Liz Burian, who teaches Life Skills and Digital and Fine Arts at CSF Buxmont’s Bethlehem, PA, school, uses circles with students to present and review academic course content, and to maintain positive levels of behavior to ensure a great learning environment.
At the beginning of each class, says Liz, every student identifies an area of behavior that could be a problem — like talking or getting distracted — and says what they’re going to work on that during the class. Liz then relies on the students themselves to help maintain a safe, quiet learning space.
“If you send a student out of class, you get rid of the problem but you actually take your own power away.” Liz says, “As a teacher you have to realize you have a great community in your classroom to support positive behavior, instead of relying on punitive measures.”
In Life Skills class, Liz teaches students everything from how to interview for a job, how to understand an apartment lease and how to manage money.
“We also do a lot with moral reasoning,” says Liz, “questions like ‘what would you say to a customer who was rude to you?’ or ‘what do you do about a co-worker who was stealing?’” Liz says that students are more familiar with “the code of the street” but that they can learn how to make more appropriate moral decisions.
In Digital Arts classes, students spend time each day learning to type and work with the latest versions of Adobe Photoshop, as well as Microsoft Word and Excel. In Fine Arts classes, besides creating artwork, students critique each other’s work in a circle format, which Liz says helps them learn to be objective and provide constructive criticism.
Liz has begun her master’s degree program at the IIRP graduate school with the “Action Research” class. “I love that I can combine my teaching with practical research,” said Liz. She said that she’s incorporating everything she’s learning about restorative practices into her teaching.
“Working with kids using restorative practices has led me to believe you have to lead by example,” says Liz. “If you’re not in it 100%, they’re not going to be in it 100%.”