How Restorative Circles Are Helping Eagle Rock

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As a part of our ongoing efforts to implement restorative practices into school culture, Eagle Rock’s faculty and staff met on a recent Friday morning to explore incorporating more restorative circles into our campus culture and instruction.

A restorative classroom practice strives to promote community, acceptance and belonging in a safe environment that works at strengthening relationships and repairing harm.

Beverly Manigo from the International Institute for Restorative Practices led a workshop for us that featured reading, discussion, and practical simulations for how we might implement circles.

After reading an excerpt from Restorative Circles in Schools: Building Community and Enhancing Learning by Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel, and Ted Wachtel, the group explored the meaning in using different types of circles. “The circle represents a fundamental change in the relationship between students and authority figures,” the book explains. “It creates a cooperative atmosphere in which students take responsibility for their actions. Students respond because they feel respected and realize that what they say matters.”

While Eagle Rock has used reactive circles for years, our faculty and staff were excited to learn more about circles that are used proactively and during academic classes. With the trimester just starting, some of our House Parents also expressed interest in using proactive circles to build trust and provide a foundation for future conversation.

Several of our faculty members said they already use proactive circles in their classes and are interested in strengthening that practice.

“We use them on Mondays to gauge where the students are and look forward to the week,” said our Public Allies fellow in language and literacy, Jake Sund. “Students express concerns, talk around their metacognitive skills, and discuss what’s working and what’s not.”

Holly Takashima, Sund’s co-teacher and our language and literacy instructional specialist, wants to build on that ritual at the start of the new trimester. “I’m going to use it on the first day of class to get a sense of their experience with the material, assess how they perceive themselves as learners, and hear some of their expectations for the class,” Takashima said.

During our time together, Eagle Rock faculty and staff gathered in small groups to brainstorm potential questions to be used in realistic circle scenarios. For example, groups were given this case study:

Slight tardiness has become a constant problem in class. It is not egregious — students are often only a minute late — but it still affects class.

Participants gathered in circles, thinking of questions they would pose to a hypothetical circle in their classroom. Questions ranged from: “What does your punctuality reflect to others?” to “How does being late affect your classmates?” At the end of the day, all questions were compiled into one document that will be sent out to the community for potential use in actual circles. Both faculty members and the staff said they appreciated the practical implications of the training.

“It provided insight in how restorative circles can be a valuable part of bringing our community together,” said Public Allies fellow in science, Sara Benge.

Berta Guillen, Societies & Cultures instructional specialist, said, “I use Connections and check-ins in my classes already.”. “So my favorite part of the training was how it distinguished what I already do from a restorative practice. When I share with my students the purpose of the circles, and continue the practices I already do, it will strengthen their relationship to one another, the class culture and their academic learning. This is important for our school because I think our classroom cultures directly impact the school culture. Furthermore, it forces us as staff, to begin dialogue about our values, expectations and practices that are hindering us becoming a restorative community. Hopefully, it turns into us taking action on those things.”

For more information about Restorative Circles, please visit the International Institute for Restorative Practice’s website.

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