The “Why” of Restorative Practices in Spokane Public Schools

The “Why” of Restorative Practices in Spokane Public Schools

Nobody does well without a sense of
safety and security in a relationship- nobody! And that is how we’re wired, if we
don’t have that we’re not gonna learn. The importance of human relationships
that is the basis of everything that we do and the focus of restorative
practices I believe is based on relationships and how we cultivate those
relationships. We want our students to be able to connect with their teachers you
know they’re gonna spend 180 days with their teacher and that line of
communication has to be strong between student and teacher for any kind of
learning or teaching to take place. The research is very clear that
children learn well when they feel secure and they don’t learn well in fact
they really don’t learn at all if they’re insecure . You know until they
know each other, like each other, trust each other and me it’s just really hard
to get them to focus the way that they need to. Teaching and education is a
human endeavor and the power of relationships and trust I think is the
most important. Anytime we try to do school where we forget that or we move
away from that I think we’re at risk, so to me restorative practices has given us
the opportunity and kind of released us in administration and conflicts and in
classrooms to do what we wanted to do from the beginning and really love kids
get to know them and help them grow as humans and academically as well. I didn’t really have any problems until fourth grade and I had extremely long
hair so I a lot of people would end up calling me a girl and whatnot. And I was
taught by my family the way that you can stop that is by stopping those people.
Every single time I had got in a fight I would get suspended these suspensions
made me feel like the normal thing to do in school is to go there and get in
trouble. After years and years of trauma and going through not only bullying but
what was going on at home I think we were living in motels and whatnot, I sort
of gave up with school altogether. I think it took about a year or two before
I finally ended up getting back into high school It went from me being traumatized-me
feeling like everyone’s out to get me, me feeling like when I go to school today
I’m gonna have to get in a fight just to even learn something. But now I’m feeling
like I can go to school and learn something just to better my future
just to try to get back on that path of courage and that’s why I’m trying to go
to On Track Academy because I have good courage at the moment, you know I feel I’m gonna make it now. In these classroom circles
or community circles what we do is just start off with a welcome. Sometimes it’s
just everybody going around saying hello to each other, sometimes it’s asking them
to just go around and say one thing on a topic.So today I asked them about their
favorite foods and it just got them going and got them thinking about each other.
What I heard today and saw today is that the kids were really able to make
connections between themselves. That really allows us to build a community
that then in turn allows me to get the kids to the hard work of the
academic stuff. So my question to you is you were listening to what everybody was
saying did you hear other stuff that you also love to eat. It used to be that I
would just let kids say oh you’ve got a conflict with somebody go out in the
hallway and solve it. Well what we’re learning is that kids don’t know how to
do that for real and I have to do some coaching with them, helping them identify
what the conflict is, identify how they really feel and then identify what they
need to have this resolved. And I’ve had really good success with that, sometimes
there are such deep hurts happening that kids really do need to have a conference
with each other and with me in order to have that happen. The
other thing is that we’ll have class meetings that are a little different
than the community circles and that’s where we actually do some
problem-solving together as a class. So I’ll say this is a problem that we’re
having generally in the class let’s think about what the causes of the
problem are and then let’s see if we can brainstorm some ideas,
select a solution that we’re gonna try and then come back and see how it’s
worked. The kids really need to feel like they can trust me and that they can
trust each other, and this is how we get that done. It takes a lot of time but you
can come in any time and you’ll notice that because we’ve taken that time
they’re kinder to each other, they’re more understanding, you can come back and
see the kids in action working together collaboratively. And they’re able to do
that because they’ve built trust. Children are remarkably sensitive and
when they’ve been harmed or have harmed somebody else, they need to learn that
mistakes have consequences in relationship versus mistakes have
consequences that take me out of relationship. When we suspend students
it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re being held accountable. For some students
that means a free day out in our community and so to actually have a
response that requires students to stay accountable to the behavior and make up
for their wrongdoing is I think a step in a positive direction. It’s not just a
matter of serving your amount of time and now you’re ready to go and
everything’s fixed. That doesn’t repair any of the harm, that doesn’t
connect them back to the community. What happened what really works is having
them sit down and think about how they affected people and how do they fix the problem. A lot of times when we get kids they are way up here and we
need to get them down. When you cause them to think it causes their brain to
slow down and then you follow it up with a series of questions which talks about
how can I help make this better? What can we do to get you past this and get you
into a better place? And when when you go in that direction kids start thinking
like “Wow well they’re really into my health and welfare” and that’s an
important piece. It’s a pretty powerful process so the first thing that everyone
has to agree to come in voluntarily. That’s the first part. The second part is
we have to agree to common courtesy- which means no name-calling or yelling.
We don’t want to make the situation worse. The third thing is they have to
agree to have an open mind, which means they’ll actually listen to the other
person. And the fourth thing is that we don’t have to agree on all the facts
of the situation. We’re gonna talk about each person’s perspective on the
conflict they’ve had, but we do agree that there’s a problem and we need to
solve it. Oftentimes students don’t have the tools
to process their feelings and emotions and so it’s our job to kind of work
with them and give them some of those tools to help
cope and process and communicate. Restorative practices definitely provides
students with a different avenue in order to go about solving any of their
issues and problems. When you do restorative practices right you increase
accountability, you increase transparency and you increase the feeling of teamwork
and support that you wouldn’t typically get with conventional approaches to
discipline. It doesn’t mean we’re not gonna hold kids accountable or say,
“Listen I’m glad we’ve had this talk and now here’s where we’re going here”, but they know that we’ve heard them and that we care about them regardless of
what happened, and that actually is a way more powerful way to discipline, to
restore to change behavior. Students who disrupt our community
within the school we allow them some time to kind of deescalate and when they
feel ready they’ll process with a staff member, and what that looks like is they
first acknowledge from the students perspective like what the incident was, what occurred. From there they talk about what and how they were feeling at the
time and what they needed, and then finally when they meet with the staff
they’ll go through as far as having agreements to what’s a better
alternative method to get your needs met that didn’t have to involve the
disruption of the community. We also do ongoing mediations so if there’s a
conflict between students we’ll have a staff member mediate. Students will tell
the perspective of the incident or the ongoing issue with the other student and
the other student will listen. Then they’ll kind of reverse roles. From there we’ll
ask the students what they need from each other and then we’ll again
establish some agreements that we can kind of move forward as a community. When
agreements are broken among students it’s frustrating, especially when you give 110% every day to students and you think you have a good plan moving
forward and then only to come back the next day and that relationship has been
damaged again. Every teacher hopes that you only have to teach the
lesson once and it sticks but you know it is definitely something that you’re
constantly building on. How long did it take you to learn to drive a car right?
You didn’t learn it in one session. Yes you have a great
instruction and you do it really well and the next day you forget much of it,
especially when you’re dealing with the level of stress that struggling kids
have, you’re trying to identify with the student their actions and the
consequences of their actions and then how we can go about kind of restoring
some of the the community back in place due to a an incident that occurred and
so you’re just keep coming back to it, coming back to it. Ruptures are essential
for a healthy relationship, and the way they’re essential is that
the caregiver is big enough to realize something important has happened and
their primary goal is to repair the relationship. And when the child learns
that loop, there’s a rupture then a repair, there’s a rupture then a repair, if that
happens again and again again that’s when you get a secure child. And what
I’ve learned over time you’ll go through maybe four or five different agreements
on four or five different occasions and eventually something clicks. So it’s
about that trust, that relationship and using that to fully understand the whole
student. Our new policy 3240 incorporates the use
of restorative philosophy but that doesn’t mean that restorative practices
are the only way that we respond to student behavior. We still have
suspensions. There are still appropriate times when we need to suspend a student.
We also have detention, we have community service, and our overall philosophy is
all about an interest to change behavior, maintain the relationship with the
student and the family and re-engage the student academically. That’s our approach.
Each child needs to be looked at as an individual and that there’s all kinds of
things that we can teach them. Using restorative justice practices is
especially a good thing if it’s a minor offense, something that somebody’s going
to walk away from with just a better understanding, better learning…let’s take
that approach. It brings everybody into the conversation and creates some
investment in improving outcomes for students. So it’s not just the students
responsibility, it’s not just the parents responsibility, it’s not just the
teachers responsibility, it’s everybody’s working together including the student.
We all have a responsibility to build a community inside of our schools and that
is one of the most important things that a classroom teacher does. And the best
classroom teachers do that, they create community inside of their classroom. They
get to know each student. They ensure that each student knows that they care
about them, when that happens in every classroom across a school that has a
significant impact on how students feel and how they behave. I’ve got a really
great group of kids right now and they came to me some of the kindest children
that I’ve ever worked with and I think that’s in part due to the work that the
teachers have been doing recently in our school with restorative practices and so
we are benefiting from that as a whole school. Given time and and being really
growth mindset in the open mind when you approach restorative practice, it’s paid our students dividends as far as really being more insightful and
more reflective about why they do the things they do. To me the why is to honor
the dignity and the humanity of every person you encounter. Every person has a
perspective and every person is going to be in conflict at some time and how do
we hear them in the midst of that and how do we move through it? When we’re trying to change a culture and you’re asking district staff and families and the
community to step up to the plate, you’re also trying to do it in a way that
everybody is raising the bar together at the exact same time. If one body is not
invested or doesn’t believe in the need for the cultural change or in the need
for a new approach to practices then the other two can’t hold the bar up by
themselves and it won’t work. So everybody kind of has to do it together
and that always takes a lot of time and a lot of energy and it has to be
consistent. It’s like you just keep hammering at it and then the next thing
you know the bar is up there and everybody’s like “Wow we lifted it we
didn’t even know!”

Danny Hutson

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