The Power of Asking “What happened?” versus “Why did that happen?”

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Megan Kean, Oconomowoc, WI,

As a teacher, by nature, I am a reflective individual who is continuously improving my practice. Many times, I find new ideas and new research and want to implement the ideas in my classroom. However, I frequently do not spend enough time implementing a new idea or practice. Sometimes I change course when I find something else that I believe might work better. I have learned that quality is better than quantity when it comes to throwing out past practices and implementing the new practices.

This year, as a part of TRC 7.0, my partner Peter Trapp and I are doing research on Restorative Practices and the role in the math classroom. How does Restorative Practice play a role in the math classroom?  Restorative Practice, frequently known as Restorative Justice, was brought into our school. As a school, we were not satisfied with the way we were addressing behavior issues, and after some research, our school adopted Restorative Practice. Restorative Practice has five main questions that are asked as a part of acknowledging the problem and a step to take to make situations right again in the classroom.

Q1: What Happened?

Like many schools, especially middle schools, we have disruptions and behaviors in our classrooms that are not welcomed. Some students frequently interrupt the learning and create a power struggle. And their behavior was not changing. As a school, we knew we needed to do something about this. We realized that consequences were given, but a change in student behavior was not happening. Were we doing our job as educators if the behavior was not changing or improving? I think not. As we see it, part of our job is to educate students so they can become lifelong learners and individuals who can be a part of society. We needed to implement a practice that helps change and improve student behavior.

Q2: What were you thinking at the time?

We hoped the “new” idea of Restorative Practices this year was going to be a big game-changer in the classroom. However, when we heard about Restorative Practices, we were hesitant. There have been many initiatives to help improve student behavior.  Would this be something that actually worked? Would this help our classrooms? We hoped the answer would be “yes.”

Q3: What have you thought about since?

We are now six months into the implementation of Restorative Practices at our school.  We aren’t sure how we created a classroom community in the first place without the tools that Restorative Practice has given us. We gave it our all and really believed in the research with Restorative Practices. It has definitely changed the climate of our classrooms in a positive way. We are teaching students skills, building relationships, and increasing engagement in the math classroom.

Q4: Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?

All students in the classroom are affected when something negative happens. Restorative Practice gives students a chance to learn how to improve behavior and to separate the deed from the doer. Students deserve to have a conversation about their behavior and have input on making it right again. Over the course of this year and reflecting on the tools that we have implemented, I have noticed a shift in students’ mindsets when something negative happens in the classroom. Both the students and I are more at ease and know that a conversation will happen that will help address the problem, fix the problem, and support all students involved.

Q5: What do you think you need to do to make things right?

If you want to use the Restorative Practices approach in your classroom, we encourage you to write down these five bolded questions that began each paragraph. Keep them handy and use them when something negative happens in your classroom. We encourage you to implement Restorative Circles in your classroom. We encourage you to be willing to take a risk to positively impact your classroom in ways that may not have seemed possible. With Restorative Practice, it is possible! Change the question when something happens from “Why did that happen?” to “What happened?” and positive results will unfold. Our relationships with students are at a new level now. We understand each other better. We know that we are all responsible for our classroom environment. We can do the teaching, and when a student steps over the line, we as a class can help guide them back in. The first step in implementing this practice is by reading and believing in the practice. It can, and will change your classroom!

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.