Teaching tip: Regulate discussion with a talking piece

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February 27, 2017 by HCDE-Texas

restorative-zoomThose who remember reading William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies in fifth grade may recall the significance of the conch shell. The band of schoolchildren marooned on a deserted island must invent a new social order, deciding early on to abide by the “rule of the conch,” which states that nobody may speak unless he’s holding it.

Teachers who lead discussions or sharing circles may find it difficult to maintain order and respect, especially when they’ve got a large or rambunctious group. The solution: introduce a talking piece. Whether it’s a conch, a stick, a feather (like those used in some Native American rituals) or any other unique object, a talking piece – along with a few simple rules – makes group discussion less of a free-for-all and more of an opportunity for learning. That includes learning to listen.

“The most important piece is that those in the circle feel what they have to say matters,” said Life Anew founder and talking circle expert Sherwynn Patton at a recent workshop hosted by HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools, “even if they choose to be silent.”

Patton’s goal is to help teachers, counselors, administrators and other school-based professionals to implement restorative discipline practices on their campuses. These practices are an alternative to outdated, less effective “punitive” modes of discipline that tend to lead to increased suspension rates among minority students and those with disabilities.

“We cannot put a book in their hands until they know how much we care,” Patton said to the group of educators in their own talking circle. While speaking he held a plastic baby bottle – a talking piece selected, he said, to remind the adults gathered around him of the care that they naturally extend to young people.

Some teachers may shy away from open discussion due to the classroom management challenges it poses, but with a talking piece – and a few gentle reminders of the rules – many may be surprised how well it works.

Interested in restorative discipline practices? Check out Intro to Restorative Principles and Circles on March 8.

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