Restorative Justice in Schools

Many discussions in education revolve around behavior management and discipline. Different people subscribe to different philosophies, but one that is receiving a lot of attention is restorative justice or restorative practices. What is restorative justice? What are the advantages and disadvantages of implementing it in a school? Here’s what we found.

What is Restorative Justice?

According to We Are Teachers, “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment.” The focus is on helping students learn to work through conflicts, coming to a solution that serves everyone well. “It aims to help students understand how their actions have harmed other people and give students a chance to right their wrongs,” is another explanation from Stephanie Wang at Chalkbeat.

Schools that practice restorative justice take a proactive approach—building relationships and developing a sense of community before incidents happen. Students are given opportunities to talk to one another, discussing goals, dreams, and fears so they get to know each other, understand one another, and build respect.

When an incident occurs, the offending student is given an opportunity to repair the harm they caused. They meet with those they hurt, along with a mediator, and discuss how they can make things right. All involved talk about what happened, why it happened, and the harm it caused. They then come up with a plan for righting the wrong.

Benefits of Restorative Justice

Implementing restorative practices promises many benefits. With the focus on building relationships and developing a sense of community, schools often establish a more positive climate. Students come to know and understand each other and learn to be more considerate of one another. Trinity, a fifth grader at a school practicing restorative justice in Denver, said, “When you go to school here, you get to know each other. At my old school, we never got to know each other—or to understand each other.”

Teachers and students develop a greater sense of mutual respect. A study shared by Hechinger Report found that students felt they had a better relationship with teachers who fully embraced restorative practices. “And the strong relationship in turn linked to a great sense of respect between teacher and student.”

Discipline issues may take away less from instructional time. Some teachers implementing restorative practices feel they spend less time disciplining and more time teaching. The focus on keeping students in school and avoiding suspension when possible can also help keep students in class, giving them greater opportunities to learn.

Restorative Justice Roadblocks

Restorative justice isn’t just an easy fix, though. Adopting the practice is not just a matter of flipping a switch. It takes time, effort, and buy-in from everyone involved—teachers, students, and even parents. If students aren’t willing to participate in the necessary conversations, the process will be halted. If teachers don’t see the value in shifting the way things are done, they will struggle to find the motivation to take on another new program and change current disciplinary practices.

Implementing restorative practices requires a shift in mindset. “Restorative justice can’t just be a set of things we do. It has to be a framework for how we view teaching and learning,” said Kathy Evans, associate professor of education at Eastern Mennonite University, as quoted in an article from Hechinger Report.

Research on the impact of restorative justice is sparse and not conclusive. The practice has been around in other settings for hundreds of years, but it is unclear how real and deep the benefits are in an education setting.

Have you implemented restorative justice in your school or classroom? What has your experience been?

Dr. Melissa Jackson, Regional Education Development Specialist

We’re excited to spotlight Dr. Melissa Jackson, who recently joined our team as a Regional Education Development Specialist. We recently had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her background in education and experiences with Audio Enhancement.

You used to be a teacher—Where and when did you teach? What subject and what grade(s)?

I taught Middle School Language Arts in Newton County, GA for 16 years. I was blessed to teach in a variety of settings including EBD, Title One, and Gifted. I have 4 years of district leadership experience and have served as the District Instructional Technology Director and the District Gifted Director.

What made you want to become a teacher?

I didn’t really choose to become a teacher—it chose me. I have always loved to learn, but I didn’t like being at school. As a middle school student, I didn’t understand why school was so boring. I had a couple of teachers that made learning more engaging than others, but I had one teacher that truly changed the game for me. Mrs. Boyum was my 9th-grade Algebra teacher. She made each of us feel like we truly mattered, and she made learning fun. This made me want to do the same for others. I wanted other people to love to learn the way I did and see that learning didn’t have to be boring.

What was your favorite part about teaching?

My favorite part of teaching was middle school kids! I am a sassy person, and I love working with sassy middle school students—you never know what you are going to get from them. Seeing students begin to love learning and want to come to school because they know they are cared for is the best feeling in the world. I have many that I taught as middle school students that I was blessed to mentor as first year teachers as they began their careers. This was a true blessing. I truly cherish the relationships I built with my students over the years and credit them for building me into the person I am today.

What was your least favorite part about teaching?

My least favorite part of teaching was definitely knowing that I couldn’t fix all of my student’s problems. I am a very empathetic person and when students came into the classroom with the weight of the world on their shoulders, it was hard to feel like I couldn’t “fix” all their problems for them. I took all of their problems home with me each and every day.

When did you stop teaching, and what brought you to Audio Enhancement?

I left the classroom in 2013 to work at the district level and returned in 2018 for a short time. I left again in 2019 to join the Audio Enhancement family. As a district-level administrator, I was able to work with Audio Enhancement as a customer. I saw how much of an impact Audio Enhancement solutions made in the classroom. I was honored when I was asked to join the AE family and work with teachers nationwide to share the work we do and continue making a difference.

Why do you think Audio Enhancement makes a difference for teachers?

Wow… this is a big question for me. I genuinely have a passion for serving teachers and students. This is why I joined the AE family. Audio Enhancement was developed initially because a mother wanted to provide a better education for her children. This is the ultimate goal at the heart of every educator.

Audio Enhancement makes a difference because we listen to the needs of teachers to develop products FOR teachers. Education has become much too often about pushing products on educators that they don’t want or need and don’t work in a real classroom. The audio, video, and safety products really are designed for real teachers in real classrooms. As a person who has always loved learning, it makes me feel good that I can help teachers use things in their classrooms that help them continue learning and become better teachers. I know this means we will have more students that will love learning.

We are grateful to have Dr. Jackson as part of our team and appreciate all the knowledge and experience she brings. Her insights are priceless in helping us understand what educators really want and need and how we can help them the most.

Classroom Audio—A Student’s Perception

Studies about the effectiveness of classroom audio systems have been conducted for decades. Research demonstrating the benefits of classroom audio is abundant, accessible, and probably not new to many educators. But do classroom audio systems really make that much of a difference in real-world application? What effect can a system have on the way a student perceives their teacher?

Meet Lizzie

Let me introduce you to Lizzie, my daughter, who is now in seventh grade. Lizzie received an ADHD diagnosis when she was in second grade. She was diagnosed with a learning disability and a significant executive function delay in sixth. She has a hard time reading people and shows signs of anxiety. And school has always been a challenge for her.

Starting at the end of third grade, Lizzie often came home upset because her teacher “yelled at the class” that day. I was surprised by this as I had met her teacher, and she didn’t seem like the yelling type. I would ask clarifying questions, and she would assure me the teacher had yelled. I was concerned but not alarmed, as Lizzie’s understanding of events was not always accurate. This pattern continued through fourth grade.  

No More Yelling

I gained a new understanding of the situation Lizzie’s fifth grade year—that year she never complained about the teacher yelling at the class. Her teacher was nice, like the other teachers that she identified as “yellers,” but Lizzie never came home upset about the teacher yelling. A few months into the school year, I learned about classroom audio systems. Then the lightbulb went off, and I asked my daughter if her teacher wore a microphone.

“Yes, she does.”

Did Mrs. _______ wear a microphone?

“No, she didn’t.”

How about the teacher from the year before?

“No, she didn’t wear a microphone either.”

Lizzie’s Perception

In sixth grade, we were back to stories of the teacher yelling at the class. Once again, when I met the teacher, I couldn’t picture him yelling at the class. But I could picture him raising his voice to speak over a room full of excited students. In Lizzie’s eyes, he was yelling. In Lizzie’s eyes, all her teachers who didn’t wear microphones yelled at the class.

The teachers I know are kind and love their students. They wouldn’t yell at their class in anger, yet that is exactly how my daughter interpreted their “teacher voice.” To her, the class was getting yelled at most days, except for the year her teacher used her teacher microphone. For my daughter, who is sensitive to loud noises and has a hard time focusing, the use of classroom audio completely changed her perception of her teacher and what happened daily in class.

Top Ways to Use Cameras in the Classroom

Video Review for Video Reflective Practices

We live in a world where cameras are everywhere, and they have been making their way into the classroom. Students carry them in their pockets every day in the form of cell phones. Teachers have cell phones, tablets, or other devices with cameras. Some classrooms even include installed cameras. Since the cameras are a part of our lives, how can teachers leverage them to enhance learning in their classrooms?

Share lessons with students

Whether absent, studying at home, or working in a flipped classroom, students can be helped by accessing lessons outside of school. Students who miss class for extra-curricular activities, medical absences, or in-school-suspension can keep up with the class. When studying from home, students can review difficult concepts and have a parent or guardian review the lesson so they can understand what’s being taught. Teachers using a flipped or blended learning model can record any lesson they need to share with their students.

Professional Learning

Lifelong learning is important for everyone, including educators. When teachers record lessons, they can review what happened later to reflect on their strengths and areas where they’d like to grow. Video gives a clear, objective record of events. Video can improve self-reflection by clearly showing the “instructional reality.”

“When we record ourselves doing our work, we see that reality is very different from what we think.”

Jim Knight

Cameras open doors for capturing lessons and teaching moments to be shared with others—professional learning communities (PLCs), teaching teams, instructional coaches, and others. This increases options for feedback. It also expands options for collaboration within a school and even with other campuses. For small or rural schools where teachers may feel isolated, sharing video opens up their network and enhances opportunities for collaboration.

Student & Teacher Safety

Cameras can provide an accurate, unbiased record of classroom events. When teachers encounter bullying, fights, or conflicting reports of others’ actions, a video record can clarify what actually happened. If a student reports a classroom incident incorrectly or parents are concerned about how a student is being treated, a recording can ease concerns and give a clearer picture to all parties involved. Even knowing that events are or can be recorded can help everyone be mindful of their words and actions, creating a more thoughtful space for everyone.

When it comes to cameras in the classroom, there are a lot of mixed feelings from excitement to concern. How do you feel about classroom cameras? Is this a trend you embrace or want to avoid?

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Teacher giving feedback to students

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset—are these familiar terms? The concepts and their effects on learning have been an object of discussion for many inside and outside the education community. A growth mindset has been shown to increase learning and success for students, so it’s important to understand what it is, the benefits, and how individuals can develop it.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset consists of believing that intelligence, skills, and abilities can be developed through work, practice, and consistent effort. People with a growth mindset welcome feedback and constructive criticism as a way to see where they can improve and grow. They value the learning process and welcome opportunities for increased development.

By contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset feel that everyone is born with certain traits and skills—people are either good or bad at things. Constructive criticism feels like a personal attack. Failures feel permanent because failing at something demonstrates a lack of ability. Living with a fixed mindset requires proving worth and value over and over again.

There are things that can be mistaken for a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not just applauding effort; progress needs to be made. It’s also not the same as being open-minded or flexible, and it’s not all-or-nothing where someone is either all growth mindset or all fixed mindset. Everyone experiences each at different times and in different areas of their lives.

What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

Developing a growth mindset opens opportunities for people to:

  • —Learn and achieve more
  • Rebound faster from setbacks, failures, and disappointments
  • —Avoid wasting energy worrying about approval from others
  • —Increase collaboration, innovation, and creative risk-taking
  • —Sustain personal motivation
  • —View difficult tasks as opportunities to expand abilities
  • —Perceive challenges as an exciting chance to grow

How to develop a growth mindset?

Since it is so beneficial to have a growth mindset, how is one developed? Here are some strategies we found:

  1. —Focus on the process that leads to learning, like hard work and trying different strategies
  2. —View challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles
  3. Prioritize learning over seeking approval
  4. —Reward and praise what people do and how hard they work, instead of individual traits
  5. —Practice receiving feedback as an opportunity to improve, not as a personal attack
  6. Reflect on learning every day
  7. —Always be working toward some kind of growth and learning goal
  8. —Give yourself time—learning and growth don’t happen overnight
  9. —Support others (and yourself) in developing any skill of interest
  10. —Celebrate the success of others and use it as motivation to work hard and succeed!

Developing a growth mindset is helpful for anyone, at any stage of life. Research shows that it helps people be more successful. What have you done to develop a growth mindset in yourself or others?

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

Focus and Mindfulness through deep breathing

With so many differences between us, there is one commonality everyone shares—busy lives. There are numerous demands on our time and energy, countless activities and events we can be a part of. This can make it difficult to stay focused on the things we really want to accomplish. When our schedules become too full and leave us feeling like there’s too much on our plate, what can we do? We reviewed some ideas and compiled five tips that can help.

Establish Priorities and Values

An important first step in managing your focus is to determine what’s most important and what you value. Then align your values with your time. Determine your “why” and keep it in the forefront of your mind to stay on track.

Plan Ahead

Start every day making intentional choices and plan how to spend your time. One source recommended choosing the top three tasks to accomplish each day and remaining focused on those most important tasks. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to do and how you want your day to look, move forward with that vision in mind.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re on the edge of doing something awesome or is life showing you that something needs to be cut out?”

Shawn Blanc
Limit Distractions

Take inventory on what takes up space in your life, whether physical or mental, and decide what can be cleared out. Organizing your physical space and clearing out clutter is a great place to start. To tackle the mental space, limit notifications on cell phones, computers, and other devices; set boundaries for social media participation; and avoid getting caught in the trap of constantly checking email. Set aside a time for these and other tasks and commit to it.

Say No

This one can be particularly difficult, especially for people in a helping profession. There will always be invitations extended for additional work responsibilities, service opportunities, and social engagements. When they arise, remember the priorities and values you’ve already identified, and take some time to consider before responding. If the new invitation doesn’t fit within that framework, politely decline.

“You can’t serve from an empty vessel.”

Eleanor Brownn
Mind Your Health

Maintaining your health is critical. We need to be able to functional physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can help yourself physically by taking time to exercise, being careful to eat foods that leave you feeling your best, and leaving time for enough sleep. Your mental health can be supported by practicing mindfulness and meditation or even something as simple as taking a mental break when things get particularly taxing. In all of these areas, it’s important to support emotional health by celebrating progress made every day—don’t beat yourself up when you’re not perfect!

As busy as our lives are, it’s possible to maintain our focus with a little planning and care. What have you found effective in staying focused in a busy world?

Integrating Coding and Robotics in Schools

little robot

Educators are always looking for the best way to educate students and help them succeed. They innovate and look to the innovations of others. They review different trends to understand the benefits. Some trends grow as they’re adopted into teaching regimens while others are left behind. One of the teaching trends that’s persisting and continuing to grow is coding and robotics.

What gives coding and robotics staying power?

With so many education trends coming and going, what keeps robotics and coding moving forward, growing from a trend to a regular teaching strategy? As technology advances, so do the number of technology careers available. When students get to experience STEM subjects and their practical application, those students are better prepared to fill technology jobs. In addition to subject-specific skills students learn, they also gain experience in thinking critically and solving problems.

What are the benefits of coding and robotics?

Coding and robotics programs offer many benefits for students, including increasing engagement, developing high-level thinking, and fostering empathy and creativity.

As students experience learning through coding and robotics, engagement rates may rise. Robots are interesting. Learning about them and making them work can be a lot of fun. Some students even find a new passion and discover a new learning pathway for their themselves.

Working with coding leads to high-level thinking. Students get to see how their decisions affect the design and function of the program or robot. The coding process helps them think a few steps ahead, a skill that can be used often in life.

Working with robots and coding is a great time for students to work in a group and develop teamwork skills. As they plan and troubleshoot, they practice collaboration and build communication. Working in a group also gives students an opportunity to emerge as leaders—both the type that will speak out and help direct the work to the quiet, behind-the-scenes leaders who keep the group on task and perform technical jobs.

Another benefit of coding and robotics work is the opportunity to develop creativity and empathy. As students work toward solving a problem, they have to come up with new ideas and think outside the box to find a solution. They also use their creativity to design and create their own product when they’re coding games or apps. Empathy is strengthened as students consider the end-user’s needs. Thinking about what would create the best experience for someone else moves the focus from the student to another person.

How do you effectively integrate robotics and coding?

Starting to integrate coding and robotics into a classroom can be intimidating, especially for educators who don’t have a lot of expertise on the subject. Fortunately, there are people and resources readily available to help.

A good place to start is with other people. You may find people in your school who have experience with coding, and online groups can also guide you through the process. There may even be experts in your community who would be happy to share their knowledge.

In addition to seeking help from other people, there are websites and apps dedicated to helping students learn to code. Code.org is a well-known one to start with, but there are many others, as well. Kits and games can be purchased, too.

One of the best overall tips we saw is to keep it fun. Encourage exploration, play, and discovery.

With all of the interest in and benefits of coding and robotics programs, it appears this trend is going to stick around for a while. Have you tried it in your school or classroom?

The Many Ways Teachers Fund Classrooms

classroom funding and grants can provide classroom supplies

There are so many things competing for today’s education budgets that it can seem impossible to stretch funds far enough. School supplies are in short supply, technology becomes outdated, and new ideas like flexible seating and makerspaces could create positive changes in classrooms. Small budgets can make it seem impossible to purchase everything needed, so what are educators to do?

Fortunately, options are available beyond going without or paying for things out of pocket. Philanthropic organizations set money aside to help organizations like schools in the form of grants. Other groups provide a platform to raise funds to satisfy unmet budget requirements. Sometimes you can even find the resources you want and need for free!

Grants

Many organizations offer grants to individuals and organizations that need additional funds. This money doesn’t have to be repaid, but the grantor may ask for a report of how the grant was used and how it benefitted the intended audience. A simple web search can start the process of searching for a grant to meet a particular need, and some websites compile lists of grants, like The NEA Foundation, GetEdFunding.com, and Teach.com. Where a need exists, there is probably a grant designated to fill it .

Crowdfunding

Some teachers turn to websites like DonorsChoose.org or AdoptAClassroom.org to reach private parties who want to help. Educators spell out their request and how it will benefit students. Private parties find an open giving opportunity and donate the amount they feel comfortable with. This gives anyone the opportunity to help any project, classroom, or school they choose.

Donations

With the prevalence of online retailers, private citizens can now purchase what educators need through online stores. Teachers make a shopping list or wish list and share it with the public, allowing charitable givers to help purchase what is needed. These lists can be shared on social media so virtually anyone can support any teacher, classroom, or school.

Sometimes teachers don’t have to look any further than the school’s PTA. Since PTA budgets are separate from the school or district, PTA leaders can make decisions regarding where they spend funds. Talking to the PTA can open doors for additional donations.

Whether a teacher, principal, or community member, it’s easy to see the evidence of funding struggles in education. Fortunately, there are options to help fill unmet needs. Between grants, crowdfunding, and donations, options exist to fill the gap between what is provided and what is needed to provide a good education.

Integrating Audio Systems in Modern Classrooms

Classroom audio systems offer many benefits to schools. They have been shown to positively affect student achievement and engagement, as well as reduce fatigue and vocal strain for teachers. Some might argue that audio systems don’t offer the same benefits in today’s classrooms where traditional seating is shifting to flexible seating and teachers don’t just lecture at the front of the room. How does classroom audio fit into new learning environments? How can teachers use today’s technology in conjunction with classroom audio to enhance the learning experience?

Changes in Modern Classrooms

Teachers used to spend much of their day sharing information with their class at the front of the room, but teaching methods are changing. Teachers act as facilitators of learning, talking to the class as a whole, visiting with small groups, or working with individual students. More class time is dedicated to students working on their own or in small groups, and students spend more time in front of the class presenting what they’ve learned during research and projects. With the classroom environment changed so much, how do microphones fit into the mix?

Some of these changes make it even more important for teachers to have a microphone and audio system. As teachers move around the classroom and as student seating varies, teachers can’t face all the students all the time. With a classroom audio system, students can hear the teacher, even if facing away from them. When teachers need to talk to the class during or after small group work, having their voice distributed throughout the classroom makes it easier for everyone to hear a call to attention. And when students are sharing their work with the class, they can use the teacher microphone or a separate handheld microphone to make sure everyone can hear them.

Innovative Technology

The advancement of technology in today’s classrooms provides additional options when using classroom audio systems. With a computer and classroom microphone, teachers can use lecture capture—software that allows the teacher to capture a desktop recording along with their voice from the microphone. Then, they can share the lesson with students who are sick, away for extra-curricular activities, or hospital homebound, helping students keep up with classroom work.

Schools can integrate interactive displays with their classroom audio systems. These displays offer striking visuals, but their sound is not always clear, nor does it always carry well. With audio system integration, sound from presentations and videos can be distributed throughout the classroom, making multimedia more enjoyable for everyone.

Today’s classroom setups and teaching methods are always evolving, but classroom audio systems still offer many benefits for teachers and students. As teachers use them to enhance their own voice or the voices of their students, lessons can be more engaging and understandable for everyone in the room. As technology is integrated, teachers can take advantage of options like lecture capture software to help absent students keep up. With the increase of multimedia use in classrooms, audio systems can also optimize that audio to make it more engaging for everyone. 

Project-Based Learning—How it benefits students

We’ve been reading a lot about project-based learning (PBL) and felt it would be beneficial to understand it better, so we researched it to increase our understanding. In our last blog post, we looked at some of the key elements of project-based learning. In this post, we share some of the benefits educators have seen as they implement PBL.

Benefits of Implementing PBL

Educators want what’s best for their students and work hard to ensure what they do in the classroom is worth everyone’s time and effort. Like any change in teaching and learning methods, integrating PBL takes time, effort, and planning—the benefits have to be worth it! So what are the benefits of implementing PBL?

Students develop “soft skills”

Soft skills are increasingly identified as crucial to success. PBL helps students learn to effectively collaborate and communicate. Students receive increased opportunities to consider multiple perspectives and develop empathy for others.

Critical thinking, problem solving

The complex problems that students solve in PBL require them to engage in “inquiry, research, and ideation.” They have to look at the problem from different angles and keep moving forward to find a solution. These skills can transfer to other problems and are useful throughout students’ lives.

Excitement about learning

PBL can ignite students’ excitement about learning. When they work to solve a problem they’re passionate about and can see real-world application, it can increase excitement about new projects and learning opportunities.

Developing a growth mindset

PBL provides a great opportunity for developing a growth mindset. Projects require continued testing and revision, helping students see that most work isn’t generally perfect in the beginning stages. PBL gives students permission to fail and move forward, reworking their plan where needed.

Project-based learning may not be a fit for every situation, but it offers many benefits that teachers are seeking for their students. Many teachers and students are already seeing value from implementing it into their classrooms. Have you tried PBL? What has your experience been?