By Shannon Berghoff, Jackson R-2 Schools
Whenever I talk to educators about restorative practices and morning meetings, the common frustration I hear is that there are no concrete plans. In this article, I will attempt to give you solid, concrete steps to help scaffold yourself and your students into the amazing world of restorative practices and morning meetings. It will only take 20 minutes of your day dedicated to social emotional learning.
First, a few definitions and clarifications:
• Morning meetings have also been called “morning circles.” While I am a proponent for having these meetings in the morning, they can occur at contrasting times in the day.
• Restorative practices use restorative circles sometimes, but not always. Morning meetings are not always restorative circles.
• While I teach at the elementary level, these practices can and have been used successfully at the secondary level.
Within the first two days of school, our class sits in a circle to define a morning meeting. We outline the protocols and expectations for a meeting, and then practice them. These expectations include use of active listening skills: one person at a time gets to speak and everyone can see everyone one else. The protocols you can define within your own classroom setting. They should address: How do we know when we can speak? How do we ask questions or offer comments? What is appropriate to share, and when is it appropriate to share?
After students feel successful with the expectations of a morning meeting, you are ready for lessons. My lessons always start with emotions. When students can accurately name their emotions, then they have power over them. We use shades of meaning and a color wheel of emotions to help guide this discussion. We discuss how our body feels, what our face looks like and what our internal monologue sounds like. We begin to form the building blocks of empathy for others and understanding “I Feel” statements.
After a few weeks of describing and identifying emotions, our meetings shift to knowing what to do with the emotions we have identified. While emotions are natural, it is our job as teachers to give students the structure to communicate what they are feeling and what they need. I teach my students to use “I Feel” statements to express themselves. The sentence structure is:
“I feel ___________ when you __________ because __________. I need you to _________.”
If a student feels angry, they may say, “I feel frustrated when you cut in line because I was here first. I need you to go to the end of the line.” Students are now empowered to advocate for themselves.
Once we can identify our own emotions, own them and ask for what we need, we begin to shift our focus outside of ourselves. We work to show empathy to others. In a trauma-informed session, I learned that students come to school with various levels of negative effects in their lives. The image on the screen was a cylinder. I thought this image could easily be explained to students. We have a morning meeting that is a visual representation of the “not okay” events a student may be experiencing before arriving each day before entering the school building. Each time I mention a negative event, I pour more liquid into our cylinder. Eventually, the cylinder is full…and the school day has not even started! Students discuss what will happen if someone accidentally bumps into this child, or if they lose a game. We connect how that overflow of liquid could look like an outburst at school. We also discuss how that outburst is not excusable, but it can happen. Students then get their own paper cylinders to fill out each morning to identify how full of negativity they are that day.
The final lesson I teach is about empathy and compassion. We work to understand that they do not have the same definition. Empathy is when we share an emotion and ask for others to share in that emotion with us. Compassion is when we share an emotion and ask others to give us workable solutions.
At this point, we can move into our restorative circles. I use two types of meetings: whole group Town Hall meetings and small, intervening restorative circles. Town Hall meetings involve everyone. Students share how they are feeling, things they are excited about, and things they want help with. Restorative circles are used when a relationship has been broken, and we work together to find a resolution.
They both have common expectations. First, everyone sits in a circle, so everyone is seen. One person talks at a time - we each will get our turn. We also use active listening skills. I am able to successfully facilitate these conversations with the skills we have built up in morning meetings to repair broken relationships and to help our class problem solve when we have a common issue or concern.
While most of the descriptions within this article are brief, it is my hope that it will relieve any fears about morning meetings. These solid, concrete steps will help scaffold you into a successful structure for your first 20 minutes of the day… or whenever you can fit it in!
If you need more information, please check out my webinar on the professional learning page at msta.org, or send an email to email@example.com.