Throw Out Your Office Referral; Circle Up Instead

Traditional discipline calls for rules and consequences, detentions, suspensions, and other carrots and sticks. Most teachers and school leaders know this ancient system does not work. What’s the answer to poor student behavior and school and class disruption? It may be as simple as inviting students to Circle Up!

In this excerpt from Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility using Restorative Justice, teachers and school leaders Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein explain how the Circle Up restorative practice can help you reimagine school discipline and build a community of learners, filled with students who are always responsible and accountable for their own behaviors.

The Problem: Classroom Issues Aren’t Dealt With in the Classroom

The negative behavior du jour can bring your lesson to a skidding halt and put you in a predicament. You are pressured to address the problem quickly and appropriately, with all eyes on you. The quickest and easiest solution is a referral to the office.

After all, you have a whole class to teach, a new activity to pass out, emails to answer, and daily attendance to take. We all get it. But how can we expect our students to do any better in the classroom if we just remove them when they do something wrong?

When the student returns from his field trip to the office or from in-school suspension, the behavior has been addressed, but the relationship has not. There may still be tension between the student and the teacher or the student and the classmates.

Best of all, circles invite shared power and responsibility.

You haven’t addressed any harm the student might have caused to the class as a whole, and that leaves the classroom climate damaged. The entire class is still sitting on the edge of a knife, and will be distracted by the tension.

The answer? Fix it—within the classroom. And to make sure it sticks, involve the entire class.

The Hack: Circle Up

The first thing that we as teachers need to do is to stop offering students the easy way out through removal from class.

Many school districts maintain a goal of keeping the students in the classroom, where they’re adding to and taking advantage of the learning experience. When kids are in class, we see higher attendance rates, increased test scores, and positive climates.

Give restorative justice to your students today

That goes away the second we send kids to the principal’s office for misbehaving.

Instead of giving them that out, seek new ways of handling bad behavior, including classroom circles. These circles allow you to enforce the classroom expectations without losing one of your community members.

As you might expect, circles are gatherings in which all participants sit in a circular shape facing each other to facilitate open, direct communication. Circles provide a safe and supportive space where everyone can talk freely about sensitive topics, work through differences, and build consensus. Best of all, circles invite shared power and responsibility.

This is a collective investment into building culture.

Circles don’t have to be used only during times of conflict, either. Start your class with a “check-in circle” as a great way to begin the day, and invite students to share their feelings and listen to others.

  • Have all the students sit in a circle.
  • Teachers should include themselves in the circle to signal that they are facilitators and listeners during these gatherings, not authority figures.
  • Start with a check-in question, such as “What’s one interesting thing you read online yesterday?”
  • Add mindfulness exercises to help release tension and build focus on the present moment.
  • Devote at least five minutes to circle time each morning, and gradually expand as students get more comfortable, or decrease the time if you have other items on your agenda that take priority.
  • Always allow students to opt out if they choose. Remember that restorative practices center around respect.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Create a safe place. Students should be able to sit face-to-face in a circle, either at their desks or in free-standing chairs, and should feel safe doing so—and safe in the circle itself. Establish right away that this is a no-judgment zone; there will be no assumptions or subjective statements, and the students can feel physically safe.

Establish expectations. Use a “talking piece” as the identifier for the person who currently holds the floor. This keeps everyone from talking at once. Set strict guidelines for “facts only” talk. Tell students that they can openly discuss issues, but only if they use affirmative “I” statements.

Promote communication. Praise open dialogue and productive conversations, and thank anyone who feels comfortable enough to share. Example: “Wow, that must have been tough to admit in front of everyone that you feel embarrassed coming into class sometimes. Thank you for letting us know. I appreciate you.”

This is a collective investment into building culture. It invites shared power into misbehavior, creating a strong sense of classroom community.

Praise empathy. Praise any student who demonstrates empathy, to help build appreciation for it. When students can recognize emotions, their emotional literacy goes up and this helps them build a circle that cultivates empathy. This also trains students how to use empathy in other situations.

Overcoming Pushback

Circles take away from lesson time. Yes, they do. It’s by far the largest con of holding a circle. The great thing is that you are in charge of when they occur. You can call an audible to get the class back on track, like “ELMO” (Enough, Let’s Move On), or simply pause.

This takes too long. Investment in classroom climates and school cultures doesn’t pay off overnight. The time you put into facilitating a circle is advantageous to your climate, the students, and the number of redirections you will have to do in the future. We normally start the school year using one to two restorative circles per week. By the end of the first quarter, we’ve seen the use of circles go down to one every other week, and then even less.

Isn’t this a collective punishment? This is a collective investment into building culture. It invites shared power into misbehavior, creating a strong sense of classroom community. The classroom community promotes self-responsibility and effective action after a circle takes place. Instead of viewing it as a punishment, frame it as an opportunity for all students to be heard and for behaviors to improve.

This excerpt from Hacking School Discipline is published with permission from Times 10 Publications. 

Learn more

Find 8 more ways to create a culture of empathy and responsibility with restorative justice in Hacking School Discipline, by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein.

Join the discussion

Weigh in on the Circle Up strategy and restorative justice on Twitter at #HackingSchoolDiscipline and on the Hack Learning Ambassadors Facebook Group.

More podcast episodes

Browse the archive and subscribe to the show at HackLearningPodcast.com

Visit the Times 10 Library

Browse our collection of books for teachers and school leaders here.

It’s time to allow the F word in your classroom

When someone asks how your day was, do you say, “it was so satisfying?” Do you exit a roller coaster and exclaim, “That was a very satisfying ride?” When you last dined at a 5-star restaurant, did you tell the server that you just couldn’t wait for a satisfactory meal?

Hopefully, you answered no to all of these questions. Hopefully, your day, your roller coaster ride, and your fine dining experience were wonderful, amazing and, most important, involved the F word — FUN!

For most people, yearning for fun is a basic response to many situations. Shouldn’t this be true in teaching and learning?

The answer seems obvious, but I learned recently that many teachers believe that it’s more important for learning to be satisfying, rather than fun. Witness this Twitter conversation:

The article that inspired the Tweet was by a blogger, suggesting that it’s not important for learning to be fun. If you read the comments on the Tweet linked above, you’ll see that some people agree with the blogger, while others believe academics should be both meaningful and fun. Here’s one example from that Twitter conversation:

Why does school have to be “fun”? So many educators sacrifice learning for activities that are “fun” but that don’t support the instructional core. How about school should be meaningful?

Here’s another tweet from the same thread:

I definitely prefer satisfying as it connotes a long term feeling and memory. Fun is just a split second like a laugh after a joke. Satisfying feeds the soul.

I emphasized more than once that there is rarely a time that learning can’t be both meaningful and fun. Granted, it took me a long time as a classroom teacher to understand this.

When I finally learned that making lessons and assignments fun would entice even the most reluctant learner, everything changed in my classroom, and the F word became the standard in my classroom.

Bring on the F word

Mike Roberts, author of Hacking Classroom Management, is a big fan of the F word. Here’s what he writes about it in his book:

At South Bonneville Jr. High in the mid 1980s, Mrs. Rowberry’s room was the place to be! In the mornings, she would open her classroom early so we could hang out. At lunch, after chowing down our food, we would head to her room and draw pictures on her chalkboard. And during class, well, that’s when things really got interesting.

I remember her telling us stories about her childhood. She also gave us a few minutes each week to share the latest (appropriate) joke we had heard. I think of the times she had her husband come to class and play songs for us on his guitar, and us making up geography lyrics based on some of the most popular songs of the time.

Click cover image and look inside now

And more than anything else, I remember wanting to impress her, because I didn’t want to be the reason that the fun would end. So while it was fun that drew me in, it was my respect for her that kept me in check.

Current high school junior Sydney Young understands the connection that Mrs. Rowberry made with her students, and she sees the benefits that come from weaving fun into the daily curriculum. “Fun related to the material, such as watching a video, hearing jokes, or getting on a tangent all feel like off-task fun, but actually lead me to make new connections, enjoy the material, and spend time processing the information.

“The best classes I’ve had blended the curriculum with a perfect combination of fun and mini-celebrations, and it’s that combination that led me to be successful that class,” Young says. She adds that the value that comes from these experiences runs much deeper than simply gaining a better understanding of the content.

“During these activities and celebrations, I connect with students I might not normally speak with, which increases my confidence about participating in discussions or presenting because I feel as though I am amongst a large group of friends.”

Mrs. Rowberry knew how to use the “F” word in her class, and Sydney sees its benefit from the student perspective as well. Are you willing to add the “F” word to your class?

Podcast Archive

Subscribe to the Hack Learning Podcast here

When Teachers Bash Teachers, Education Suffers

I love connected educators. While I have no hard data to prove this, I believe that educators who tweet, join live Twitter chats, and converse in Facebook, Voxer, and Flipgrid groups are better, in many cases, than teachers and leaders who are not connected.

My experience on all of these platforms is that these connected educators are working very hard to be the best at what they do. They share links to wonderful resources and articles about innovative teaching and learning, and they participate in some inspiring conversations that help me reflect and, in some cases, drive content at Times 10 Books. This is powerful, free professional development.

If you’re not sure of a tweet’s intended meaning, why not simply ask the tweeter what she means?

In spite of all the thought-provoking PD happening on social media, there’s still a problem.

As I observe a mountain of marvelous content on Twitter, I’m also seeing an increase in what looks a lot like subtle bashing of other educators who submit their ideas of “best practice.” I put that phrase in quotation marks, because many EduTweeters can’t agree on what “best practices” are.

This bashing, which some people defend by saying, “I was talking about the idea, not the person” is, surprisingly, prolific, which might make you wonder, How can this happen in the education space? These are adults, after all, who are supposed to model proper behavior for kids.

Someone recently posted the following tweet:

Good teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year. That’s just what they do.

The tweet was liked thousands of times and retweeted over 500 times. I have to assume this indicates that thousands of people agree.

One popular connected educator disagreed, though, and replied to the “Good teachers…” tweet with this:

The rest of us crap teachers will use summer to rest and take a break without feeling guilty about not thinking about work. That’s just what we do.

That comment sparked a furious conversation that included tweets about unfollowing the author of the “Good teachers…” tweet. Others said the author should simply be disregarded for various reasons. Soon, more zingers followed in support of the popular dissenter, all seemingly aimed at disparaging the “Good teachers…” author.

One well-known connected educator defended the “Good teachers…” author, expressing shock at what he believed to be a “mob mentality.” This was swiftly met with the “I didn’t do anything wrong/ he didn’t do anything wrong” defense.

As I continued to read and offer a different perspective with a few tweets of my own, I envisioned a similar scenario in a different venue with different participants.

It looked like this:

A young girl at school was sharing a poster she’d created for a class project. A few kids liked it and said it was beautiful. Some asked the teacher to hang it up, so visitors could see it when they entered the room.

A few students, though, didn’t like the poster; they understood it to mean something entirely different from what the girl had intended.

They felt it made a statement about the kind of kids they were and that it smeared them in some way, even though they never asked the girl to clarify the poster’s message.

They said the girl had created content like this before and that she should be ignored. “Let’s not play with her anymore,” one zealot shouted. “Truth!” one of the popular kids yelled.

Soon, a few other students, who didn’t know the girl at all, heard the commotion and stuck their heads in the room.

They noticed the popular student shouting at the girl, so they joined in. It had to be the right thing to do, if the popular kid thought so. None of them, though, bothered to ask what the girl’s creation meant.

The ridicule continued. The people who liked the girl’s work lost interest, while the others became louder. When the teacher said they should stop, they shrugged and replied, “We didn’t do anything. We’re just talking about the message on the poster.”

Meanwhile, the girl, who had drawn a beautiful picture of three children with lightbulbs over their heads, dropped the poster and hurried out of the room.

One of the students who had wandered into the class picked it up and read a quote under the picture. It said:

Good students will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can be better students next year. That’s just what they do.

Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s try to hack learning every day.

The Power of Unanswerable Questions

Let me begin with full disclosure: Before I learned about Unanswerable Questions in Hacking Mathematics, by Denis Sheeran, I thought just about everything math related was unanswerable. Admittedly, math has always been pretty elusive to me.

After reading about Unanswerable Questions, though, I’m looking at math and pedagogy differently.

Rather than talk around Denis Sheeran’s concept, I thought I’d just share it straight from the mathematician’s mouth–or at least from his book.

From Hacking Mathematics: 10 Problems That Need Solving, with permission from Times 10 Publications

THE PROBLEM: STATISTICS FILL DAILY

LIFE, BUT NOT MATH CLASSROOMS

You’ve just about finished a chapter in your textbook

or unit in your curriculum materials and then

you notice it, right there, staring you in the face. What

is it you see, menacingly staring back at you? The last

section of the chapter: the statistics section, sometimes

called “statistical connections” or “data around us” or

“modeling.” No matter what it’s called, it gets translated

by a lot of math teachers as “Skip me, you don’t have

time.” But don’t jump on the skipping bandwagon.

Find the mean. Find the median. Find the mode. Make

a bar graph or pie graph. What’s the probability of flipping

heads on a coin? Twice? These are the instructions

and questions that encompass the complete statistical

learning many of us received in middle school, mostly

with data sets of five to ten pieces of information. Some

of us who had more adventurous teachers may have even

made graphs of bivariate data and tried to come up with

our own lines of best fit using completely non-statistical

methods by employing our understanding of writing a

linear equation using two points.

 

 

 

 

We live in a different world now, where large data sets

are available instantly and calculation tools can organize

and calculate all we need to know in less time than it takes

to sharpen our pencils. It is no longer useful to spend our

time teaching arithmetic and calling it statistics. In today’s

classroom, the mathematics teacher has the opportunity

and responsibility to create statistical thinkers.

Unanswerable Questions will develop statistical thinkers

in your classroom.

Rather than dwell on the past, let’s look at the present

and the future for most of us. Our standards and materials

spell out the statistical concepts we are to teach. What has

changed for our students is that the standards no longer

ask for students to calculate and find statistical values,

but instead to recognize relationships, understand variability

and its effect, and make predictions based on

interpretation of data. In short, true statistical thinking

is missing. Statistics in today’s schools should be based on

Unanswerable Questions.

THE HACK: ASK UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS

When we ask students to find the mean of the heights of

the twenty-three students in our class, we are asking them

to average numbers together, which is a very easy question

to answer and an even easier question to grade. Instead,

when we ask, “How tall is the seventh grade?” our students

must begin an investigation that takes them much deeper

into statistics. They will discuss how to obtain the necessary

information, devise a plan (one that likely won’t work

or is completely unrealistic), refine that plan, measure each

other, standardize their measurements, find means, graph

information, and maybe even come across the idea of a distribution

of data. That’s all before the teacher even needs to get involved.

Since up to this point in their mathematical education,

most questions have had numerical and final answers, the

desire to answer an unanswerable question will continue

to motivate the students to work and think and collaborate.

Finally, they will come to a point where they are

satisfied with their inexact solution to the problem, therein

revealing the heart of statistics: using what we know to

infer about what we don’t know until more information

comes along and either changes our minds or gives us a

reason to reopen the question. Unanswerable Questions

will develop statistical thinkers in your classroom.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

There’s a reason your textbook or curriculum source

has the stats section where they do. It’s very likely that

it ties into the unit you’re teaching in a deep, meaningful

way. Here’s how to start harnessing the meaning

and inspiring your students to think statistically.

Look at the statistics section first. See what

statistical concepts are connected to the lessons

you’re teaching in this unit, and work

backward. Find an Unanswerable Question

that you can share as you open the chapter,

and refer to the question throughout.

Find claims in the media to discuss. Every

single day, you can find stories in the media

with claims made about a company, a government

office, an auto manufacturer, or a

school. Present students with the opportunity

to debate those claims. It’s likely that in little

time, they’ll need a statistical process to back

up their claims.

Share the unlikely. Lottery winners, survivor

stories, and game show outcomes will foster a

statistical conversation in a hurry. When you

read about them or see statistics in the news,

make note of it and bring it to class to start

those conversations.

Find Unanswerable Questions in sports.

Don’t ask answerable questions, like what

a player’s batting average is now that he’s

struck out three times in a row. Dig deeper

for the Unanswerable Question, like asking if

batting average affects salary in baseball. Or

which baseball stat has the biggest impact on

player salary? Those are tough, if not impossible

to answer.

THE HACK IN ACTION

One of my favorite Unanswerable Questions comes from a

TV commercial that aired during my childhood. It involved

a cow, a fox, a turtle, an owl, and a boy. The Unanswerable

Question: How many licks does it take to get to the center

of a Tootsie Pop?

Show the old commercial to your class—it’s on YouTube.

Then, after fending off questions like, “Why does the

owl eat the lollipop?” and “Is this some kind of fable?”

and “Why isn’t the boy wearing any pants?” you can get

started.

The Answerable Questions:

What are the characteristics of a Tootsie Pop that we

need to take into consideration?

What is a “lick” for the purpose of the experiment?

What needs to be measured, and how?

In sixth grade, students need to be able to recognize that

a statistical question is one that anticipates variability in

the data. While the class is discussing and defining the

components of the Answerable Questions, they will see

that variability exists, even in their definitions, and as such,

will exist in their data. Even when they come to an agreement

on definitions and procedures, they will quickly find

that during the data gathering, different students are following

the procedures differently. This leads them directly

into the next question: What do we do with our data?

Students may have enough mathematical acumen at this

point to be able to make good, if not entirely correct, suggestions

as to what should be done with the data—so let

them. In my experience, by the third or fourth suggestion,

they come up with “Average it all together,” or “List it from

smallest to biggest,” and even “Graph it.” At this point, I

may break the class into teams to complete each of the different

valid suggestions and report back, or I may take one

of the suggestions and run with it, depending on the focus

of our previous and upcoming content instruction.

Click image to learn more

Sixth graders need to be able to describe the distribution

of the data using its overall shape, center, and spread,

and recognize that its center describes all the data at once,

while the spread (variation) describes how all the data is

different from each other. They also need to be able to

display the data on a number line (dotplot or histogram)

and describe the distribution in context.

I expect my sixth graders to be able to say: “After

licking both sides of our own Tootsie Pops until each student

reached the chocolate center, we counted the number

of licks per student on each side. The mean number of

licks was ##. This was more/less than I expected. When

we graphed the data, the distribution was almost symmetrical

except for one point which took many more licks

to get to the center. The median, or middle value, was

less than the mean, and I think that’s because of the large

number of licks it took on one Tootsie Pop. No one licked

more than ## times or less than ## times before reaching

the center.”

Remember, the goal with sixth grade is not to pass the

AP Stats test, but to introduce data-gathering methods,

require correct statistical language, and to develop the

ability to describe sets of data. To extend this to higher

grades, weigh the lollipops first and compare weight and

number of licks as a linear relationship. (There’s a surprise

ending to that one that I won’t divulge). Students

should also discuss whether or not the Tootsie Pops could

be called a “random sample,” and what randomness is

and why it is important.

— end excerpt

Learn more about Unanswerable Questions and other problems that need solving in Hacking Mathematics.

Available on Amazon

Available on Barnes & Noble


More from the Hack Learning Podcast

Video produced by Tootsie Roll, 2012

kid hates school

My Kid Hates School But You Can Help

One social share can immediately impact change. “My kid hates school,” I shared on Twitter and Facebook, and suddenly I had support from people around the world.

Here’s what happened. I tweeted this then shared it on Facebook.

School must get all kids to comply. School must organize large quantities of children, manage them, sort them, quiet them and control them. For a lot of kids it may not be a big deal. For some, it’s like stealing their soul. — Anonymous

Some weighed in by raging against the machine:

One regular commenter in this Facebook group had this initial response:

No, you can’t. You can advocate, you can argue, and you can encourage him in a variety of ways. But you can’t change the school or the teachers–it’s not in your power. You can help him to find satisfaction in other ways/venues and maybe within the school or within certain classes. Teach him to hack his own way, eh?

After all of these incredible comments and suggestions, I kept coming back to the previous quote.

And I wonder, is this right? Is school change out of my control? Is it out of our control?

Or, is it possible that we have all the power, and we only have to choose to exercise it?

At the very least, one expert, New York Times bestselling author Jessica Lahey, believes that we need to keep showing the evidence of what’s best for kids to educators. Here’s what the author of Gift of Failure tweeted:

What You Can Do Tomorrow

  • Talk about best practices: Create discussions on social channels and at your school about best practices. Ask, “How can we eliminate old school methods and replace them with progressive pedagogy that inspires student engagement?”
  • Share stories like this one: Share podcasts, blog posts, and Facebook statuses, in which parents and educators discuss their experiences about kids who hate school and what they’re doing about it.
  • Encourage participation: If a kid hates school, encourage her to join a club, go out for a sport, or try out for the play. The more kids participate in things related to school, the more likely they are to start enjoying it.
  • Be present: Talk to teachers, school leaders, and parents in your own school district–especially where you kids attend school–about making learning fun. Don’t let them tell you it’s not about the fun; that’s a load of crap and simply not true.

So, what’s my final take on all of this? I’ll continue to advocate for my son, and I’ll continue pushing his teachers–and all educators–to be the absolute best they can be.

With your help, I believe we can make a difference.

More hacky stuff

Find the Facebook discussion here.

Share your thoughts on Twitter at the #HackLearning feed here.

Subscribe to the podcast here.