video Series: Take a tour to meet the regions of your brain and learn more about how they operate! 
  • Go Noodle Flow Video Collection: Access high-quality and engaging mindfulness videos from Go Noodle that will have your students singing, dancing and deep-breathing along with their favorite characters.  
  • ChangetoChill Video Library: This program helps teens become more aware of the things that stress them out and equips them with relevant tools and resources to better manage their emotions. 

2. Restorative Circles

Circles are a versatile tool that can be used both proactively to build connections and reactively to respond to conflicts and problems. The circle process creates space for students to share their stories and perspectives while giving others the opportunity to listen and understand. Circles can also be used to begin and end the day or celebrate students. Watch these restorative circles in action! 

For more information on Restorative Circles and step-by-step lessons to help you begin facilitating restorative circles in your community, download this comprehensive toolkit, Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles developed by the Center for Restorative Process. These Sample Prompting Circle Questions and Closing Circle Suggestions from SFUSD provide some simple ideas to help you get started! 

3. Affective Statements

Language shifts can make a huge impact when working with students to resolve conflict. By teaching affective statements, or feelings statements, students learn to express the reasons for their feelings and what they need to feel better.   

INSTEAD OF... 

“Don’t call your classmates stupid. It’s not very kind.” 

TRY... 

I felt sad that you called David stupid because he is an excellent student and he works very hard. I need you to apologize for what you said and think of some other ways you can manage your frustration if you are mad at your friend.” 

In this scenario, the teacher stated her feelings, without placing blame, and told the student what she needs from the student to repair the harm that was caused. 

Use “I feel…” statements in your classroom to encourage language shifts among students and independent conflict resolution. Download this helpful guide to crafting an affective “I feel” statement. 

For more background and strategies to help facilitate shifts in classroom language, watch these two informative videos focused on Affective Statements. 

Interested in learning more about the power of Restorative Practices? Check out these additional resources! 

If you’re looking for an extended study of Restorative Practices, check out this course from our friends at Learners Edge- 5006: Building Peace Through Restorative Practices in Schools. This course introduces teachers to a holistic approach to classroom management based on the principles of restorative justice in schools. While traditional classroom management often relies on a system of rewards and punishments to encourage positive behavior, restorative practices focus on building healthy relationships, fostering SEL skills, and empowering students to address and correct misbehaviors cooperatively. You’ll build a solid framework to use as you create a climate of warmth and inclusion that respects all people and also holds everyone accountable for being a good citizen. 

This blog was originally published on The Chalk Blog on June 22nd, 2021. It has been republished with permission.

Topics: Professional Learning, Equity, Social Emotional Learning, Supporting Students, Video Playlist, Growth Mindset, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Anti-Bullying

Marcee Harris

Written by Marcee Harris

Marcee Harris is the Evaluation and Curriculum Specialist with Learners Edge. She is a veteran elementary teacher with a passion for engaging teachers in equity conversations and working to transform education through technology. On any given evening you can find Marcee having a dance party in her kitchen with her husband and three kids.

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