School-based Restorative Justice – Restorative Practices – Restorative Measures . . . In my opinion, they all funnel down to practices in school designed to influence the general culture (everyone in a community) and provide individual interventions (case specific).
When I first started training schools, I used the same process for developing new programs at St Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, SCVRJP. This was to hold the concepts of Circle/Restorative Justice and place with that, the issue/topic/intervention. This seems to be working. Imagine two halves of a plastic egg coming together.
The sum of what you create is the force of nature. I was familiar with school-based work before I started training. I also had experience working with alternative schools, school-within-a-school programs and providing trainings about Restorative Justice to school staff.
Teaching teachers . . . it’s a career accomplish to say I feel competent. No offense, it’s like trying to put a stand-up comedian up in front of his or her peers! The audience/trainer dynamic is very important, very, very important when implementing restorative justice in schools. A thank you to those that helped me be a better trainer and an apology to those that had me when I was new! So concept 1: get a good, experienced trainer!
Concept 2: Exclusion is a form of violence. Do not try to merge your restorative practice with a formal response like sending youth out to a different room. Restorative Justice is about the dialogue between those impacted. The people most involved in an incident come up with ways to make it right. A teacher is speaking out against restorative practices, and from what I read, she was not part of any process to make it right.
Concept 3: Time. Teachers, I need you to know and trainers you have to teach/convince/get school staff to try to understand – RJ will give you more time in your class. School staff are overwhelmed! I can have a to do list, but I don’t have to spend all day in an appointment, 5 days a week. Consider that teachers have a to-do list AND are busy all day. The days that I went to schools and helped coach (a follow-up to training) and did Circle after Circle, one class to another – I nearly lost my mind! The teacher’s lounge was a safe place! After being around all those little bodies, all that different energy, managing all those little voices, little hands, little feet . . . whew I was WIPED out! Tell me to try one more thing that seems “kumbaya” . . . pfffffffff! I have that perspective and I’m the advocate/trainer! I have compassion for the teachers – I get their environment. It is that passion, for both teachers and restorative justice that you need to bring. You need to help teachers see that this tool will create a better environment for their class. The distractions that take up time will be reduced, the time spent doing discipline will be reduced, the connections to kids will be improved, the satisfaction with teaching will be improved.
Concept 4: Heart. Kids that need you will push you away. You have to bring a heart that believes in the heart of each and every student. This is not easy. Every cell in your body maybe thinking or feeling “you little . . . rascal”. However, if you believe in the heart of that kid, and you use your own heart to lead you to find out what makes that kid tick, you will change that child’s life forever. As I re-read this concept, my lips got tight and I felt angry, “you little . . .” I thought about when I feel wronged, I feel justified in my anger. Justified anger causes trouble. As I read on about the heart, I felt my anger go down, I thought about the compassion in my heart. I thought about the times I listened and came to new understandings.
I thought about the student who acknowledged she didn’t want to be in the Circle. She went on to talk about the fight with her step mom that morning. She talked about the long-standing conflict, she took ownership about her statements that caused harm that morning and she even expressed maybe doing something different. Imagine being in a little body of 13 and having that kind of conflict before school.
The more you use your heart, with students, with conflict, with others, the more you have a compassion skill set. The easier it is to access this and have it work for you and for others. Concept 5) make the path to compassion.