Understanding your quiet kids

Teacher, author, keynote speaker Chrissy Romano Arrabito was the student who always raised her hand first, always had the answer, was eager to share, was well-behaved, and made good grades. She was, from any teacher’s perspective, a well-adjusted child. Little did most, if any, of her teachers realize, Chrissy was a quiet kid–an introvert. She struggled with her emotions constantly. How did her teachers miss this?

Are you misunderstanding your own quiet kids? Find out in this excerpt from Quiet Kids Count: Unleashing the True Potential of Introverts.

Introduction: A Message for Educators

A teacher sits in her rocking chair, her students gathered on the rug. She is reading aloud to the class, stopping to ask questions, and discussing the text. The same three students are the first to raise their hands each time, though other hands begin to pop up one by one. Some students look on, hang back, and just listen while another gazes out the window, appearing oblivious to anything that is happening at the moment.

Which student do you think is the introverted one? I bet most of you would be quick to say the students who are reluctant to respond or the child who appears to be daydreaming. Guess what? Any of those students could be an introvert, as you will soon see.

As a child, my parents would inevitably hear the same thing at every parent-teacher conference—a variation of: “She sure is a spirited one!” or “Participation isn’t an issue for her” or my mother’s personal favorite: “She needs to give others a chance once in a while.” Growing up, I was the student others wished would stop raising her hand and instead give the other kids a chance—and I was considered a robust and engaged student because of it.

Chrissy Romano Arrabito, author of Quiet Kids Count (Times 10, 2019)

Today, I am still the one who sits front and center and is usually the first to volunteer. Those who see me presenting at conferences, giving keynote addresses, and conducting professional development training aren’t surprised at these behaviors. However, most people don’t know that “striking first” is a coping mechanism I developed early on, and have maintained, to manage my anxiety in social situations.

If I made my contribution early on in a discussion, it took a massive weight off my shoulders. I could focus more on the lesson instead of the butterflies in my stomach, my racing heart, or my tapping foot—all telltale signs that the anxiety of possibly being the center of attention, if only for a moment, has taken hold.

To this day, if I want to add to a conversation, I have to do it early or forever hold my peace. Once it’s done, I can sit back, relax, and actually learn.

This “striking first” tactic is one I have been employing since elementary school, and is well-documented by social psychologists. I never complained about the perks that came with it, either. According to Susan Cain, an authority on introversion, “The ideas of people who speak up first in a group tend to carry the most weight.” Since I was responding so quickly, teachers thought I was a diligent student and an active learner. This was not always the case, but perception superseded reality and worked to my benefit.

It wasn’t until I watched “The Power of Introverts,” a TED Talk by Cain, that I began to understand more about who I am and what I am all about. I now know that I am an introvert. Not exactly the classic stereotype of an introvert—who is generally thought to be shy and quiet—but what is known as a “restrained introvert.” This is one of the least-known types of introverts. We take time to warm up in social situations, but do enjoy being around people. “Reserved” is the perfect word to describe introverts like me.

My son is a different story. He is quiet and reflective. He sits back, watches, and listens, never the one to try new things or start a conversation. Christopher has been a textbook example of an introvert since he was born. His temperament began to emerge as a baby and during early childhood. He was more sensitive to stimuli such as loud noises and more cautious when presented with new toys and people. He is what is known as a “social introvert.” He prefers to be alone and keeps his social groups tight and close-knit. Social interaction drains him, and he prefers solitude over time spent with other people.

During holiday celebrations, he is most often found in his room, waiting out the craziness, or more recently at a family wedding, sitting off to the side with his earbuds in, trying to find solace from the high spirits and merriment of the day. Predictably, I now hear the same thing year after year at parent-teacher conferences: “He needs to participate more” and “He’s a smart kid, but I would like to see him add to class discussions.”

My usual response: “Have you tried to find another way for him to contribute other than raising his hand?” My husband and I see a different Christopher. Yes, he is indeed quiet at home. But he surprises us with his quick wit and curious mind when we least expect it. He is always observing and thinking when we don’t realize he is paying attention. As parents, we know that if the right environment is cultivated in school, his teachers and peers will also see what we adore in him.

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Throughout the years, however, few teachers bothered asking why my son was so quiet and hesitant to share his thoughts. It wasn’t until his fourth grade year that a teacher helped him come into his own. What made this teacher special? He took the time to talk with my son and get to know him personally, even though Christopher was quiet. The teacher made an effort to find ways for my son to contribute without being the center of attention. Now my son is in high school, and while he’s still my shy guy, he may raise his hand a few times a year without prompting. Progress!

So why am I sharing our stories? It has to do with you as a fellow educator. Another school year will begin, and a new batch of students will sit before you. No matter what grade level or content you teach, you will have them sitting in your room: the introverts, the quiet kids, and the not-so-quiet-but introverted-just-the-same kids.

They’re not troublemakers, and for the most part, they earn good grades. But these are the kids who tend to fade into the background unnoticed. They are the ones who are so often overlooked, or like me, misunderstood. We are doing a disservice to our introverted students, our quiet kids, by not seeing them for who they truly are.

To be the best teachers we can be, the best leaders of children, we need to understand our quiet kids, teach them, and nurture them. It behooves us to learn how to identify them and support them. We all have these quiet kids in our classrooms, as well as introverted colleagues down the hall or in the room next door.

Use this book as a guide to help you better understand the nature of all types of introverts, allay the many misconceptions, and gain useful tips and strategies for helping them reach their full potential.

Most importantly, use this book to become the best teacher and leader you can be, by working toward the better good for all children—especially your quiet ones.

Look inside Quiet Kids Count now

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What’s the Lead Forward Mission?

What’s the Lead Forward Mission? Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes explains.

Lead Forward Series: Publisher’s Foreword

Encourage, evolve, empower. Mentor, move, motivate. Create, innovate, elevate. Always be listening. Always be learning.

These are the qualities of someone who leads forward. They’re not just my words or those of the educators who write leadership books. The words belong to teachers, principals, parents, superintendents, and other education shareholders. Perhaps they are your words, too.

Some time ago, those in my circle—friends, colleagues, and other professionals—discussed ideas around great leadership and the traits of effective leaders. A recurring theme emerged: forward movement. It may have been that moment, during that chat, that “Lead Forward” became more than just words.

Qualities of forward-thinking and forward-moving leaders turned into strategies. Those strategies created experiences and stories. These stories are told by some of education’s most dedicated foot soldiers—teacher leaders. Like “be excellent on purpose,” a statement Sanée Bell uses often in this book, “teacher leader” is a phrase I use with similar intentionality when discussing the Lead Forward Series.

Lead Forward isn’t about just school district leaders or building principals. It’s about the journey of teacher leaders doing amazing work in many areas that impact the lives of our children daily. Books in this series are written by people in a variety of roles, including teachers, principals, mentors, and others who possess a unique skill set or idea that can make any Lead Forward reader a better leader, no matter what role they play in education or beyond.

Chrissy Romano-Arrabito is a classroom teacher who has a unique understanding of introverted students and adults. She calls them Quiet Kids, and in her Lead Forward book, she explains who they are, where they are, and how you can give them a voice.

Jessica Cabeen steered an all-kindergarten building into regional prominence, before taking that experience to a middle school. In Lead with Grace, she explains the soft skills of leadership from a unique lens that few possess, but anyone can learn to adopt.

Suzy Brooks and Matthew Joseph bring Modern Mentor principles from longtime mentors and mentees. And Sanée Bell shares fascinating stories and powerful strategies that will help you embrace excellence every single day, in this Lead Forward Series flagship book, Be Excellent on Purpose: Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership.

Stories and Strategies

I am proud that part of our mission at Times 10 Publications is to listen to our stakeholders—the people who read our books, listen to our podcasts, engage with our authors on social media, and implement the strategies we share—and give them what they want and what they need. So, we bring you their Stories and Strategies, punctuated by a simple charge at the end of each chapter, called Moving Forward.

Lead Forward Journal

The books in this series are designed to be interactive and we invite you to write on the pages and share your jottings on social media, if you wish. You’ll find a Lead Forward Journal section at the end of each chapter, with guided questions and space to write your thoughts and learnings. As a built-in bonus, the journal pages serve as study guides and supplemental tools for book study groups.

Like the Hack Learning Series, the bedrock of Times 10 Books, Lead Forward brings teacher leaders a simple, but powerful, formula for success. Each chapter contains a variety of stories from the authors—part of their continuing journeys to successful leadership in various spaces. Each story is followed by a Lead Forward Strategy, accompanied by several steps you can use immediately to bring the strategy to your school or classroom. (If you’ve read a Hack Learning book with its What You Can Do Tomorrow section, you’ll recognize the similarity when reading strategies in a Lead Forward book.)

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find the aforementioned Moving Forward section—a brief summation, along with a takeaway or challenge for you, as you return to leading in your own space.

The Lead Forward Series has been years in the making. Our creative team, along with your input, considered many ideas for what these books should look like to provide the highest value, and invested many hours discussing the topics, authors, chapter format, design, and other facets of this series and our mission. You’ll notice that many Lead Forward books have female authors or co-authors. This is by design, as we believe it’s important to amplify the voices of women, often underrepresented in education, in spite of women composing roughly 70 percent of the jobs in the profession.

The Lead Forward Series helps each of us to be the absolute best we can be. These are our Stories and our Strategies. Yours, mine, and all of the teacher leaders who are doing excellent work to teach and shape our kids and our future. Now, let’s Lead Forward.

— Mark Barnes, Teacher Leader and Times 10 Publications Founder

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It’s time to kick the IDK bucket

Students say “I don’t know” all too often, and some teachers call them out for doing so. Now, we can kick the IDK bucket. Connie Hamilton explains in this excerpt from Hacking Questions: 11 Answers That Create a Culture of Inquiry in Your Classroom.

The Problem: Students use “I don’t know” responses as a way out

No matter the reason, IDK answers are a problem in the classroom. Accepting them as responses only magnifies the problem. Students learn that if they wish to avoid effort or risk, the ticket is “I don’t know.”

Sometimes these words are stated explicitly. Other times, they offer dead silence, leaving the teacher wondering what to do next. Wait it out? Move on to someone else? Offer a hint?

What makes this problem even more complex is that we are often unsure of why students are unwilling to take a risk and engage in thought.

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Some are so automatic in their responses that we wonder if they really do not know how to respond, or are just shy, or are actively disengaged. Matching our reaction to the reasoning behind a student’s IDK allows us to react appropriately—and control who is holding that cognitive baton.

The Hack: Kick the IDK bucket

We set ourselves up to kick the IDK bucket by identifying the root cause for the “I don’t know” response. You see, we cannot assume that IDK means the student really does not know something.

Sure, that’s a potential trigger, but it isn’t the only one. Each reason has a different solution.

Creating a classroom where students feel safe about taking risks doesn’t happen without purposeful efforts by the teacher to create the culture.

The careful pairing of problems with counteractions will send the IDK bucket to the graveyard. Picture a cognitive baton. Your key to reducing the number of IDKs in your classroom is to keep the cognitive baton in the student’s possession. The person holding the cognitive baton is the person doing the most mental work.

Why are the students trying to rid themselves of the cognitive baton? One reason is that many students have come to believe that the game of school is about knowing answers. The narrative on this must change.

Students do not have to know the answers. They just cannot be satisfied with not knowing them. In short, IDK should be a rise to action, not an end result. We need to see this as a starting point, rather than a final answer.

There are bound to be underlying reasons why they are unwilling to take a chance. “I don’t know” is safe from the risk of being wrong. It does not require vulnerability. It does not draw the spotlight. No easy, one-size-fits-all answer exists here.

Facing an IDK situation does not trigger one specific formulaic procedure for overcoming it. We have to consider multiple reasons why a student might be avoiding answering or giving a wrong answer.

When students can identify the root cause of their IDK, and find a way around it, they are one step closer to removing the barriers that are delaying their understanding.

Creating a classroom where students feel safe about taking risks doesn’t happen without purposeful efforts by the teacher to create the culture. How we respond to students when they don’t know an answer says a lot about whether we value learning . . . or just the right answer.

Accessing the student’s reasoning for the IDK helps the teacher determine whether the student lacks confidence, was disengaged, has a misconception, or is really lost on a particular concept.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Use a physical object as your cognitive baton. Use a ball, stuffed animal, or actual baton to designate a speaker. I use an actual cognitive baton or a think stick. Having students hold an object when they have the floor provides a visual and kinesthetic reminder that it is their turn to contribute their thoughts.

Be ready with encouraging responses that keep the baton in their hands. If a student gives an IDK, use these prompts to help organize the student’s thinking. Do not dummy down a question or begin to answer it for the student. Keep these IDK bucket-kicker questions prepped and ready:

  • What would you say if you did know?
  • What can you rule out?
  • What are you thinking so far?
  • Think aloud. Let us hear what your brain is processing.
  • Tell us what parts you’re sure of and what parts you’re still working through.
  • What part has you stuck?

Invite students to qualify their thoughts. You can hear a lack of confidence in a student’s words. In these cases, students use IDK to avoid committing to an answer they aren’t sure about. When you suspect a student is reticent to reply, instead of affirming or redirecting the answers, encourage qualifiers like:

  • Right now, I’m thinking . . .
  • Based on the little bit I know currently . . .
  • I might change my mind later, but here’s where I am now . . .
  • I’m still thinking this through . . .
  • I’m not exactly sure, so let me take a shot at it . . .

Seek qualifiers instead of commitments. Perfectionists live within our classroom walls. These students have the most trouble committing to their answers because they are still wrestling with the notion that it is acceptable not to know. These students can be 95-percent confident in their thinking and still offer an IDK in place of taking a risk. An answer for these students is to create a mathematical win-win. Ask them to estimate the likelihood that their response is correct. Encourage them to share their thinking, and leave the door open for it to be wrong by quantifying it.

Allow questions as responses. Rather than demanding an answer, invite students to share questions they have about a question. This gives them a chance to gain clarity and deepen knowledge through effective questioning.

Acknowledge students for their effort, not their answers. Praising learners for correct answers can discourage students from taking risks. Many students use this praise to define themselves. They personalize correct/incorrect answers in a way that supports a fixed mindset that they either are smart or not smart…. Effort, persistence, creative thinking, problem-solving, and reflection are all traits that will serve students long past knowing the answer to question number four.

Learn More

Read the entire hack in Hacking Questions 

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Are Teachers Doing Enough for Gen Alpha?

Are you teaching Generation Alpha with Baby Boomer content? Educators are faced with new challenges from the generation that may live into the 22nd century. How can teachers cope?

Here’s what Michael Fisher and Elizabeth Fisher, authors of Hacking Instructional Design, say about planning for the future, so we can better meet the needs of Gen Alpha.

The Problem: Contemporary Students Aren’t Interested in Traditional Constructs 

Depending on when you open this book for the first time, at least eighteen years have gone by since the beginning of the 21st century. Eight years ago, we saw the ending of Generation Z, those children who were born between 1995 and 2010. They are now in our classrooms and have been for some time. Since 2010, more than thirty million more children have been born, and they represent a brand-new generation: Generation Alpha.

Gen Alpha is also known as the Global Generation or Generation Glass. They will be the most technologically literate generation in all human history. These are the children of Gen Xers and Millennials and they will live into the 22nd century.

What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities.

The problem is that we haven’t let go of the past. These Alphas are already in our classrooms, albeit at younger grade levels, and we’re still working to get where we should have been a decade ago. We are preparing for Generation Alpha while still considering Generation Z’s needs, while using Generation X’s resources, and Baby Boomer’s content.

It boggles our minds when we walk into schools where they tout their readiness for the 21st century. We’re almost 20 years in … and readiness should have happened already!

The Hack: Create an Alpha-Balanced Curriculum

The people in the Alpha Generation, as a function of the world they were born into, are going to have very specific needs. Teachers will need to examine their curricula for opportunities to engage this generation of learners, and this includes all access to everything all the time. No more computer lab Thursdays. No more coming to school just to receive knowledge and information. No more limitations on what if or what’s next.

Gen Alpha will also insist on being entrepreneurial. Think back to the Hack on Context. This is where the rubber meets the road for Gen Alphas. They will want to learn, apply, and create in many learning situations where the creation or the deliverable is relevant to other audiences—and specifically paying audiences. They will want to create content of substance and worth that they can share with the world, not just turn in to the teacher.

Generation Alpha will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.

This generation is perfectly at home online. In fact, even the youngest members are already fluent in a multitude of devices and can search by voice for just about anything they want, from making slime to finding out how to play a new game or discovering the quickest way to clean something up that they don’t want Mom or Dad to find first.

Let us reiterate here: these Gen Alphas don’t need to know how to read to begin searching digital devices. Traditional print literacy is no longer the main literacy entry point. (It’s still super important, though!)

Gen Alphas, while a well-connected generation, will not necessarily have the same social skills as previous generations. They are comfortable and will seek out online interactors—at the expense of physical/live human interactions. Because of this, teachers will need to be cognizant of soft skills like the Habits of Mind, as well as what Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves describe as social and human capital.

The planned curriculum for these students should be in balance with these needs. Teachers need to care about the world their students are currently living in and the world they will graduate into. Knowing the above, in partnership with existing instructional practices, creates a contemporary curriculum that is inclusive of Generation Alpha’s needs and the responsibilities of the teacher.

What we’ve done up until now in education has worked for the majority of students. However, those methods and practices will wane in effectiveness as time moves forward.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

  • Plan for 24/7 access across multiple devices. Teachers will need to be more considerate of skills rather than content. The What is out there already. The How and the Why are still critically important. Devices are a requirement in the classroom, just as paper or pencils or chairs are choice items. Contemporary learners need experiences with all these materials, including different types of devices that allow for different functions: tablets for portability, and laptops and desktops for more powerful research, writing, and product-making. Note that we are not suggesting they should be on the device 24/7, just that those devices must be available when needed. Start planning for a way to make this happen.
  • Plan to create products of value. Teachers will need to consider learning outcomes where students can demonstrate learning in innovative and creative ways. Students will want to create these demonstrations of learning for a much wider audience (see the Hack on Ultima Thule) and perhaps for a chance to make money or a difference.
  • Start collaborating when thinking critically and creatively. Teachers will need to provide opportunities for digital interactions, virtual connections, making, prototyping, gaming, video production, virtual destinations, coding, and more! All of these “hot” activities in education boil down to decisions that children make and the outcomes or consequences of those decisions. These different opportunities invite students to be metacognitive, high-level thinkers who reflect on their decisions and choose more wisely.
  • Plan to teach more soft skills. What this generation can do with technology will be mind-blowing, but many will lack skills like persistence and the ability to manage impulsivities—dispositions that are focal points in the previously mentioned Habits of Mind. With everything available all the time, students develop habits that keep them from exploring and discovering. Alexa and Siri are only going to help students to a point, and then students need to navigate learning, communication, and collaboration in ways that technology is currently eroding in human interactions. Be prepared to help them with these skills so they can move forward into the world purposefully and successfully.

Final Thoughts

Generation Alpha, and by extension, Millennials and Generation Z, will increasingly need to see a high degree of equilibrium between their worlds outside of school and how they interact and learn inside of school.

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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.

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