Students

We all have a deep need for belonging. This is especially evident among youth. Youth learn a great deal from the interaction they have with their peers in a classroom. This interaction is as varied as the students in the class. It is among their peers that youth will experiment with different routes to navigate issues of isolation, inadequacy and other social struggles. This experimentation does not always result in socially acceptable solutions. Though conflict with others and our self is a part of being human, such student-learned solutions can be harmful to themselves and to their peers.

To proactively engage with this issue, we can offer direct instruction which teaches students to navigate their social world with others harmoniously. Everyone has the capacity to improve upon their social skills so that they are better prepared to deal with the issues that inevitably arise.

To teach social skills, we need to provide a safe space for students to be social. Again a talking circle is ideal for this. All people seek connection with others. We want to be accepted by others for who we are. The first step towards encouraging acceptance in our classrooms is creating a safe space for all students to contribute. Teachers can facilitate circles daily in their classroom as a means to encourage acceptance among peers, despite their differences. When structured properly, a talking circle will allow students to develop positive relationships with their peers.  They will be encouraged to consider and learn to ask themselves the following questions that encourage reconnecting with beliefs about human worth and interconnection before going into circle dialogue:

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  • Am I honouring?
  • Am I measuring?
  • What message am I sending?

In a talking circle, students learn to talk about their specific needs and feelings in order to uncover their motivations and ultimately ways to resolve tension and conflict.

When talking circles are used frequently in the classroom, students are better prepared to utilize them when conflict arises in order to respond to the harm. During a talking circle after harm, instead of discussing wrongdoing, rule breaking and punishment, the circle will answer the following restorative justice questions:circle hands 2

  • What happened?
  • What were/are you thinking?
  • What were/are you feeling?
  • What’s been the hardest thing for you?
  • Who has been impacted? How?
  • What do you need [to do] in order to go on?

This allows those who have caused harm to reflect on and realize why their actions should be changed. Allowing all parties to share their story encourages students to see their peers as worthy and understand the effect their actions have on others. This space can provide justice for those who have been wronged in that their needs are met so that they may be able to fully move on after an instance of harm. This is crucial in issues of bullying which have become commonplace in schools today.

The ideas expressed here are simply beginning ideas for understanding the different relationships we have with our self and others. Relationships are very complex and many of the intricacies that make up our relationships require deep personal reflection to be understood. This can be accomplished through work with restorative justice.

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