Introducing “On the Plus Side” Podcast: Episode 1

Hello, I am Paula Freeman with ESC Region 13 and this is On the Plus Side, a podcast dedicated to educators who are authentically finding wisdom, purpose, and happiness every day in their school communities. We intend to celebrate successes large and small by reconnecting every listener with hopeful practices and resources to make these strategies come to life in their own school settings. Be sure to visit us online at ESC Region 13 to register for a free Canvas course that will provide all the resources we discuss on the podcast today. Welcome to the Plus Side…


This week, we will visit Manor Middle School to answer the illusive but simple question: How important is student voice?

As I leave my car in the lot, I turn to see a very typical middle school. The morning is well underway with kids busily hurrying into the building. Clear backpacks reveal the typical gear every middle school student needs to survive. Things like a hairbrush, their ear-pods, and maybe a choice snack. Everyone is fixing their hair one last time and checking that last posting to social media before the day begins…

BUT, as I walk through the front door, I realize something is different here…

It is almost the end of the school year, and people are smiling, greeting each other with shoulder bumps, and saying “glad you are here!” I move into the main office to sign in and notice, two children have already been placed in the ominous line of chairs outside the principal’s office.

There is no anger or crying. The kids wait patiently for what comes next and from my previous experience, I wonder why they are so calm. Most of the time sitting in these chairs means the kids are headed into exile in exclusionary disciplinary settings, where they will be isolated from peers and miss an entire day of learning. But again, it’s different here…

In a matter of minutes, a bright face enters the front office. Ms. Young, the assistant principal of academic performance, greets each child by name, has a short discussion about how the school norms were not followed, who was affected by this breach of rules, and listens to the students explain how they might fix the situation as soon as possible. An apology, or the addition of a hoodie to match school dress codes and off to class the students go. Understanding what they did and how to fix it. Most importantly having the kind of relationship with other people to actually want to fix it.

Students are truly in charge of their own campus here at Manor Middle. As several students in matching Restorative Team black hoodies greet their peers in the hallways, they also support the school norm of being to class on time by asking their friends to talk later, and get to class before the bell. These students are keeping the peace in the hallway by being real friends to their peers, you know, not just the kind of friend that tells you what you want to hear, but a real friend who tells you when they don’t agree with you and engage you in being your best self. (Student sound bites about being a true friend) They care as much about their friend’s success as their own and it shows.

Suddenly, Christine, a bright young woman asks me if I would like to join her group in the Restorative Room for a taco. Speakers are bumping, kids are smiling and dancing and everyone is excited about telling their story. (add music and bustling sounds) Telling the world how they, the students, have changed Manor Middle school from a place where you had to use violence to resolve your problems into a safe school where it is ok to voice your opinion, be yourself, and choose your friends. (student soundbites about the change they have created) Students who habitually had problems resolving personal issues with peers or teachers report having new skills to resolve problems and want to become role models for kids who might have had the same problem. ( Sound bite of Jalisa? Who said she was” a problem child”)

The students also extend authentic gratitude to the adults who have been part of their journey to leadership. They thank each one for the amazing experience of personal transformation. (soundbites of gratitude, teacher voices)

These kids have big plans for the future! They intend to become the Restorative Team at Manor High School. They would like to create the school environment they envision. (sound bites of kid’s plans for the future) You may be wondering how this happened at Manor Middle School? OR even how can I make this happen at my school? Well, let’s find out…

There are some incredibly innovative educators here at Manor Middle school who have taken the elevating of student voices to a new level.

First let’s meet Ms. Young. (listen to Ms. Young’s soundbites to help formulate a story around her ideas)

Which brings me to a very important person Ms. Young celebrated in her comments, our ESC Region 13 own Lisette Castaneda.

Lisette, what do you think is the most important first step a group of educators can take to begin Restorative Practices in their school?

What is the impact of teaching these skills to students?

Dr. Jones says “competence is confidence” (this sound bite)

In other words, we need to teach kids the skills to lead and then let them be the agents of change.

Coach Mays, the cheer and dance team leader, says modeling is incredibly important. We as adults must ensure we are using the restorative mindset with our own adult peers before kids can follow our lead.

Change starts with me is the universal theme I hear at Manor Middle. Whether you are an adult, student, administrator, coach or parent, the change you want to see begins with me. I am responsible for my own actions, I can lead, I can help, I can change, I can build relationships with others, and I can be successful. Self-efficacy and academic resilience are born. These are the only statistically significant variables that indicate college, career, trade or military success after high school. Believing in yourself, and feeling empowered to make the changes in the world you want to see.

Success begins here! And on the plus side, I see a lot of success at Manor Middle School!

Thank you for tuning in today and please be sure to join us at ESC 13 for free Canvas resources and contact information to build restorative practices at your school today!

What has happened as a result of their efforts?

Why is this important?

What ideas do they have moving forward?

For more support from the Region 13 Education Service Center, visit our Behavior page or learn more about our Restorative Peer Mediator Program.

Paula Freeman, Ph.D. is a Doctor of Counselor Education and has a passion for interpersonal skill building through leadership and character development. She believes in evidence-based practices in schools. She has experience in teaching students who receive Special Education services and Emergent Bilingual supports. She has been a bilingual Professional School Counselor for the past 20 years in diverse school settings.

Add comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *