Better than Carrots and Sticks

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I have been wanting to learn as much as I can about restorative practices and how to implement them in my classroom. This book came highly recommended by many people in my PLN.

Major Take Aways

The authors didn’t waste any time redefining classroom management. Which I was pleased by because I don’t particularly like that term. They refer to classroom management as defined by Cassetta and Sawyer,

about building relationships with students and teaching social skills along with academic skills.

page 2

I fully agree with this definition of classroom management and believe that my relationships with my students are paramount to being a successful teacher. I also believe that students will always mistakes and they are essential that I, as their teacher, help them to learn from those mistakes. Behavior needs to be taught just as academics.

I love that this book talks about the importance of goal setting and reflection to students learning social skills, problem solving, and self regulation. Kids need chances to make choices and learn from those choices.

Restorative practices aren’t mutually exclusive from rigorous content and instruction and they are not a replacement for rules. The book explains that rules need to communicate high expectations, be consistent, and fair. When misbehavior happen or rules are broken, it is in the role of the teacher to figure out what has caused the behavior. Finding the cause of a behavior isn’t excuse making, it’s about finding a way to help the child solve the problem they’re dealing with.

One of the biggest things I learned from this book at the restorative practices are more than circles. Circling up and building community and solving problems are a huge part of it. It also includes adults tone of voice and word choice, conferencing with individual and small groups of students, questioning, teaching students to dialogue about problems and solutions, and relationship building.

It’s extremely important that we separate humans from the unacceptable behavior. Teachers must speak to students with respect and from a place of love. “We have to learn to focus on restitution rather than consequences.” (page 111)

Making it Accessible for Littles

Explicit teaching and patience are skills most early childhood educators need to reach students. Restorative practices means teachers are calm in the face of heightened emotion, teach students ways to problem solve, and help students navigate ways to communicate their big emotions. Littles need this in all areas of their life.

As an early childhood educator one way I can ensure I’m using restorative practices is to help littles gain the language they need to communicate. I name the big feelings they might be having (beyond happy, sad, and mad). Then help them work toward communicating about that feeling by talking more about the situation.

The book recommends teaching students sentence frames to help them learn to communicate problems and emotions. One it recommends that I use often is,

I felt ____ when ____ because ____.

page 88

The Book Study PLN

I read this book along with others around the country with a digital book study I co-facilitate. We discussed the book on twitter and flipgrid weekly. The twitter conversations happened in September – October 2018 on #FlipBookStudy. And you can check out our video conversations here: https://flipgrid.com/carrotssticks. It was great to connect with others while reading this book to see ways they were already implementing restorative practices and new things the will try. I was able to ask questions, bounce ideas, share my ideas, and learn for others!

FAQs on Dropping the Clip Chart

This is my first year without a clip chart of some kind and Life. Is. Grand. I will never go back! I’m going to address some common questions I see float around twitter and some facebook groups I’m in in an effort to reflect on the behavior system shift I made this year.

Why did you drop it?

I dropped it:
because it focused too much on negative behavior
because it’s a public display
because everyone has a bad day
because using it as a consequence doesn’t fit any offense
because it is not how the real world works.

Now, I know what you will say because I said it too:
“Kids can move up or down.”
“They aren’t stuck at the bottom, their choices can move them back up.”
“It’s in the back of the room where no one can see it.”
“My kids like it.”
“The parents like the feedback.”
“It works for me.”

Mainly I dropped it because my kids fixated on it. In their 5-year-old brains, the color they were on at the end of the day mattered way more than something they learned, something that was fun, something new, the friend they played with, or anything else that happened at school. The color they were on defined them.  I realized that school should be full of positive experiences and memorable moments. And a behavior chart is neither a positive experience nor a memorable moment. I realized that the color of their day should not be their identity. I started to care more about their interests and obsessions and started to pick my battles.

What have you tried?

This year is my first year kicking the habit. One thing I know is I’m not turning back. Another thing I know, I have a lot of learning to do. I started the year with brag tags. I passed out laminated cards to my students for their positive choices. I tied it to our school PBIS – SOAR (Self-control, Own a positive attitude, Act responsibly, Respect myself others and the community). I passed out brag tags rapid fire to students who were SOARing and used them to mark the positive behaviors I was looking for. I never took the brag tags away for undesirable behavior. But then it hit me… how are these really different than a clip chart? They’re just as public. The kids know who has hundreds and who has 2. It is not how the real world works. I haven’t stopped using them because my kids really like collecting them all. (Yes I know I sound a little contradictory.)

I’ve tried (what I think are) restorative justice circles (I need to do more research). When something happens that warrants a consequence, we meet either as a whole class or small group depending on the action. We discuss what the problem was, what may have caused those choices, and how it makes others feel. Then we talk about what consequences would make sense and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. All parties involved make a promise to be kind and helpful to each other to become better. I have noticed that these conversations have helped my students be more honest about their behavior choices and admit when they did something wrong. They seem to be less worried about getting into trouble because they know the consequence will be fair and from a place of love.

What are you doing differently?

Behavior skills need to be taught just like reading, writing, and math skills. This year I have been more intentional about teaching expectations with clear modeling and students explaining and acting out examples and non-examples so we can label specific behaviors. We make a plan together for our behavior goals and practice how to respond to someone who is not making the right choices. It requires a lot of patience and practice. I have found myself doing a lot less assuming and a lot more question asking. This year, my school adopted a Social Emotional program called Positivity Project. It focuses on teaching students about the 23 character strengths, noticing them in others, and making a plan for how to apply them to their everyday choices. I have found this language so helpful not only during our morning meeting but also in literature discussions and our discussions about behavior.

What mistakes have you made?

It’s easy to fall back into old habits. At first, I caught myself just before telling a student to clip down. I had to learn a new replacement behavior for my responses to student behavior.

I’m loud by nature. I have to be very careful when speaking with a student about their behavior. I don’t want to embarrass them. I have to consciously make the decision to use a soft and even tone when speaking with my students about behavior. I need to model this for them if I expect them to do it for each other.

What are your next steps?

Next, I’m going to research Social Emotional Learning programs. I want to know more about restorative justice and the responsive classroom. If you have resources you love or ideas about these in an early childhood setting, I would LOVE to hear about it!