On June 22, after a short but warm welcome from Waseema Ali, Managing Director of the Desmond Tutu Center, the day began by watching a video of Donovan Livingston’s commencement speech at Harvard University’s College of Education. At the closing of his remarks, he encouraged the audience to “lift off” and empower the lives of their students. This helped establish the tone for the day- perhaps our students are not primarily trouble makers and future drop outs, rather they have the potential to succeed and flourish with the right cultivation.
Next, Dr. Cynthia Jackson, District Positive Discipline Coordinator for Indiana Public Schools (IPS) greeted all those in attendance and asked participants to consider “why are you here?” It became clear that this diverse group came for a diverse set of reasons, but everyone had one reason in common; Dr. Jackson summarized this reason by saying, “We are here for the children and families in our community . . . We are building a community of hope.”
Dr. Jackson then invited, Dr. Dereck King Sr. of the Kingian Nonviolence Curriculum and nephew of the late Martin Luther King Jr., to give the keynote “We Are Better Together”. Dr. King spoke about how Restorative Practices, Kingian nonviolent practitioners and all those doing community building work are working together to cultivate thoughtful people, as opposed to ignoring the relationships that are crucial to effective learning. Dr. King gave a beautiful illustration using the patchwork quilts that his Grandmother used to sew, a quilt made out of a myriad of diverse patches of different colors and fabrics brought together by one thread. This was a fitting metaphor for the day as the thread of restorative practices had brought together such a diverse set of participants to construct one quilt of hope for students’ futures and strong communities.
Kristina Hulvershorn, Youth Program Director at the Peace Learning Center, then provided an introduction to the basic concepts of Restorative Practices beginning by reassuring those in attendance that they are not alone. Hulvershorn then explained some of the differences between traditional punitive practices in schools and Restorative Practices. Hulvershorn emphasized that “blame, shame, punishment, and exclusion are not working” and urged participants to consider one alternative to this, Restorative Practices. Hulvershorn explained that Restorative Practices is not a program to just add on to deal with misbehavior but instead should be treated as a shift in school environment and mindset. Restorative Practices work best, Hulvershorn shared, when it is treated as a shift from a punitive punishment mentality to a mentality of proactive community and relationship building that can be utilized in dealing with misbehavior. Hulvershorn stated that research shows schools that implement Restorative Practices see a reduction in disciplinary referrals to principals, suspensions and expulsions, amount of instructional time lost, and disproportionate referrals of minority students. At the same time, these schools saw an increase in teacher retention, academic outcomes, and teacher morale. Hulvershorn gave several examples of what Restorative Practices might look like giving examples of where, instead of a situation escalating to the point of suspension or referral of a student, a relationship between student, teacher, and classroom community is developed and drawn upon. Tools like restorative circles are used to uncover why something happened and how it might be resolved in a way that helps find the root issues and repair the relationship so that the future is better. This is a fundamental difference between traditional punitive practices and restorative practices; traditional practices focus on the past, but restorative practices also focus on the present and future. Hulvershorn provided several tools educators might use in this process such as affective statements, affective questions, proactive circles, and responsive circles.
After this introduction to Restorative Practices, participants broke into five Restorative Circles, to illustrate restorative circles might look like before breaking for lunch. Following the lunch break, there were three blocks of workshops for participants to learn more about Restorative Practices, hear from practitioners, view films on the subject, and participate in leading Restorative Circles.
Following the lunch break, participants selected small group workshops; Responsive Strategies and Alternatives to Suspension, Proactive Strategies and Prevention in Schools, Film screenings of Zero Tolerance and Burning Bridgets, Building the Community, and How to Lead a Restorative Circle. Through these workshops, panels, and film discussions participants engaged with real world examples of how Restorative Practices are utilized to build strong communities.
After the three blocks of workshops, everyone gathered in the Common Room to wrap up the day with a closing circle. Participants were split into two circles and each participant was asked to share what they hoped to do with this experience. Many things were shared from this diverse group of participants: one participant shared that he wanted to utilize this training to volunteer in his community, another shared she wanted to help build networks of practitioners of these practices, and many shared how they hoped to utilize these practices in the classroom. Returning to Dr. King’s quilt illustration all of these participants shared ways in which they might help build stronger communities together.
By: David Barickman