Restorative Practices @ MMS

Restorative Practices @ MMS
Posted on 10/13/2021

Restorative Practices at MMS
By:  Kelsey Louder Kirchhoff

  If you walked into a classroom at Mexico Middle School on a Monday afternoon, you would notice something a little different. The class is circled up and passing around a talking piece; each student getting the opportunity to tell the class their favorite food, talk about the importance of respect, or share a random act of kindness they experienced earlier that week. No matter what the topic is, students and teachers are learning a new way to communicate through restorative practices.

Restorative practices is a social science that focuses on how to build and strengthen relationships. In the school setting, restorative practices are used in a variety of ways including character building, mediation, discipline, and social-emotional learning. With all the different strategies that exist in education, why restorative practices? The number one reason is improving school culture. Developing a restorative mindset at MMS means developing a safe space for students and teachers to be vulnerable, make mistakes, and feel supported. The following are some specific strategies we have started to implement at MMS to cultivate this mindset.

Community Building Circles: Every Monday the students circle up and participate in a Community Building Circle during their PAWS class. The class sits in a circle and passes around a talking piece to check-in with each other and discuss a topic related to character development. This circle format teaches empathy, respect, and communication skills. Using the talking piece builds trust and respect, giving each student the opportunity to be heard.

Restorative Conferences: These conferences are mediations led by one of the school counselors. They are used to mediate with two students in conflict or when a student and teacher are struggling with their connection. The goal of a restorative conference is to repair the harm done to a relationship by facilitating open and honest communication between both parties involved.

Mindfulness practice: Teachers and students are encouraged to take a breath and slow down when needed. When the day gets busy or overwhelming a mindfulness break can be just what someone needs to stay on track. Teachers may practice mindfulness with their entire class or encourage a student to take a quick break to refocus.

After three years of implementation, moving into year four, are restorative practices improving relationships and culture at MMS? We think so! Teachers have said community building circles have opened up communication in the classroom. Students are more willing to talk it out, as well as take the time to listen. Students have noticed differences in their peer interactions and teachers feel a stronger sense of community in their classroom. As MMS moves forward with this initiative, we are proud to be Making Minds Stronger through restorative practices!