"We learned about gratitude and humility - that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors that kept our school clean...and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect."
— Former First Lady Michelle Obama
The modern system of education is based on a centuries-old, dehumanizing industrial model. As a counter to this lies the philosophy of restorative justice. Restorative justice is an ideology which asserts that all members of a community have a responsibility to create and sustain positive relationships which aim to prevent conflicts from occurring, and when they do occur, working to right the harm that was done. Restorative practices are methods which are employed to bring the restorative justice mindset to life. They are a way to re-imagine schools as places where relationships must be nurtured so meaningful teaching and learning can flourish. Restorative practices empower the school community, foster mutually respectful relationships, and promote a sense of accountability among students and adults.
Step 1: Hook -- Creating a Talking Circle (5 minutes)
To engage your students in a restorative practice, have them sit in a circle (or align desks in a circle) and ask them to notice what is different about sitting this way as opposed sitting in rows. After hearing from several students, tell them that this formation promotes equality and respect, regardless of student or teacher status.
Prompt circle dialogue with questions that will help everyone in the classroom form deeper connections with each other. Keep the questions relevant and open-ended, such as "Who do you respect, and why?" or "What would you NOT want to change about your life? Why?" Page 9-15 of this guide will help you to construct a great classroom circle; this video will show you a successful circle in action. You can also incorporate current events, such as a natural disaster or a controversial court case, into your circle discussion and ask if students have any feelings or thoughts about them.
Step 2: Videos and Other Teacher Resources (10 minutes)
As a contemporary angle of a restorative practice, we recommend playing the following video about North Carolina teacher Barry White Jr. for middle school level learners. This video demonstrates the importance of creating a positive classroom environment as well as how a student's desire to learn is strengthened when personal relationships are cultivated between teacher and student.
For high school audiences, play David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” speech to help students understand themselves and their relationships with their peers, adults, neighbors, and the world. You can also have them read the speech here. "This is Water" focuses upon the idea of recognizing everyone as a human being with their own hopes, agendas, and motives, and asks that we move away from typical self-centered thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. It also discusses the importance of thinking and learning how to navigate different situations. It provides a powerful argument for restorative practices, which are based of the importance of empathy and understanding.
Step 3: Common-Core Exercise: Honesty Posters (15 minutes)
To provide a powerful way of connecting your students with each other, consider having them create Honesty Posters, where they are told to "write something about yourself that’s honest.” It is a very powerful way to foster and build relationships between students and between the teacher and students. After students have come up with their honesty statements, ask them to read what they wrote in class and choose two students to give them feedback. After they’ve heard feedback about their writing, they revise it and e-mail it to the teacher. Then you can set up a time to meet with them and take their photo in a way that reflects what they wrote. Then you can marry their writing with their photo, print it, and post a copy in the class and give the student a copy to take home. Here are some examples from a Teach Human Rights teacher's classroom:
For other ideas on how to connect your students with Restorative Practices, we also recommend examining the resources from Alternatives Inc.
Step 4: What Can Students Do? (10 minutes)
Everyone in the school community is an active, responsible party for helping foster a restorative practices approach. There are many things students can do to help make this vision become a reality:
- Find out more about sweatshops, human rights defenders, and curriculum at RFK Human Rights
- Have your class submit a video to the Speak Truth to Power Video Contest about sweatshops
- Learn more about child labor in sweatshops
- Resolution on support to end sweatshop labor.
- Statement about GAP's refusal to sign the accord.
- Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and his response.
- Statement applauding the end to U.S. trade preferences for Bangladesh because of its poor record on workers’ rights.
- New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) offers resources to teach about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
- Find more lessons on sweatshops at Share My Lesson
- Watch aft.org for upcoming events relating to workers' rights, and keep informed at www.facebook.com/AFTunion and www.twitter.com/AFTunion.