The SIP Squad is hosting a two-part series on trauma-informed, restorative approaches to building and sustaining conflict positivity in our classrooms and across campus. In Part 2 of the series, we provide tips and suggest language to engage students in routine, nonthreatening “temperature checks” and for difficult conversations when conflict arises. The theory for implementing restorative practices on college campuses is presented in SIP 15.6 Consider a Restorative Approach to a Conflict Positive Classroom – Part 1.
Take a SIP of this: using restorative practices in the classroom
Using the restorative philosophy proactively to build relationships in the classroom aids in being able to use restorative practices responsively to conflict. Restorative practices approach conflict and student behavioral situations with active accountability, encouraging those responsible for harm to acknowledge the harms they created or contributed to and then take steps to repair the harm in intentional, responsible ways. Those responsible for and impacted by harm speak their truths, sharing their perspective on the situation, and share their needs as the harm is being addressed and healed.
- RJ places decision-making in the hands of the people most closely involved in the incident. RJ practitioners provide support and facilitation.
- The orientation is toward responsibility rather than punishment. Explores impacts with stakeholders, makes the situation real, increases ownership and encourages follow-through.
- The problem, rather than the person, is put in the center of the circle.
Rebuilding Trust (Through Relationships)
- Rebuilding relationships with the goal of stability in the community.
From “The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges and Universities” (David Karp, 2019)
If you have five minutes
Starting on the proactive end of the spectrum, building relationships with and among your students has a number of benefits. Creating nonjudgmental opportunities to use check-in and check-out questions in each class can help the instructor gauge how students are showing up to class and can offer insights into the learning that occurred during the class. In addition, embedding check-in and check-out circles daily or regularly models to students that they are expected and encouraged to participate from the start.
These can be focused on the class content or more general engagement/well-being questions.
- In one word/one sentence, what describes how you feel about the reading for today’s class?
- What questions linger for you from the last class?
- What is an accomplishment you’ve recently experienced?
- What brings you energy for today’s class?
- Share a takeaway or insight from the lecture/class today.
- What has been a high and a low from the workshop/project?
- What is one thing you can do to be successful on the upcoming exam, test, paper or assessment?
- What are you looking forward to right now?
While check-in and check-out questions can be a great way to take a temperature check, they also provide space for students to build a sense of belonging in the classroom, making discussion more meaningful, creating deeper connections to the material and making it more comfortable to seek help from their instructor. Additionally, when conflict does arise, instructors may feel more comfortable having difficult conversations based on the relationships that have already been built within the classroom.
If you have 30 minutes
You can also use a restorative process to build norms or guiding principles in the classroom in which the students and instructor collaboratively craft intentions for how they hope to interact with one another. These agreements encourage shared ownership in the classroom environment. Norms are, at their core, accountability tools that can help create a brave space for discussion where relationships are top-of-mind. Norms can be used on a regular basis: as part of check-in/check-out circles, to ground the class at the beginning of a classroom discussion or if the dialogue starts to become unproductive.
Guiding questions to create norms include:
- What type of environment helps you learn and engage in the material?
- What drives you to pursue your education?
- What will help you succeed in the class assignments and discussions?
Addressing conflict or wrongdoing
Having to respond to intensifying email communications or preparing for a conversation about academic-integrity concerns with a student is not easy. Having a restorative conversation can help reduce the intensity of these interactions. Using restorative questions can help you reframe a conversation to address the behavior, not the person.
See the example below for a conversation on academic-integrity issues:
- Starting the conversation: Check in on how the student is doing. Share the purpose of the conversation. “How are things going with school this semester?” “I want to touch base about the latest paper and some problematic copy/paste that I observed.”
- Ask questions to get their perspective: Use open-ended questions to get more information. “Can you share more about your writing process?” “What were you thinking about when using these sources?” “What else did you have going on when working on this assignment?” “It sounds like you had a difficult couple of weeks. How did that impact you in this class?”
- Share and invite conversation about the impact: Use the conversation as an opportunity for learning by asking about impacts and sharing from your own teaching philosophy. “Now that we discussed that this is plagiarism, what do you know about the potential consequences?” “How does plagiarism take away from your learning?” “How do you think this could affect you in the field?” “What do you know about how these situations impact instructors?” “I am concerned when I see copy/paste because _________.”
- Address needs and create a plan: Once the issue has been identified, create a plan with the student that focuses on growth and the future. “What do you need to learn or do to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?” “What supports do you need to be successful in the future?” “What can you do differently next time?” “Based on our conversation, you plan to _________ and I will also ___________.” “Let’s connect again to see how things are going.”
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of using restorative practices in the classroom:
Check out these resources at Metropolitan State University of Denver:
- See what is happening with the Restorative Justice Coalition at MSU Denver.
- Helpful videos, resources and faculty FAQs on Having Difficult Conversations on Academic Integrity with students from the MSU Denver Dean of Students Office.
- The Writing Center can support you in using restorative-justice principles in responding to student plagiarism.
- Related SIPs on building a class community with trauma-informed inclusivity: SIP 12.3: Building Community Online, SIP 13.5 Trauma-Responsive Teaching, SIP 7.3 Leading Difficult Discussions in Class and Online, SIP 4.4 Managing Feelings of Frustration toward Students.
- SIPs on teaching plagiarism and citation: SIP 13.10 Accessible Methods for Teaching Citation (April 1, 2021) and SIP 13.7 Teaching about Plagiarism and Source Use (March 4, 2021).
For further information on restorative practices in education theory, look to these books, podcasts, research and projects:
- “A Culture of Care in Education Spaces” podcast with Tom Cavanagh from This Restorative Justice Life
- Castro-Harris, David Ryan Barcega. Amplify RJ, March 2020.
- Collins, Cory. Toolkit: The Foundations of Restorative Justice. Learning for Justice, spring 2021.
- Davis, Fania E. “The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice.” Good Books, 2019
- Karp, David. R. “The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges and Universities.” Good Books, 2015.
- Reiken, Rose. Restoring Students’ Right to Learn: An Alternative to Punitive Discipline. School Discipline, 2022.
- More reading from the University of San Diego Center for Restorative Justice: Research and Theory
Visit the Well at http://sites.msudenver.edu/sips/ for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher–education classroom.