February, Levy held a circle on civil rights. Her class
was reading a book about Martin Luther King Jr.
that talked about the racism he encountered early
in life. The book spawned “a very deep circle, both
restorative and academic,” Levy says. “The kids
didn’t know the word prejudice.”
In the circle, Levy traced the history of race in
America, from slavery to the civil rights movement.
This led to a go-around about race relations, during
which the students and Levy discussed how blacks
and whites treat one another and “how it is for me as
a white teacher with black students and vice versa.”
This was a wonderful bonding experience for Levy
and her students.
Immediately after all circles, while the conver-
sation is fresh in their minds, Levy’s students write
about the circle in their journals. After the civil
rights circle, Levy asked her students to write about
why it’s important to treat people the way they
themselves want to be treated.
Circles also help teachers see how they can
improve their teaching. When a teacher was having
trouble with some of the students Levy also teaches,
Ortiz asked Levy to invite the teacher to a circle in
her classroom. The students had a chance to tell him
how they felt about his class: All he ever did was hand
out worksheets, which they finished in 15 minutes,
they told him. As a result, they were bored and acted
up. The teacher learned how his students felt, and he
saw how circles could help him and his class.
“It’s always a conversation.”
In fall 2013, Harding’s student and staff rosters
doubled. After the School District of Philadelphia
shuttered 23 schools for financial reasons, Harding
took in some of the closed schools’ former students
and staff. This included 20–25 new teachers, some of
whom had never heard of restorative practices.
I remember a time when it felt as
though I’d really made a difference for
a student. This student, whom I’ll call
Megan, took me up on my retesting
offer shortly after I broke my own rule
and learned to give retests. She came by on a
Friday around 3:00, poked her head in the door,
and asked whether she could take the retest then.
Sure, I said.
I randomly chose a question off the test about
the increasingly important role of women in the
1920s and ’30s and said, “Megan, what can you tell
me about that? Let’s have a conversation.” So she
told me about the changing role of women. When she
got to the end, I said, “That was just incredible! You
nailed that question! You must have put a lot of
effort into that.” She said that she had.
Then as she got up and headed toward the door,
Dueck, this is the only course I’m trying
in.” I asked her why.
“I like this retesting system,” she
said. “I’m able to see what I know and
what I don’t know. I come in on a day like
today, I tell you what I’ve learned, and it
makes me feel smart.”
She took a few more steps, then turned to me
and added, “And I haven’t felt smart in the past.”
Then she walked out the door, and her footsteps
disappeared into the weekend.
That filled my sails on that Friday afternoon. It’s
feedback like that along this journey that has made
such a difference for me.
Myron Dueck is vice principal at Penticton Secondary
School, School District 67, in British Columbia, Canada. He
is the author of Grading Smarter Not Harder: Assessment
Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn
Making a Difference
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