Restoring Community

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Jen WilliamsThe IIRP provided restorative practices training to 500 middle- and high-school students in the Miami-Dade County, Florida, School District. Jen Williams, IIRP '16, a middle school counselor, shares her experience of developing and presenting this training:

I was blown away when IIRP Lecturer Mary Jo Hebling asked to me to share my work with the Miami-Dade School District. The students in the Restorative Training Program in my small rural school in Southeastern Pennsylvania are trail blazers to me, but I never expected to be asked to share our work with others.  

2018 Dec Student Global Leaders Workshop 32Freshman boys at a high school outside Detroit shocked their community by performing a hate-filled anti-Semitic rap song in the lunchroom. But bringing people together to repair the hurt they caused turned an ugly episode into an opportunity to build empathy and respect.

Harm spread throughout the school as a video of the incident circulated. “The most difficult part,” lamented a member of Bloomfield Township's Jewish community, “was that it was not a single individual, but a whole group of 10 or so who were laughing and cajoling, filming and encouraging him.”

More than half of the staff at Bloomfield Hills High School had received professional development in restorative practices. Margaret Schultz, the district’s Administrator for Social Emotional Learning & Educational Equity, also a licensed trainer for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), got to work immediately, building understanding and accountability among those involved in the incident.

The following blog post is from IIRP President Dr. John Bailie's website Leading Conflict: How to Fight at Work, a series of articles about how leaders can improve relationships to help their organizations thrive.


blog photo simple isnt easyIt’s tempting to believe that conflict in relationships is a complicated topic. Complicated is actually easy. A complicated problem implies a lower bar for success. We expect less measurable positive outcomes.

When a problem with another person is seen as complicated we have many reasons to think about it some more, delay action and hesitate to say what we are really thinking. Why be hasty? After all, it’s complicated.

However, the vast majority of interpersonal conflicts, whether at work or in our personal lives, are not inherently complicated. They are often painful to face and endure, but that’s not the same thing as being complicated.

One great secret about coaching and mentoring leaders in their interpersonal relationships is that the vast majority of questions arise again, and again, and again. It’s mainly the setting and personalities that change. Here’s an example.

Pittsburgh kidsIn one of the first rigorous, large-scale evaluations of restorative practices in a large urban school district, researchers from RAND Corporation found that restorative practices improved school climate, reduced student suspensions and decreased discipline disparities in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS).

The randomized controlled trial compared 22 PPS K-12 schools that adopted restorative practices with 22 similar schools that did not, between June 2015 and June 2017.

PPS contracted with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) Graduate School SaferSanerSchoolsTM program to implement the practices, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Justice. PPS is now implementing restorative practices in all district schools.

The study found that climate and relationships in the restorative practices schools improved, compared with the control schools. In addition, the number of days lost to suspension declined in the restorative practices schools, as did racial and income disparities in suspension rates, when compared to the control schools.

Reductions in suspension rates were greater for African American students, students from low-income families, female students and elementary grade students than for students not in these groups.

Other school districts can learn important lessons on training, practice, support and data collection from Pittsburgh when adopting a restorative practices program.

"This is an exciting study that shows the promise of restorative practices as an important prevention strategy," comments Gina Baral Abrams, Dr.P.H., IIRP Director of Research and Program Evaluation and Assistant Professor. "To move the needle on longstanding cultural issues, it takes an environmental approach that includes relational community building. Restorative practices provides this, in addition to ways to respond to harm."

"The report is very encouraging. It affirms that restorative practices has a positive effect on school climate and in reducing suspensions," notes Keith Hickman, IIRP Director of Continuing Education. "Perhaps most significant, it found that restorative practices reduced the suspension disparity for African American students. This punishment disparity is a serious challenge facing our nation today."

Read a research brief here: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB10051.html

Read the full report here: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2840.html

vr picThe 21st Century will redefine our entire concept of higher education and adult learning.

The IIRP Graduate School demonstrates the innovation that is possible when empowering learning strategies meet the best of new technologies.

For instance, our graduate programs teach many forms of participatory group engagement that K-12 teachers can use with students. One such practice is called a “restorative circle.”

In the past, a professor might talk about circles. She might assign some readings on circles. If the class is together in person, the professor might run a role play or two. We do those things.

But what if you could sit in on a “real” restorative circle, in a real school, with real young people? And what if you could sit in on that circle without leaving home, without leaving your office or after you put your own kids to bed?

What if you could sit in on the same circle several times, perhaps seeing and learning something new each time? Then, you could bring that learning and insight to an in-person or online course cohort.

Well, today you can. Here’s a sample of a new virtual reality experience from the IIRP Graduate School.

henry and aliceHenry McClendon, Jr., IIRP Michigan Representative, with Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, Inc.The IIRP World Conference in Detroit was a triumph, our largest ever! Among the sold-out crowd were 75 Detroit residents who attended through scholarships, bringing a true spirit of community.

Their grassroots work as stewards of their neighborhoods is supported by commitment from the top. “Restorative practices will make our city safe,” Mayor Mike Duggan declared in the opening session. “Neighborhood police officers are working seamlessly with community block clubs and Detroit Public Schools,” added Todd Bettison, Deputy Chief of Police, who’s been trained in restorative practices himself. “It’s making a huge difference. Formerly challenging kids are now leaders.” 

Two school superintendents confirmed the district’s adherence to the practices. Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, stated, “Skillman is supporting training for teachers, police, courts and neighborhood organizations.” High school sophomore and Restorative Practices Ambassador, Faith Howard, vowed, “Change starts with me!” Her schoolmate and fellow Ambassador, Jordan Cook, agreed: “I’m the one who tells kids: You can do it!”

ladder

My recent article, Grow in Public: Leading Conflict Principle 6, made the argument that a deliberately developmental culture is only made by cultivating deliberately developmental people.

A deliberately developmental organizational culture persistently pushes team members to the edges of their current competencies. By definition, that is not a place where most people feel comfortable. Fear, insecurity and conflict live in that place. It’s a reach into the unknown.

How do you get your team to go there? The first step is to convince them that no one will be asked to journey alone. You’ll go together.

pdf start the year circles cover 2Download our free 4-page guide of circle ideas to get your year started in a PROACTIVE way!

Topics include:

  • Setting norms
  • Circles to foster respect
  • Fun and games

To receive this free download, sign up for the IIRP News, through which you will receive periodic, hopeful emails, including news and announcements about the growing field of restorative practices. (If you are already subscribed, that's okay! You will not be resubscribed.) Your download will be available after you click Submit.
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A one-time gang member in Los Angeles is taking his understanding of his community, his idealism and his knowledge of restorative practices back into neighborhoods to help gang members learn to change and be more positive community members.Carlos and boysCarlos Alvarez, center, with two boys

“Lots of kids embedded in gangs, their emotional intelligence is very minimal,” he says. “We have to build capacity around affect regulation.”

Carlos Alvarez, an IIRP licensed trainer, says restorative practices builds emotional connections and allows children to develop healthy social skills. This involves allowing students to process their emotion and trauma, which they often experience as physical symptoms, such as a tingling sensation in their hands when they get angry. “Ours is a bottom up approach to behavior,” he says.

In his role as Director of Student Discipline at Bright Star Secondary Charter School, a public charter school in south Los Angeles, Alvarez says he conducts five to six restorative conferences per week around issues like fights and class disruption that might previously been handled with suspensions.

He recalls one student he developed a long-term relationship with. His father was addicted to heroin and had abandoned his family. Like many children who have experienced trauma, this boy felt a lot of shame and believed there was no hope for the future. He lacked trust and his whole nervous system was highly reactive.

courageImage by oliver-cole @ unsplash

Sometimes doing something “close” to right isn’t good enough.

As a father of four I find myself increasingly making use of dad sayings that I learned from my own father when discussing life’s most important matters with my children and others.

Mind you, when these pearls of wisdom were dispensed to me as a young man, I rolled my eyes, scoffed or otherwise convinced myself that my father’s sage advice somehow didn’t apply to me. We all think our own ethical dilemmas are special, especially when we are teenagers.

Current events have put one saying at the forefront of my mind over the last year.

If my dad asked me how I did with some critical task, especially those involving doing the right thing where other people are concerned, I frequently hedged by saying that I did the task mostly right or “close” to expectations.

The response to this was invariably, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

My father was teaching me that there are some tasks and responsibilities that we have a responsibility to do completely, and to the best of our ability, correctly and with precision.