The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 2 of 3

13 Jan

Restorative Questions

As evident from my previous post, I do not use the practices and structures of restorative justice in a traditional sense.  I use the circle as a structure to my class or in a professional setting as a means of management, accountability and community building.

The restorative questions provide similar opportunities for teachers to manage student accountability and to build respect in the classroom.  Youth are uninterested in taking responsibility for their actions because they do not want to be punished.  As a teacher, I am uninterested in being an authoritarian over my students.  I don’t enjoy the parent/child relationship and prefer to empower my students to make positive and responsible choices as an equal to myself and everyone else in the class.  When students understand there is no punishment they are far more open to taking responsibility for their actions and make things right again!

So what are the restorative questions?  In a traditional restorative circle, there are two parts to the process.

1)    The person who caused harm must provide their prospective of what happened and how their part would have effected other people.
2)    The person who was harmed is asked to explain how the events have affected them and what they feel should happen to restore the harm done.

After the incident has been recognized, the person who caused harm would answer the following questions…

1)    What happened?

2)    What were you thinking about at the time?

3)    What have you thought about since?

4)    Who has been affected by what you have done? And in what way?

5)    What do you think you need to do to make things right?

The person who was affected by the harm would answer these questions…

1)    What did you think when you realized what happened?

2)    What impact has this incident had on you and others?

3)    What has been the hardest thing for you?

4)    What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

For the skeptics out there, please keep in mind that there are some very important factors involved in facilitating these questions in any number of situations and environments.

1)    Is the person who caused harm willing to participate? How willing are they to answer the questions?

2)    Those involved must focus on the facts and be true to their own reality and experience of the incident.  It is the responsibility of the facilitator to guide and reassure those participating that honest is not going to result in a punishment, but that we are all working together to restore things back to the way they were.

As a teacher, I find these questions not only help me resolve issues in the classroom but to also understand things about my students that help me to be proactive in the future concerning behaviour issues.  When people first begin practicing restorative questioning, it can be difficult to imagine what the conversation is going to sound like.   A few years ago, I came across an article posted by Julia Steiny that provides and excellent example how restorative questioning can be used in school and what the specific conversation would sound like…

Talking to kids about how their behaviour affects others

http://www.educationnews.org/ednews_today/101258.html

A darling, cocky boy gets kicked out of class and into the suspension room. He has that goofy look of a kid who knows he’s been a jerk, but figures he’ll stonewall the adults by pleading innocence. We’ll call him Manny. He looks to be a young 14.

But instead of just parking him with other “bad” kids for a while, this school is starting to experiment with “restorative practices,” an alternative to traditional punishments like suspension. Research says suspension doesn’t work anyway, because it doesn’t teach social skills. I’m working with the school on “restoring” kids back to the community fold, by asking standard questions that help them think through their behavior. The questions are gold in my opinion. This story is a real-life image of how they can work.

The busy staff member bringing Manny in mentions only that he was yelling out the window. In itself, the offense sounds like something a teacher could handle on the spot, but we don’t know what else might have happened or how chronic this behavior has been.

The first Restorative Question is always: What happened?

Restorative practitioners focus on “what” and not “why.” “Why” invites a lot of useless reasoning and getting into other people’s heads and motives. Observable facts are important and push the kid toward an objective perspective.

Manny insists, “Nothing happened! I saw a friend of mine out the window, so I got up and said hey. Really, Miss! That’s all!” He starts to explain that the teacher was wrong, which kids do. So I cut him off, reminding him that we’re not here to talk about the teacher’s behavior, but his. He shrugs and nods. We move on.

I ask him to take me back a step and describe the scene leading up to yelling out the window.

Nothing was happening. He was in the back of the class chilling with his friends, like always, doing nothing.

Hmmm. I ask about schoolwork. What was he supposed to be doing?

“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” he quickly remembers, “I was doing my schoolwork.”

I love kids. If they’re not yet hardened with antisocial defenses, they’ll just open their mouths and tell you what you need to know.

Okay, I say, you were in class with one eye on your work and another on your friends.

He smiles sheepishly, “Uh, yeah, something like that.”

And then you got up out of your seat and went to the window. “Yeah.” And what did you yell at your friend?

He rolls his eyes like it’s a stupid question and answers something to the effect, “Yo! Alex, up here! Whuzzup?”

I repeat back to him what is now a fairly clear scenario — with no editorial on my part, just the facts. He nods as I talk; I’m getting it. He thinks he’s off the hook. But when I get to him yelling out the window, I actually do yell, which makes him laugh. Still, he confirms my version of the story.

Next Restorative Question: Who else was affected?

“Absolutely no one!” Big surprise. They all say that, too.

Okay, Manny, pretend you’re not yourself, but another kid in the room, one of the ones in the front, doing their work. You’re yelling to Alex, and what happens to that kid?

Manny quickly uploads the image in his mind, and his face drops. He’s stepped out of his narcissism, and while looking back at his behavior he sees for himself what he’s done.

“We-ell. Just for one tiny second, I might glance up to see what was happening. But it would be only …” I cut short his efforts to minimize and ask how many kids were in the class. Probably, like, 20.

Okay, Manny, now pretend you’re the teacher.

Without hesitation he barks, “Okay, okay, I get it! I disrupted class!”

I thank him. Good! That’s honest.

The last Restorative Question I ask is: What would make this right?

This usually has a complex set of answers. The kid doesn’t want to be sent down here again, so we start with how he can avoid this particular hot water in the future. He thinks and umms, but concludes that he could sit in the front of the class, away from the window and away from his friends.

I ask if he really thinks he can commit to that. “Yeah, definitely.” I praise him for a very doable plan.

But, I point out, academic success is far easier when you have good relationships with teachers. Would an apology help? Whoa, no, that he can’t do. We talk a bit, but his heels are in the ground. I let go and count the incident as a big partial win. He’s gratifyingly pensive as I let him switch to doing homework.

Now, anyone, any mom, teacher, neighbor, or older kid could ask those Restorative Questions. Granted, it’s a bit of a skill not to react to the answers except with polite, clarifying questions, to keep the information flowing. But the point is to let the kid see himself in his own answers. Help him think.

Otherwise we’re just letting kids repeat their mistakes, over and over again.

By Julia Steiny

http://www.educationnews.org/ednews_today/101258.html

In my experiences, students do not learn to take responsibility for their actions from punitive consequences.  They become defensive and put themselves in a victim role and often only learn not to get caught the next time.  The restorative questions respect both the situation and experience of the person who causes harm and the person has experienced harm.  It allows both parties to reflect on the events of the incident and express their part in it.  The questions allow the person who caused harm to empathize with those who were harmed and to understand the impact of their actions.  Collaboratively, all parties involved work together to make things right and allow everyone to move forward.

Can you imagine using these questions to help solve problems in your work environment as a teacher or a manager or even as a parent?
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2 Responses to “The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 2 of 3”

  1. angiebirdy September 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    Only problem… some young people sit there, agree with everything while in their head, anger churns and churns. What if Manny had gone to the window for another reason for instance: The teacher assesses that loud construction noise outside is disrupting the class. She closes the windows. It is stiflingly hot in the room. Manny is hot and senses the discomfort of his classmates. He goes and opens the window and sits back down. The teacher goes and shuts the window again. Now both Manny and the teacher are incensed. Manny gets up to shut the window and the teacher orders him to leave it. Manny swears at the teacher. He is sent to the office…. without the teacher. What now?

    • The Idealistic Educator September 3, 2012 at 1:42 am #

      This is the magic of restorative questioning and the importance of teachers and administrators adopting the practices as a means of communication. The questioning and approach to problem solving would more than likely not have resulted in Manny going to the office. A student who chooses not to answer the questions is choosing not to participate, and with many at-risk students they don’t always trust adults and will not trust the process. This means that relationships need to be built.

      In the situation you described above, there is a deeper issue that again if teachers, administrators and students could avoid by adopting restorative thinking. The issue: poor communication skills. In your situation, Manny would never have gone to the office if the teacher simply went to Manny and let him know she wanted to keep the window closed because of the noise outside. Then several things could happen. The teacher should ask why he opened the window right after he closed it… I imagine Manny would say something like, “It’s hot Miss.” At which point the two, or maybe even the entire class could decide as a group how to make everyone feel comfortable.

      Now, if Manny got sent down to the office and the principal is trained in restorative questioning, they are going to ask… what happened? Eventually through questions the principal is going to find out from Manny that the room was hot. At this point the principal would need to work through the questions and come to a conclusion about Manny’s swearing and work out a better way to deal with the problem.

      On the other hand, if Manny had felt able to communicate with his teacher, he would more than likely just told the teacher he was hot when she went to close the window. I read your other comment about working with children and not having to ‘belittle’ them. This is why I believe so strongly in restorative practices. When students feel respected and heard they respond accordingly (for the most part).

      The conversation in the article above is an example of how to frame the questions. Its not going to work out perfectly every time, but I do think that the approach to communicating is more effective than the traditional reprimand and punish.

      Thanks for commenting! This is why I love having a blog, I’m crazy about dialogue and debate!!

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