Relationships: The Most Important Piece of Our Renaissance Framework

By: Sara Cowey, Activities Director, Leadership Teacher, and Renaissance Coordinator at San Mateo High School, San Mateo, California

One of the main tenets of both Jostens Renaissance and Restorative Practices is to develop community, build relationships and connections – listen to, understand & empathize rather than to respond. As George Couros states in his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, “The three most important words in education are relationships, relationships, relationships.” (p. 68) Here are four ways to strengthen relationships using restorative practices.

1) Community Circle

  • Build a community of trust, respect, vulnerability and equality by hosting an in-class “family circle” once a week. (Often the classroom community circle is the first place for the student to be safe and visible.)
  • Change the way students and teacher relate to each other/listening to hear/perspective
  • Speak from the heart, listen from the heart saying just enough to be heard
  • Explore what’s under the surface
  • Discover everyone’s story
  • Make all students visible – a simple check-in circle asking, “how are you feeling on a scale of 1-5” can communicate how that student is feeling and allow us to gauge our relationship with that student based on their answer
  • Ensure everyone is equal in the circle

2) Use “Affective Statements”

This is one of the most important restorative tools that I carry with me daily.  I am mindful of the language, tone and timing of all my conversations. The ideal format is: “I feel (state the impact) when (identify the behavior). What I’d like is (state the preferred action).”

    • “I feel disappointed when I hear students say mean things to others. I’d like for all of us to be mindful of our words and think about how they affect others.”
    • “When you make noise during our Zoom lecture, I feel frustrated that you are not listening. Can you remember to hit “mute” so we don’t hear the dog barking?”
    • “I notice you are submitting your work rather late – is there anything we can do to support you with the assignments?”

3) Be Intentional about Creating Community

  • Create intentions for the day – gratitude, acts of kindness  
  • Explore values: The “Personal Mission Statement”
  • Clarify values with “One Word”
  • Get acquainted, use storytelling

One great tool for this is “Padlet.” We use “Padlet” challenges with our staffulty during the school year, so most of them feel confident using this tool.  You could share all kinds of “getting to know you” photo challenges, from school or from home, such as pets, morning meal, exercise gear, water bottle stickers, or favorite t-shirt – the choices are limitless! For student leaders, some of my favorite “capstone” assignments we do in our Renaissance class are Jon Gordon’s “One Word” for values clarification and Sean Covey’s “Personal Mission Statement.” 

4) Pause, Reflect and Be Grateful

“There is honor in all work, in all tasks, but take it one step further.

Make what you do a labor of love.

Then your work will truly touch and change the world in the way you desire.

The work you do, whatever your chosen field, will be work that heals.”

– Melody Beattie

At the end of the year our Renaissance student leaders write a short testimonial about how much they learned about themselves, the students and the entire staffulty. Prior to being in the Renaissance class they were unaware of the amazing work (labor) that so many of our students and staffulty do all year long.  The Renaissance experience provides students the opportunity to be empowered, to learn about their school community, to lead, to LOVE and serve.  It’s been wonderful to read the reflections about their family, friends and staffulty members all of whom they acknowledge have helped shape them into who they are today.

We are grateful for all the speakers, trainers, coaches, mentors, student leaders and staffulty heroes that influence our young people. We are so appreciative of the people in the Jostens Renaissance community who share their inspiration and actions.


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