Restorative Practices Workshop: The Beginning of a Movement

By: Elizabeth McGlone

Restorative practices is an unfamiliar name to many people, and often a misunderstood concept. Speaker Kristina Hulvershorn explained that people assume restorative practices mean letting students walk all over the teacher and do whatever they want, but this is not the case. Restorative practices are about having high achievement and behavior standards for students while simultaneously being kind and enabling students to learn.

Hulvershorn explained that implementing restorative practices is important because “blame, shame, punishment, and exclusion don’t work.” At its core, restorative practices are about changing the mentality of adults and reorienting the way they interact with youth. This message resonated with me and reflected my personal experiences in school. I was not a “troublemaker”, but I had plenty of them in my classes and I remember how punitive punishment methods never solved anything. As soon as the student came back the same incident would repeat. A lot of learning time was lost over the course of the year, but I felt bad for the students being punished because no one was able to get through to them and I knew their future would suffer if they didn’t get an education. A few of the students I knew fairly well and I was able to encourage them to have a meeting with the teacher and dean and talk out what the core issue was. Some of these meetings were successful. Reflecting back, I realize I was encouraging these students to engage in a restorative circle.

Implementing Restorative Practices in our education system is important because the current discipline system is not working. The current system is just disrupting learning, ignoring the underlying problems students are struggling with, and strengthening the school to prison pipeline. By implementing restorative practices, schools can catch those students who are falling through the cracks and lift them up so they can reach their full potential. These students can become productive members of society instead of being pushed into a life of crime or poverty. Our “misbehaved” students are not failing in school, we are failing them. Restorative Practices is a tool that can make our system successful instead.

I’ve been to many events where everyone is fired up about a cause, but the next steps are unclear. At the Restorative Practices workshop, I saw community members making connections and formulating plans for future organizations and programs. They weren’t just talking about taking action, they were taking action. This left me with confidence that the workshop was just the beginning of the movement to implement restorative practices that strengthen relationships in the school community and beyond.