A Better Way: RJ at School (and really anywhere)

There’s no denying that I was frustrated. I asked my 7th grade students repeatedly to choose a book from the shelf and begin reading quietly to themselves. Instead, they were riled up, running around the classroom, shouting at one another, and certainly not reading.

I inhaled and exhaled, asked my students to quiet down, and took advantage of the momentary pause in chaos.

“When you all don’t follow my directions after I’ve asked a few times, it makes me feel like you don’t respect what I’ve asked you to do. I really want us to help one another succeed, and that means we need to get our work done before we can enjoy free time. So now, when I ask you to quiet down and begin your reading, I’d really like you to try doing that the first time I give instructions.”

The word "teach" spelled on lettered diceMy students looked up at me, wide eyed, a bit confused I think, but mindful of what I had just expressed. They could tell that I was hurt by their lack of attention to my instructions, and that I was being honest and serious with them now. Later that day, a couple of my students asked if I was still upset with them. I told them that more than upset, I was disappointed and even a bit hurt, because I felt that respect should go both ways. And that requires them to do their part as well.

My students’ reaction to how I shared my feelings is – I believe – the goal of educating children. I want them to learn that when we are hurt and frustrated, there are ‘better’ ways of sharing those emotions. I want them to internalize that our actions have consequences, both good and bad. I want them to learn that respect and understanding goes both ways in any kind of relationship. In order for these lessons to transpire, as the teacher, I need to model that. Really we all do.

Restorative justice provides a framework for ways in which we can create community and space for adults and children alike to support one another, learn with one another, and grow alongside one another. What we say matters – but how we say it matters even more. Affective statements are simple restorative practices to guide interactions with anyone…even when it’s difficult to remember that there’s a ‘better’ way to react when things get a little out of control.

Here’s an easy template for affective statements:

When you ______, I feel ______. I value _____, so next time I would like you to _______.

Try it sometime whether with students, friends, loved ones or work colleagues. You might find a “better” way  to make room for all of us to find solace, connection and amends.