FROM THE VIEW OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS
Liana Thompson, M.Ed.
Lynn Abbey, M.Ed.
For the past 9 years, my training partner Lynn and I have been sharing Tribes in our school district in southern Ontario, Canada. Over these years we’ve trained hundreds of staff members in the Tribes process, with the goal of transforming schools and school culture into positive, safe, caring learning spaces for all.
During each training, we have been thrilled to see how effectively the Community Circle works to increase inclusion, promote positive influence, and build communities of learners, all within a safe and inclusive context. The Community Circle is often one of the first strategies participants introduce in their own classrooms, and they report that this simple act is changing their classrooms. During reflection, participants have shared their excitement about using the community circle to debrief about student feelings and to tell us how they have extended the use of the circle through curriculum topics and for other learning opportunities. Certainly, the development of community is palpable for us during our trainings as teachers become more comfortable and open in the circle setting, sharing and reflecting as guided by both the training plan and their own needs and interests.
As we train staff members, we have focused on the value of Tribes as a method of improving student engagement, especially in the areas of behaviour and collaboration. As we have worked through the conflict resolution and problem solving models outlined in the manual, we have encountered questions from participants asking that we take the strategies deeper. Beginning with the Stop the Action / Reflection Cycle, we have helped participants see the difference between what we want to see happening and what actually happens with student behaviours in the classroom. Always seeking to work within the affective, we began to recognize that the models described by Tribes also fit hand in hand with other practices for building a community.
Several years ago, Lynn and I were provided the opportunity to be trained in Restorative Practices and Restorative Circles in schools (http://canada.iirp.edu/). This training brought me many “ah ha” moments that connected to my practice as a Tribes educator. Lynn and I started to consider the ways the Restorative Questions and Circles we learned about in the Restorative Practices training could help us take the Tribes models deeper, as our participants had asked.
The texts used for the Restorative training helped us see why these practices are important and how they connect to the communities we strive to build through Tribes: The term “restorative practices” was derived from a significant development in the criminal justice field called “restorative justice”. Rather than simply punishing offenders, restorative justice holds offenders accountable for their crimes by involving them in face-to-face encounters with the people they have harmed. Research in restorative justice has revealed very positive outcomes for victims and offenders alike, including reduction in reoffending… Simply put, to be “restorative” means to believe that decisions are best made and conflicts are best resolved by those most directly involved in them. The restorative practices movement seeks to develop good relationships and restore a sense of community in a disconnected world.” (pg 7)
Reflection questions used to consolidate and extend learning after Tribes Strategies are similar in structure to Restorative Questions. Restorative questions “may also be called affective questions, because they get people talking about their feelings to one another” (pg 12). They can also have a similar effect on students as Tribes Personal Reflection Questions, as they prompt the learner to think and reflect on the situation at hand, and how it has or can impact them emotionally as well as cognitively. In our work with parents and students, Lynn and I rely on melding Tribes and Restorative practices, first building inclusion, and then using the Restorative Questions to influence understanding and cause/effect relationships in our students. Asking the Restorative Questions as reflection questions can be very helpful follow-up to strategies like Client / Consultant as well as helping the pelican to soar over Conflict Resolution or Stop the Action.
We often refer to Conduction Restorative Circles rather than using I-Messages to deliver affective statements. We have found that while I-Messages can be very powerful for younger students, older students frequently use them to mask “You” statements whereas the restorative questions force participants in the process to go deeper with affective thoughts and responses. We find these especially helpful in smaller group settings, and often use them in our offices to help students work through group conflicts as well as individual behaviours that do not honour the Community Agreements.
Additional examples of Tribes proactive circles that build in components of Restorative Circles include: Community Circle, Now I Am, Zoo Stories, Mirror Mirror, Spider Web, Five Tribles, Client-Consultant, Suggestion Circle. Indeed, the Restorative Questions function well as collaborative and content reflective questions to debrief many Tribes strategies.
It has been wonderful to extend our work as Tribes educators with additional support from Restorative Practices. We see many intersections that can only serve to enhance the communities we strive to build, both in our trainings and our school communities.
Additional information can be found in the following resources:
Costello, Bob, Wachtel, Joshua and Wachtel, Ted. The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators: Building a culture of community in schools. Pg 7, International Institute for Restorative Practices, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA, 2009
Costello, Bob, Wachtel, Joshua and Wachtel, Ted. Restorative Circles in Schools: Building Community and enhancing learning, a practical guide for educators. Pg 12, International Institute for Restorative Practices, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA, 2010
Liana Thompson, M.Ed.
Liana is a Certified Tribes TLC Trainer and elementary school administrator who is proud to run a Tribes school that incorporates Restorative Practice in its progressive discipline model. She was the district’s Program Coordinator for Special Education, and has also chaired the Equity and Inclusive Education Committee. Through this work Liana is able to support and promote the expansion of both Tribes and Restorative Practice in schools across the system.
Lynn Abbey, M.Ed.
Lynn is a Certified Tribes TLC Trainer and secondary school administrator. She has been working the Tribes process since 2004. Having run Tribes classrooms and trained many teachers in her district over the years, Lynn uses the Community Agreements daily in her work with students in the school office.