Essentially, restorative practices are about creating more connection in our classrooms and repairing harm when it happens. And connection comes in handy when harm occurs and relationships get broken. As unlikely as it seems, helping students feel happier at schools should also be a goal. Happy students make better students, better thinkers, and better team players. So when this article on the neuroscience of happiness showed up and talked about the four rituals that will make you happier, I thought it would be worth seeing how it can be applied in schools. On the way, I discovered that restorative practices already use most of these four rituals for happiness.

So, what are the four rituals? They are:

  1. Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”
  2. Label negative feelings
  3. Make a decision
  4. Touch people

Four simple rituals. Things that can bring happiness in the classroom. Things that can help build a safe school environment where students feel they belong and can contribute without feeling judged.

When teachers or administrators using a restorative mindset sit down with a student who has misbehaved or has caused harm, they often start by acknowledging the good things the student does. In a real, authentic way. Then they label negative feelings. By labeling them, we begin to let them be acknowledged. And then we can let them be felt. We encourage taking a short pause to allow ourselves time to feel the feelings before moving on.

Then, once everyone has had a chance to share the negative feelings and behaviors that are causing the problem, making a decision will move things even more. We get practical and specific. When we set a plan in motion, we begin to feel happy because something has been done to address the situation. We’re moving forward and not stagnating. And, moving makes us happy.

Sadly, many of our schools have policies which make it difficult for teachers to touch students. But the evidence shows that touch is vitally important for true and deep connection that makes us happy and starts the flow of oxytocin in our bodies. Each school and teacher needs to decide how and when they can appropriately touch students. At a minimum, a handshake and a “gleam beam” at the end of a conversation works wonders. At best, a well timed touch on the shoulder or arm can be used as a way to say “I’m here, I care, and we’re connected.”

The next time you are working with a student or a colleague in a restorative way, know that you are increasing the happiness in our world.

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