More readers weigh in on Restorative Practices…
Since I last reblogged a letter (read it in my last post) I received in response to my questioning of SFUSD staff about the Safe and Supportive Schools Policy at a recent Board Meeting, I have received even more feedback. I really respect the time, thoughtfulness and courage they shared in responding to my question: What will it take to fully resource this important policy in our district?
If you haven’t been following this topic, I’d suggest you start at the previous post in this series. I’ve also created a new category: “Safe Schools” and tags: “Restorative Practices” “Safe and Supportive Schools” and “Bullying” so readers can follow all content I post on these topics.
The first response comes from an SFUSD educator. It reads:
“Another experienced teacher seconding every point the letter writer makes. RP on the cheap – which is what we have now – is not restorative or just.– Jeniffer Moless
I had a very strong negative reaction to the district seeming to claim implementation is going just great, training the trainers is the way to go, etc. because I feel like they are being disingenuous.
I know from discussions with colleagues who have limited training in RP that this message is not what they want to hear. And people who oppose RP for whatever reason hear this from the district and conclude that RP is unworkable/no consequences. Which thereby decreases support for restorative justice.
There is also no support for getting staff to use restorative practices for staff discussions and issues. When I was originally trained, the importance of staff internalizing the process and building capacity/trust/belief was strongly recommended as a first step. I don’t think this happened.
My experience of RP training is that restorative justice can surface implicit white supremacy, and that naming it and pushing back (using restorative justice!) is powerful. This could be an enormous strength! We could be challenging institutional racism and giving teachers the structures to call out racist practice! But I feel like the mediocre at best implementation in the district is doing none of this (and is possibly strengthening racist practices).
This is really long and disorganized, sorry! And I missed my bus stop typing it. But the disconnect from the early days with restorative practices – slow, but powerful and with some money behind it – and now is a huge disappointment.”
Another response from an SFUSD parent:
“So much to say about this one Alison. Last year when Ruth Asawa SOTA’s AAPAC Parents stood before the BOE that was one of our asks. We wanted the Central Office to send in help to the Administrators and Staff receive training on Cultural Humility and Restorative Practices. After the initial “incident” at SOTA we had an amazing District Employee come in to do Restorative Circles with about 30 kids and people who were directly harmed. This was very helpful and it started the healing practice off very well.– Pamela Tate-Rogers
Then we had inexperienced teachers attempt to lead circles in their classrooms and their lack of experience actually cause more harm to a larger number of students.
With our beloved principal preparing to leave and the need to hire a new one and several new key staff members, priorities shifted and no one ever circled back to addressing this with the follow-up meeting that was promised by the District.
Restorative Practices only work when people are properly trained. The District needs to really work on making sure that each school has an effective and fully trained RP Specialist at their site or they need to have immediate access to one. I have seen the impact of the inconsistent training of well-meaning teachers and the result is additional harm and trauma.
I would also like to add, many of the students that participated in the ineffective teachers’ circle graduated last year and they are freshmen in various colleges and 6 out of 10 that I know are still dealing with issues that resulted from participating in that restorative circle that went awry. Love to talk about this in the future with you.”
Themes I keep hearing…
There are two themes that keep jumping out for me. 1) Folks seem to be saying they really value the Safe and Supportive Schools policy and Restorative Practices when it is implemented by skilled practitioners. 2) When it is implemented poorly, either because of a lack of training, resources or support, it can actually be harmful.
We can’t keep saying we are “doing” Restorative Practices when we are not. We can’t keep putting the burden on individual teachers or schools to make the Safe and Supportive Schools policy work. Not only is it unsafe for students, but it is also causing actual harm.
There are some things that work when you “fake it ’til you make it” and Restorative Practices is definitely not one of them. Budget crisis or no, we have to fully resource this important initiative in our District. And we can’t leave it up to individual schools to figure it out.