“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is a mentality rooted within our society that has fragmented communities and relationships. You may see it play out in the media, or possibly within your social circles or child’s school.
What would happen if we approached retaliation differently by instead inviting an open dialogue between opposing parties? Would it be possible to create room for compassion and empathy? Could a shifted perspective that focuses less on punitive action make a difference?
The Center can attest to witnessing this positive difference through the implementation of restorative practices. Read more about the progress occurring at the Academy, the Center’s WASC accredited K-12 nonpublic school.
Restorative practices may be the new buzzword in town, but it has had a long-standing presence in San Diego County public schools and at the university level. In fact, the University of San Diego (USD) exposed restorative practices to Liberty Hebron, MA, PCCI, Academy Therapist. Through Liberty’s education and work experience at USD, she became trained in restorative practices and introduced the concept to the Academy upon joining the Center’s staff last year.
The focus of restorative practices is to repair relationships that have been harmed due to negative behaviors or incidents. This includes the relationship between the assailant and victim, and their own personal relationships with members in their community who were also impacted. Through an open and ongoing dialogue, restorative practices identifies the causes of an incident, provides an opportunity for each person who was impacted to voice their feelings, and then determines an action plan to repair relationships and thus build a stronger community.
This past summer, Liberty coordinated an extensive 2-day training in restorative practices led by the Lemon Grove Unified School District. 50 Center team members, including the Academy’s faculty and administrative team, became certified in restorative practices by the International Institute for Restorative Practices.
“This training created an even stronger foundation for our team. We have a common language and more tools to proactively support students when an incident happens. Through this connection, students are able to feel like their voice matters and that it’s held at the same level of anyone – even our principal,” shares Liberty.
Although the Academy officially adopted restorative practices through this training, it has implemented similar programs over the past 6 years to help students make better choices. This includes its Anti-Bullying and PeaceBuilders programs. Additionally, Academy team members worked with a student last year who was facing possible punitive action through the juvenile court system.
Through the guidance of the National Conflict Resolution Center, Restorative Community Conferencing Program, the Academy team worked diligently to support this student and his community that was impacted through restorative practices. The action plan involved the student meeting certain goals, including attending a Restorative Justice Conference with a therapist and teachers from the Academy where he actively participated in a restorative circle.
This circle allowed the student to hear from his community members, including his mother, of how they were harmed by his actions. It also provided an opportunity for the student to share how he felt and acknowledge the harm he caused. This manifested in the recording of a rap song written by the student at a local music producers recording studio. The student’s positive growth was noted as well by the judge who cleared him of the incident. Since then, the student who is now a senior, has made no further assaults and now serves as a mentor to younger students.
With restorative practices in full swing this school year, teachers with the support of Academy therapists, lead weekly restorative circles based on topics unique to each classroom that are age-appropriate, and meet the behavioral and educational needs of students. Topics can include check-ins of how each student is feeling, reflecting on classroom curriculum, answering questions related to interests and hobbies, or giving praise and making amends for incidents that happen throughout the week. Teachers and students pass around a “talking piece” so each person’s voice is heard without hierarchy. Additionally, students and teachers utilize apology and reflection forms as other tools to build community.
Through these techniques, Academy staff members are able to develop deeper relationships with students, which helps reduce tension and conflict. Restorative practices is also adding to the already vibrant team culture among our trauma-informed staff. The Center is eager to see staff, students and their families continue to build their own sense of community and feel more welcomed and connected within the larger school community.