Kenowa Hills — Mornings in Margaret Sicilian’s classroom at Central Elementary are centered around creating a safe space for her second-graders.
Before gathering on the carpet under a string of warm-colored twinkle lights, Sicilian made sure her students’ needs were met.
“If you’re still eating breakfast, finish eating because that’s important,” she told them on a recent morning.
One by one, the second-graders finished their containers of cereal and threw out pastry wrappers before seating themselves in a circle.
“We make a circle to see all of our faces,” Sicilian said, before asking her students their thought-provoking question of the day.
In response to the question, “Who are your safe adults?,” students went around the circle volunteering names of their family members, other Central Elementary teachers and their most common answer —- Ms. Sicilian.
‘Having restorative circles at the beginning of each day can help develop common understandings of guidelines, expectations and values.’— Second-grade Teacher Margaret Sicilian
Sicilian said she always couples a fun question with the heavier one. That morning it was, “What do you like to draw?”
“I like to draw hearts for my family,” Stella Mallehan said.
Children’s other answers included flowers, dogs and things they find in nature.
When it was time to return to their seats and carry on with the rest of their schedule, Sicilian reminded her students of her two goals.
“My first job is to keep you…,” she said. “Safe!” the class responded.
“My second job is to help you…,” and students replied with, “Learn!”
Connecting by Sitting in a Circle
Restorative practices can help districts move away from zero-tolerance discipline policies and towards addressing conflict in ways that help students learn to monitor their emotions and solve conflict.
Sicilian explained how intentionally sitting everyone in a circle lifts barriers between people and opens the possibility for connection, collaboration and mutual understanding.
“Having restorative circles at the beginning of each day can help develop common understandings of guidelines, expectations and values,” she said.
Implementing these practices and activities into her daily routine helps create a space for Sicilian’s students to share their voices, while empowering them to be accountable and collaboratively solve problems with their classmates.
These goals also fit into those of her school and the district overall: to build systems that address misbehavior in a way that strengthens relationships.
“Our morning meetings focus on restorative practices, with the goal of teaching kids to have arguments and solve problems respectfully,” she said. “I also want them to feel loved and valued in the classroom and grow up to be safe adults.”