Doing a “180″ in school with Restorative Justice…

Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 in Restorative Justice | No Comments

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“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Fredrick Douglass

For some of us, summer is a time of ease and finding fun past times. Mine was about climbing cherry trees, sneaking to the river to swim and lemonade stands, punctuated with boy scout camp up at Mt. St. Helens when it looked like a snow cone rather than a lunar landscape. It was a time in our school, when we didn’t DARE speak back to a teacher and if we did, all Hades would break loose. Today, instead of punishment, we are offering opportunities for our school community to grow through discipline. For our purposes, let’s simplify and say discipline will ultimately help a child feel good about him or herself where punishment will tell them they are bad and offer them shame and guilt; I have done something bad vs. I AM a bad person.

With the movement of Restorative Justice, perhaps we can look at a paradox our teachers are currently facing and how that is affecting them and our students. When I worked with National Geographic, I had a wonderful program with which I competed with another that promised 180′s in reading. Isn’t it ironic that we entrusted a computer software program with an objective to teach that in which our teachers were already skilled, and trained? But the irony doesn’t stop there for me. I am currently working with a federally approved software program that teaches Social Emotional Learning (SEL); an area in which almost none of our teachers have training nor expertise of their own confession, and there is concern with using software to deliver unbiased, research based cohesive therapeutic content. This past week, I met with a district that is planning on creating an RJ program that needed help for the teachers. Most teachers don’t have degrees in psychology, behavior modification, nor are they licensed marriage family counselors. But in the RJ milieu, we are asking them to facilitate groups and/or circles expecting to elicit efficacious outcomes… AND be teaching all of the new common core standards. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that the underlying reason for the infraction that was the impetus for the RJ program in the first place, will more than likely not get addressed for a number of reasons; shame, guilt, fear of peer reactions, teachers uncertainty of the reason and fear of lack of expertise to address it should it <GASP> come up…

But the greatest need is for the students to ALL be reintegrated into class rather than marginalized. A number of strategies will work but here are just a few tips that Restorative Justice is suggesting (which, even if your district is NOT implementing RJ, the ideas can be beneficial to any classroom):

The missing element in all of this, of course, is the underlying reason the perpetrator (who is very likely a victim as well) misbehaved in the first place. Biases start to play a role. Students, whom some staff may call “frequent flyers”, continue to deal with the angst of unresolved underlying issues well after circle time. There is now, if they were punished rather than disciplined, shame on top of the guilt they were already feeling. A third party or modality may often help. Counselors, BEFORE infractions occur, may wish to introduce themselves early in the year based on students histories. By addressing the entire school with Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), we get the universal access, which will in turn help the peers and bystanders to provide valuable and meaningful feedback. Research also shows that programs, such as Ripple Effects, provide a triage and cool down time for students to garner skill sets and look at the situation much more objectively. Another benefit is that the evidence based research is always delivered effectively and accurately.

Social Justice is not just a good idea, it’s as old as time. Alice Ray, who created Second Step way back in the 1980′s and has just released the new Ripple Effects 5.0, has a great deal to say about the new school justice movement… But she also acknowledges that it goes much much deeper into the fibers of our cultures and society. In closing, my hope is that we who are involved in academia will help give teachers support, districts accountability and students a STRONG chance in life. Give us a call, we’d love to partner with you in your moving forward to Restorative Justice on your campuses.

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