Restorative Practices — You’re Doing It Wrong

What are restorative practices?

Restorative Practices are practices that restore the community.

Practices.  Emphasis on the s. Plural.

A judgment is not restorative practices.

The Judge not taking the time to have detectives find the victim is not restorative practices.

There being no report (or indication) of the perpetrator being remorseful is not restorative practices.

The community feeling unresolved is not restorative practices.

Too often, something that is observed as “successful” becomes “unsuccessful” because the implementation is wrong (not poor — but wrong).

This realization can be perceived as an attack on someone’s ego.

You will know that if they start getting defensive.

Doing It Wrong: Tucson Unified School District #1. 

Things may have changed now, or may be changing now, but when I taught for TUSD from 2015-2017, they were doing it wrong.  I expressed my concerns to Superintendent Sanchez and Asst. Superintendent Morado.

Under the Unitary Status Plan, the District was ordered to be sure that they were not being discriminatory in their treatment of students of color (commonly interpreted as reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions of black male students).

That didn’t mean giving them a free pass.  That also didn’t mean simply transferring the student from one school to another, or suggesting that the school was the wrong school for the student.

However, that it was I witnessed at two sites, with two separate students.  Both students were black males.

Case #1

One student had difficulty, coming from a family who was unfamiliar with the cultural practices (being a recent immigrant).

Case #2

The other student had difficulty with authority, due to seeing his mother mistreated by law enforcement officers.

Explanations, Not Excuses; Root Cause, Not Symptoms

These are not excuses.  These are explanations.

The solutions are not quick and easy.  They involve building relationships, and looking past the symptoms to the root cause.

Case #1

This student was a refugee from the Conga.  He had arrived due to civil war (for lack of a better term).  There was conflict between the groups of people.

Groups.  Plural.

This student was more resistant to learning the English language.

There was another student in the class who spoke the same language.

Unknown to the school (initially), the two students were from opposite groups — the boy’s group had oppressed the girl’s group.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why things escalated, when the girl was directed to help the boy.

A little bit of outreach to those who work more closely with refugees in the community would have allowed for the avoidance of problems that resulted from this situation.

Case #2

The boy had seen his mother pulled from a car by law enforcement.  The reason is unimportant.  The trauma that mother and son experienced is the issue that needed to be addressed.

Did it ever happen?  Maybe there was an apology.  Maybe there was training with law enforcement.  Maybe there was conversation with the mother and son.

But the maybes don’t matter, if the trauma still exists.

Community Responsibility

The responsibility of the community is to provide accessible resources, and processes that provide opportunity for personal responsibility and accountability.

Things to Remember

1. Remember the example from the flock of migrating geese:  Take turns taking on the headwinds. Restorative practices vary in the length of time they take.  Allow different people to take the lead in offering support to the perpetrator, victim, and community.

2. Remember the example of Hem and Haw.  This is the story of two mice going through life, and wanting to make things better.  One moves quickly, while the other doesn’t:  Beware of complacency.

3. Remember the example of the old man and the actor in the church.  An old man and an actor read Psalm 23.  The actor performs a great theatrical reading and receives outward applause.  The old man recites the Psalm and moves others in their hearts: Be genuine.

4. Remember the example of the farmer and the birds.  In the winter, the farmer tries to feed the birds in the barn where they have sought refuge.  But every time he enters, they fly away, and the mice eat all of the seed he leaves.  People, like the birds, are afraid and do not trust those who might look different from them: Be humble.

5. Remember the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.  In the end, no one stayed to help him: Teach consequences.

6. Remember the fable by Arnold Lobel of the student and the thumbtacks.   He left them on all the seats.  The teacher went to visit the home, and there were thumbtacks all over the furniture!  Be empathetic.

Restorative practices have a history of being implemented wrong.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water; restorative practices work when they are implemented properly.

“We are each a piece of the puzzle of life.  Without each of us, our picture is incomplete.”

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