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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Building Relationships Through Restorative Practices (even if you're virtual)

Building relationships with our students is more important than ever this year as we work through an ongoing pandemic, but it is also going to be harder than ever as we adapt our teaching to completely new formats, whether we're online or socially-distant in the classroom. Here are some ways to incorporate Restorative Practices, no matter what your teaching situation may be, to foster relationships as a music teacher.

I'm so grateful for the wonderful people who shared their insights with me to include in this post! Be sure to read to the end of this post to read more about who they are and find ways to connect with them: Alice Tsui, elementary instrumental/ choral/ general music teacher in NY, Czarina Francisco Jimenez, elementary general and choral music teacher in CA, and Michelle Rose, secondary virtual music teacher in NC.

What role can Restorative Practices play in building relationships with and among students as a music teacher who teaches hundreds of students?

Michelle: I have students fill out a "Get to Know You" survey via Google Form and then keep a spreadsheet with the answers that I pull up before each class. I create a column and make notes. I try to make it a point to talk to every student over a certain period of time depending on how often I see them. Usually, I try to reach out to 2-5 students per class so it doesn't become overwhelming.

Additionally, I have hosted virtual lunch bunches for my students. I usually host these once or twice per month and make them optional for students to attend. Sometimes I'll partner with another teacher and they'll invite their students as well. Students will eat lunch and chat with each other in my virtual classroom for 30 minutes during their lunch break. Sometimes we end up playing a game like "Would You Rather?" and other times we'll just chat.

Alice: Restorative Practice further builds relationships between students and among my students and I. So often we are eager to "get to the music" without recognizing that our students are PEOPLE first- people with feelings, thoughts, and ideas that do not always have to do with music. All of who they are are VALID, and an affirmation of their identities can occur through the restorative conversations. Affirmations can naturally lend themselves to being included in student compositions and music making as a form of self and collaborative expression. Only when my students can trust me for who I am can they truly then trust that I am here to help them express themselves through music.

Czarina: As a music teacher we have the opportunity to translate the musician's practice of "listening" into the way we create relationships. As a teacher, we need to realize that before we attempt to bring any practices into our workspace, we need to first bring restorative values and practices into our daily life. We need to nurture a restorative connection within ourselves and then we can nurture it in our community.

Clearly the key is not just specific actions we take, but a mindset and individual reflection as teachers! These are all things we can do whether we're teaching in person or online. Here is my post with more thoughts and simple strategies for how I foster relationships with students, coming from a restorative mindset:

It's so important to continue to bring ourselves back to what is most important, even as we deal with the overwhelming task of reinventing everything we do. None of our new ideas for making this work will mean anything if we aren't connecting with our students in meaningful ways and maintaining a focus on social emotional / character development. I encourage you to connect with the teachers who so graciously shared their insights for this post to learn more from each of them, as they all have important wisdom and insight to share:
Czarina is an elementary classroom music and choir teacher in Southern California. Her passions are creating culturally responsive music lessons and incorporating anti-bias/anti-racist social emotional learning into her curriculum. Connect with her at

Michelle Rose works at a full time virtual school where she teaches middle and high school music and directs the extracurricular virtual band and choir. You can connect with her on Instagram @the_musical_rose or by visiting her website

Alice Tsui (pronounced TSOY) is an Asian American/Chinese American pianist, music educator, scholar, activist, lifelong Brooklyn, New Yorker, and the founding music teacher at P.S. 532 New Bridges Elementary, an arts-integrated public elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a product of the NYC public school system, Alice is passionate about decolonizing, anti-racist, abolitionist public music education and empowering the individual and collective voices of youth through music as expression. Learn more about Alice at and on Instagram at @MusicWithMissAlice.

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