Virtual classrooms are not educators’ ideal way of teaching but it is our current reality that many schools must adapt to. Schools that have already been using PBIS and holistic restorative practices in their brick and mortar classrooms are able to use similar strategies to help make their online classrooms a more positive, connected, and thriving classroom.
Setting up and maintaining a restorative culture in a digital format does come with its own unique challenges, however. Students have mainly used the internet at home in casual and social ways in the past so there is a need to learn and understand how the expectations for behavior in an online classroom are different from in person classrooms. Students can be easily distracted by their surroundings in their house, by different games and websites used simultaneously while in the classroom. They might use different filters in the virtual classroom that might be distracting or inappropriate, misuse the chat function, or completely disengage during virtual lessons. Even with these potential barriers to learning, teachers can set up their online virtual classrooms to ensure that students are engaging in positive and respectful ways with each other.
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It’s important to note that restorative practices are not just used when addressing misbehaviors. They should be used across the board in how teachers set up their classroom culture from the beginning, how they facilitate each lesson, and how they continue to build and maintain relationships with students and families throughout the year.
Classroom Rule Creation Process
One big part of restorative practices is building a positive classroom culture by creating the classroom rules together. This helps students have a voice, ownership in the classroom, builds trust, and helps set expectations at the start on how your classroom community is going to run and how you will treat others in the classroom. If teachers and students come from different communities or backgrounds, including student voice in creating classroom expectations also allows common definitions of behaviors that may have cultural differences.
Teachers in virtual and online classrooms should strive to create 3 to 5 classroom rules with students that are positively stated. These rules should encompass not only how the class will interact with each other but also how it operates as a whole.
Teach the rules explicitly to students and explain why each rule is important. Talk about what each rule looks like, doesn’t look like, sounds like, and doesn’t sound like. This is the time where the negative can be stated so students can clearly understand how certain behaviors affect others and the classroom learning environment.
Teachers should display the classroom rules somewhere in the background of their virtual classroom so they can be referred to at any point. When a rule is being broken, teachers can pause the lesson and ask students to read the rule(s) and explain why it is important to follow them. A student can also read the rules at the beginning of every class to remind everyone of the expectations of the classroom. And don’t forget to highlight students who are meeting expectations!
Predictable Classroom Routines with Consistent Structure
Children thrive on predictability, consistency, and routines. It is important to help students feel in control, positive, and confident in the virtual classroom with consistent structure. It will help both teachers and families if schools create and operate from one common whole school behavior expectation matrix. This will help teachers know how to consistently facilitate their online classrooms and families with more than one student in the school know what to expect and how to help their children be successful in the online classroom set up.
Establish Positive Consequences or Rewards and Corrective Consequences
Once the rules are created and clearly taught, students need to understand the positive consequences or rewards and the corrective consequences for their behavior. Positive rewards can be individual or class earned like Kickboard points, tokens, or online classroom rewards. Corrective consequences should be respectful, age appropriate, logical, restorative, and consistently enforced. Along with consequences, teachers can email the parents, schedule a phone call with the parents, or even ask parents to sit with their child for the next class to help support positive behavior.
One barrier in virtual classrooms is not being able to have an individual conversation with students when they have misbehaved. When this needs to happen, schedule a private chat with students outside of the virtual classroom time to hold this restorative conversation. If teachers have this option in the virtual classroom, they could quickly break their classroom into virtual small group discussions, which opens up separate rooms for discussion while the teacher and student can remain in the main room and have a quick restorative conversation before the other students return. Some restorative questions that teachers can use when having these conversations are:
- What were you thinking when the misbehavior occurred? What are you thinking now that you have used strategies to calm down?
- Who has been affected by what you did?
- What impact has this incident had on you and others involved?
- What do you think needs to happen to make this better with all parties affected?
Teachers can also model how to talk through a restorative conversation. Using this in real time when something happens that is frustrating to the teacher is most effective so students can see the process modeled. The teacher should name their feelings, talk through how they are processing their emotions, what strategy they are using to calm down, and what they need to do to make things better.
If a behavior is consistently shown or a classroom rule is continually broken, the teacher can facilitate a classroom problem solving circle. This will help the whole class reset and establish their understanding of the virtual classroom expectations and reestablish a kind and considerate culture.
Restorative Practices Throughout the Lessons
Restorative practices that focus on positive classroom culture and relationship building can happen throughout lessons every day. Teachers can start class every day with a community circle for connection building. Students can share special things from their home, their opinions and ideas, how they are feeling, and more. Asking questions about how students are feeling will help the teacher take a temperature check of all of his/her students from the beginning and know who to check in with throughout the lesson. Teachers can also check on students emotions and feelings throughout the lesson with virtual class features like the chat box, comments on documents, showing thumbs up and down, and more. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy conversation to give teachers information on each student and how they can support their students.
Virtual classrooms that use restorative practices create a warm, welcoming, safe, and positive environment where students and families know the rules and expectations, community is cultivated and maintained, and high quality learning takes place.