Note from Barbara: Class Meetings and Restorative Practices

Every other Friday, each section gathers for a class meeting – a new routine we started this fall. Each section’s session is led by a pair of teachers (or staff – I co-lead a 6th grade meeting with Cilla). While the format of our meetings may change a bit from time to time, we generally use the structure of a Community Building Circle (click the link for a quick under-two-minute video). These circles are designed to strengthen relationships and help build a culture of trust, belonging, mutual respect, and security. Through the simple act of forming a circle, looking at one another, passing a talking piece, and practicing listening until it’s your turn to speak, we build muscles that help us communicate directly and get to know one another better. Our prompts might range from “What’s your favorite thing to do at home when your homework is finished?” to “How did the last week at school go for you?” to “What do you think we should do about … x y or z?”

Community Building Circles are an essential part of a more comprehensive approach called Restorative Practices, or Restorative Justice, that we at Explorer West have been learning more about and implementing over the last couple of years. I encourage you to read more about Restorative Practices here – an excerpt from a Tool Kit provided by the Finger Lakes School District in New York that I found exceptionally well-written and relevant to approaching this shift. In a nutshell, we are finding that by diving into restorative practices, we can help our students better understand their role in a community and the impact they have on one another so that they are more authentically able to understand and embody Explorer West core values like integrity, and personal and community responsibility. 

Sometimes these meetings are really fun, and we laugh a lot! Sometimes they get serious. Sometimes, students wish they had club time instead or extra study hall. But we are sticking with them and are already seeing positive results. Some examples:

  • Teachers are noticing improved classroom behavior and a stronger sense of connection between students and between students and teachers.
  • The number of disciplinary incidents at Explorer West has decreased dramatically since last year. Students have actively participated in finding solutions and repairing harm when issues have come up.
  • We’ve been able to use the circle format flexibly outside of Class Meetings in ways that have been so helpful. For example, last week, Tara and I facilitated quick circles with the 8th grade (1/4 of the grade at a time) to see how things were going in their new sections and to discover ways to improve school culture. A concrete outcome of those circles: 8th graders are now able to open the gym at lunchtime for basketball and other sports, even when no teachers are available to supervise, and are willing to take responsibility for ensuring that the gym is left clean and organized and that all interested students from all grades can participate. It’s going great so far!

We’d like to invite you, our parents and guardians, to join us for a Community Building Circle on Thursday, March 23, at 7 pm. The circle will be facilitated by Jabali Stewart, who has been consulting with us for the last year and a half and supporting our efforts. We’ll send more details about the circle closer to the date, but we want to give you a chance to share feedback and hear the perspectives of others about meaningful topics for our community. I hope you will join us!