The promise of restorative justice practices in Minneapolis Public Schools have been a beacon of hope for many of our educators, students, and families. However, the training, time, and staff are not always available to implement these practices in a meaningful and permanent way. The stories shared here--both positive and negative--show us as a union and school district how far we still have to go -- as well as educators' desire to undertake the journey -- in our promise to create and nurture the relationships that make our schools great places to teach and learn.
The vision is not the reality.
Last year, I voluntarily joined our school’s Positive School Wide Behavior Committee (PSWE). I was excited about beginning a pilot of an academic coaching approach with individual students in our building. Several years ago, I had voluntarily taken an Academic Coaching Class offered as a ProPay class. This academic coaching protocol has been very successfully used in several surrounding districts to develop relationships with students and, in turn, teach students’ goal setting skills, bolster students’ emotional skill set translating into improved academic success. When I returned to work this schoolyear, I found the PSWE committee had morphed into the new Equity and Engagement Team (EET). I almost stopped attending, as I wasn’t even notified, nor had any input in this choice and change. Since, I am committed to our school’s continued focus on positive school climate, I continued to attend. MTSS’s webpages brims with lovely graphics and enticing toolkits. Hours and hours and hours of time must have been devoted at the district level to creating bright eye-catching graphics. Meanwhile, our EET’s committee time has often been spent working diligently trying to complete the expected EET MTSS progress reports. As a school, we have repeatedly requested training in restorative practices. This is now late April, and we have yet to have effective professional development training in restorative practices that helps me in my classroom in any way. While I do understand the goal of restorative practices, I don’t have the necessary training to adequately address the needs of a student in distress while continuing my instruction and demands of my classes. In order to serve all of my students, I need to have practical hands-on and ongoing restorative practices professional development.
Ongoing Training is a must for implementing restorative practices with fidelity.
In the fall of 2017 during back-to-school week, our staff had a 2 hour staff development on restorative practices. We learned about circles. We saw a video, and discussed it. All during the next semester, our principal would refer to circles, and restorative practices. Whatever discipline issue came up, the principal suggested that "all" of the student's teachers should have a circle. Inappropriate cell phone use? Have a circle. Failing grades? Circle. If we asked the administration for support, the answer was "Have you done a circle?" I'm sure that there must be more than 1 tool in the restorative practices tool box, but this is the only one we were given. Please tell me how, and when, exactly, are we supposed to do this. Do we expect students to miss another class for the circle? Do we stop teaching and gather all the students into a circle during our own class? How would it be fair to the students who have already endured disruptive behavior to have the class hijacked for a circle? And what is the objective? If 4 or 5 or 6 teachers find the time to meet together to address one student's needs, what about the other 160 students I have? I know that districts have used restorative practices with success. I support implementing it in MPS. However, one 2-hour staff development does not prepare teachers to implement it. Further, restorative practices doesn't mean no consequences for anything, and it doesn't absolve administrators from all responsibility in maintaining safe and orderly schools.
A meaningful process that feels good for all.
A kindergarten student (J) punched me and was destroying the room. I evacuated the students to across the hall. The social worker had just recently attended some training about restorative practices and asked if she could use our situation to practice the skills she had just learned. I don't remember the details of the process. However, I do remember that our entire class sat in a circle and I had an opportunity to say how the situation made me feel. As the teacher, I have never had that opportunity. The student is just usually brought back to the class after they have calmed down and everyone is supposed to continue as though nothing happened. The teacher and students are to blindly welcome J back into the classroom. It doesn't feel good. This process felt good. It was meaningful to all. If this was done for every situation like this, I wonder how it would change the school climate.
Ending punitive discipline requires implementation of restorative practices. No consequences is NOT an effective middle ground!
During the 2013-14 school year I worked with an assistant principal in my building (since retired) to educate staff about restorative practices and start to implement a framework for restorative practices. The staff divided into book club groups and we read Restorative Practices Handbook by Bob Costello. The discussions were deep and staff were eager to learn more. That was five years ago and there has been close to nothing from the district. I hear it talked about, but I don’t see any commitment of resources, staffing or time to implement restorative practices. We learned from our book clubs about restorative practices at the classroom level, yet there has been no systemic professional development through the district. We discussed the relationship between restorative practices and discipline, yet nothing has been effectively implemented and again no professional development. We read about leadership and school change, but realize there has really been no leadership from our district around restorative practices. What has happened instead is we have removed punitive disciplinary practices in our schools without any implementation of restorative practices. So, what we have is behavior from students with lack of any natural or logical consequences, thus behavior spreads and escalates. I see individual teachers, administrators and ESPs implementing restorative practices without any support from the district. The sad true fact is the district spews buzzwords—in the press, at school board meetings and to the public---but does nothing to provide the necessary professional development, resources, time and staffing necessary to implement restorative practices. This is true with SEL too by the way. Just FAKE NEWS!