The beginning of the year is the ideal time to set out on the path toward “restorative discipline,” a holistic, relational approach to discipline that requires us as educators to be in community with our students.
The first step is to take the time to get know our students, and give them a chance to get to know us as well. This helps us create a welcoming, collaborative environment where students can experience a sense of belonging. Building such a classroom community can help to nip some problematic behaviors in the bud. Then we can go on to build the practices and skills needed to address the underlying reasons for other challenging or harmful behaviors that will test our community sooner or later.
Ask yourself: What is important for you to know about your students? What would you have liked your teachers to have known about you?
Below are some ideas for questions you might consider using early in the year. They can be used in morning meetings, restorative circles, advisory gatherings, or in writing assignments. Discussing questions such as these can provide you with useful information as you get to know your students early on, but also as the year continues, when you need to redirect student behavior, problem solve and/or repair harm.
Questions to consider exploring in the first days of school, and beyond:
- What is the name you'd like to go by?
- What should we know about your name?
Your passions and strengths
- What are you passionate about? Why is that?
- What do you see as your greatest strength?
- Talk about a time you were able to use it. What happened? How did it make you feel?
- How can we best use it in class?
- What else do you want us to know about you (so we can better understand you perhaps)?
- Who are your heroes and why?
- What about them appeals to you?
- How have they influenced your life?
- What is one characteristic you'd like to work on developing/strengthening this year?
What you need from us?
- What are the qualities you look for in a teacher?
- How can I best support/encourage you? How can I best challenge/push you?
- How do you like to be recognized for your efforts?
- What would success at the end of the year look like for you?
- What do you need from us to be successful?
And remember, relationship-building is a two-way street. It’s as important for you to share as it is for your students to do so. In fact, sharing of yourself in meaningful ways, can break the ice, especially early in the year as you set the stage for students to do the same.