Have you ever been in a teachers professional development session and said, “oh yes!”? Left feeling tingly and swirling with new ideas? It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but I’ve definitely had that feeling...and it’s magic.
It was my first or second year of teaching and I was working in a behavioral and emotional support program. I got the opportunity to go to a teacher professional development Restorative Justice training on the last 2 days of school (kinda weird, but I was ready for a break from my screaming middle schoolers!).
THE WHAT Restorative Justice is a program schools use to support students in positive discipline approaches that lead to repairing harm done, while removing punitive punishments.
I wasn’t really expecting anything specific at the time because I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go, but I was told the training was amazing that restorative justice in schools was definitely aligned with what I was already doing in my classroom.
Once I got there, feeling incredibly awkward because I had no idea where I was going, I stumbled around the building until I found the room. Once I got there, the instructor quickly told us to get in one giant circle.
Now, if you think getting little kids to make a circle is tricky, try getting 25 adults to do it (most of whom have zero desire to be there). Needless to say, we got it together, even if our circle looked more like an amoeba!
As we sat there waiting for the training to start, I was expecting the instructor to tell us all about discipline. Maybe asking us questions about our school policies, or diving right into the restorative side of things. Nope!
WHAT DID WE DO?
The first thing we had to do was introduce ourselves, then form smaller groups and start on the opening exercise. She asked us to think back on our childhoods.
Try to remember one adult from our childhoods that made us feel heard, special, confident, safe, loved, etc.
We were given large chart paper and asked to write the name of this person down in one column. In the next column, we were to write down specific words they used. Recalling their tone of voice, their response when we made a mistake or did something wrong, and their reactions when we were disrespectful.
The next prompt was to compare that person to other adults we interacted with; our teachers, coaches, and parents. Similarities? Differences?
We had to discuss, with strangers, how this one adult impacted us, how they were alike/different from others in our lives.
Finally, we had to compare ourselves to this individual. As an educator, were we treating our students similarly to the individuals we identified as feeling respected by, heard, seen, and loved from our childhoods?
I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I hope you had a little bit of an eyebrow raising moment. I know I sure did.
As absolutely awkward as it was to talk about these things with complete strangers, there was so much power in that simple activity.
As a group we discussed respect. How it is earned, how it is given, to whom it is given and why. We chatted vigorously about listening so others can truly be heard. Finally, we learned, collectively, that trusted adults have a lasting impression on children.
You see, some of us identified a parent or a close relative as their safe adult. Yet, others felt their teacher or their coach gave them this sense of respect.
There were so many incredible moments of learning (and unlearning) in this restorative justice training, but this activity stuck with me the most.
I learned two invaluable lessons:
Reflecting on our past experiences and our actions makes us better teachers.
Respect is earned by showing up consistently and authentically.
That’s what I base my practice on and that’s what I teach in my course, The Trauma Supportive Classroom Method. If we can change the way we teach through this lens, we impact our students today, but we become their reflections in years to come.
Let’s decide how we want our students to remember us and let’s never forget that relationships are stronger than academic output. Let’s bridge the gap and give our students with trauma a relationship they can count on.
Try this activity for yourself and let me know what you come up with! I'd love to hear who you identified and why. Let's chat on Instagram!
If you’d like to dive deeper with me on topics like these and learn how to best support our students with trauma histories, grab my FREE Classroom Trauma Checklist!