Transforming Schools through Restorative Practices
Transforming schools through restorative practices – to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline
from the ReSolutionaries Team
The work of ReSolutionaries is based in the fundamental belief that all young people deserve to thrive in schools that value and engage every student as a crucial member of the school community. With decades of experience building restorative practices and restorative justice in schools, ReSolutionaries works closely with school staff, students, and parents to develop systems and practices to support relationships that lead to student learning and success.
Connection Circles – are the basic building block for developing a restorative school. This simple circle process fosters relationships among students, school staff, parents and community members by giving equal voice to all and providing a safe space to be heard. Conflict is reduced and relationships flourish when people know one another better and become curious about others.
Understanding that behavior communicates needs, the ReSolutionaries help school communities approach conflict and challenges as opportunities to uncover and address underlying issues and needs. If students have strong relationships at school and their needs are being met, they feel valued and therefore engage in positive ways, and experience success and belonging at school. When parents feel welcome, respected and valued as powerful partners in their child’s education, both the school and the student’s success are strengthened. Through restorative practices people learn to treat others with respect, take responsibility for their actions and repair any harm their actions may have caused. ReSolutionaries help schools build a solid foundation of restorative principles holding firm accountability for behavior within a context of care for all persons. When ReSolutionaries’ restorative approaches are woven into the fabric of the school culture, all staff embrace the 5 Rs, model empathy and, students are present and engaged in classrooms, remaining in school through graduation, ending the School to Prison Pipeline.
Equity Focus – With explicit attention to culturally responsive practices, courageous conversations about race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and other forms of difference, and regular use of specific and timely data regarding disparities in disciplinary actions that inform and adjust the work, ReSolutionaries’ schools are dedicated to addressing these issues directly.
ReSolutionaries work with school leadership, teachers, staff and parents, weaving restorative principles with initiatives present in the school to craft a plan for moving the school forward in its goals to assure success for all its students. Through interactive learning sessions followed by regular coaching and debriefing, administration, parents, students and school staff become conversant with restorative language and capable of facilitating restorative processes. Student and adult trainings center around teams who can then train others, as part of a focus on sustainability of restorative practices in the school community beyond ReSolutionaries’ direct involvement.
Student Leadership – As soon as possible and as a part of the plan, students are trained in restorative practices, learning leadership and facilitation skills that they may use in school and in their lives to prevent and resolve conflict. Students at all levels can facilitate connection circles and, as their facilitation skills develop, may conduct more advanced processes to address disciplinary incidents.
As connection circles become a familiar and trusted restorative practice, school staff in ReSolutionaries’ schools report successful use of circles in their own meetings, parents begin using them when they meet, and teachers find that instructional time is more productive. Incidents of disruptive behavior decrease when class begins or ends with a connection circle. Teachers at all levels report students asking for circles. As trust builds, connection circles become effective tools for addressing issues of importance in the classroom or the school community.
The Solution is in the Circle: On any given day, a young man of color in a Denver area school is suspended for ‘disobedience and defiance’ or ‘behavior detrimental to the functioning of the school’.
A teacher notices one of her students acting distracted in class. As she continues with her lesson, he checks his phone and explodes angrily when she asks him to put it away. A ReSolutionaries trained student stands, calmly walks over to the young man, and they leave the class together. After class, the two students return. They approach the teacher quietly and request a time for a restorative circle to discuss what happened.
In that facilitated circle, the young man shares that he had been offended by a joke the teacher made at the beginning of the year and has had trouble trusting her since then. After listening to the student, the teacher offers that she is frustrated when he disrupts class because the distraction means she can’t give other students the support they need. The young man’s mother shares that they’ve been struggling financially and his father is ill, and that she had no idea her son was having problems at school. Another student talks about what a natural leader the young man is, and about his artistic talent. The school counselor offers that the student has had past successes in other classes.
Together, these people craft an agreement to repair the harm done in the situation and to use the opportunity to build relationships and honor the young man’s strengths. The teacher acknowledges the student was offended by her joke and will be more thoughtful about her interactions, and commits to meeting with him each week for the remainder of the term. The student agrees to try some anger management techniques and to let the teacher know when he needs help in class. The counselor will help the family connect with financial and medical support resources. His mom will stop by to check in with the teacher on Fridays. The young man agrees to create a painting to be presented to the principal at their regular assembly and hung in the school hallway. And the only thing the rest of the school will know and see is a young man of color sharing his insights and abilities with his school community and stepping forward as a leader.
Restorative Approaches – ReSolutionaries encourages schools to move toward discipline practices that keep students in classrooms, reducing suspensions and exclusionary, punitive consequences for rule violation. Studies show that when students have the opportunity to take responsibility for and repair the harm caused by their actions, they are unlikely to continue that behavior, while studies do not show that punishment changes behavior. The final stage of a restorative process, reintegration, brings a student who has caused harm back into relationship with her/his community, with honor.
Restorative practices empower all members of a school community – parents, students, teachers and other staff – to bring their wisdom and their voices to bear in a common cause – the potential of each and every student to realize their dreams.
Does It Work? Our first school partnership was with Mapleton Early College, a public school serving a majority students of color and majority Free and Reduced Lunch student body on the urban fringe of Denver. With school-wide implementation of restorative justice practices, within three years suspension rates were less than one tenth those of the nearest neighboring school and all achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers had been eliminated. During the same period, student learning showed such sustained and substantial growth that the school moved from the lowest to the highest performance rating, gaining local and national recognition including being named a Colorado Center of Excellence by the Colorado Department of Education. Students, teachers, staff, parents, and school leadership all point to their work with ReSolutionaries and the development of a restorative school culture as the foundation that made all these accomplishments possible.