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165. Repair Harm with Restorative Conferences

by Lindsay Lyons
May 28th 2024
In today's solo episode of the podcast, Lindsay is sharing with you how to repair harm with restorative conferences in... More
Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. One more thing. I almost forgot to say, make sure you grab my restorative conference companion, which is a two pager, Google doc that you can use, adapt whatever for free at the blog post for this episode. That's Lindsay Beth lions.com/blog/one 65. Welcome to episode 165 of the time for teacher podcast. I am so excited today to talk about repairing harm with restorative conferences.

So I often talk about Circle Practice being my favorite practice of all the instructional practices and community practices more broadly, you can do them with staff with students. But what happens when we have harm that happens in those communities, we need to rebuild and repair that harm that connection. And so a lot of people are into this idea, but they're not sure how to do it. That's what this episode is gonna do. It's gonna walk us through how to do it. All right. So in this episode, we're talking about restorative conferences and really using them to repair harm. So, thinking about what are those processes or supports that we currently have for addressing interpersonal conflict? What processes or language do we have around repairing harm, restoring connection. How do we leverage other existing strategies like circle to maybe repair harm at the class level or the staff level? Uh We'll talk also about what restorative conferences are in this episode, but also research on their impact. So like why would you use this approach specifically when conflict occurs and also what steps and what tools you can use to implement them well in your space, whether that's the classroom space, uh school space, a team space within staff, a district wide space.

If you're implementing restorative practices across the board, what does that experience feel like to folks? And what structures are we making common and what principles perhaps are we relying on to serve as kind of the the foundation for whatever personalization can happen in school to school spaces or class to class spaces. So I want you to kind of keep those things in mind as we go through this episode. So the first thing, if anyone is unfamiliar or just needs a clear coherent definition, we wanna make sure everyone's understanding what restorative conferences are and I've heard them called restorative conversations, restorative conferences. I'm sure someone knows better than me, what the differentiator is there. I kind of use them interchangeably, but please feel free to correct me if anyone knows the difference. Um So after building community, I have been trained by the morning site sensor in New York City, that restorative conferences are really the opportunities to repair the harm done to either a member or members, plural of your community.

This is an opportunity for all of the individuals involved. And again, I say all of the individuals because this might be something between, you know, one student and another student. So only two folks are involved, but it could also be a student is, I don't know, making a comment or exhibiting behavior that actually disrupts the entire class. And so we need to resolve that conflict and repair that harm, restore that connection class wide. So it might be actually that you have 30 students who are involved in this unpacking of each individual understanding of what happened in that class space and how it impacted their learning. Um So each individual impacted will talk about how they felt or share how they felt and their suggestions for how the harm can be repaired. So this is an important part. I think in the conversation, you're not just saying here's my experience of this and here's how I felt it was bad, right? But where do we go from here? How can the harm be repaired? And I love that it centers often these are students but resort of conferences just to be clear, can happen, adult to adult within a school system.

It can also happen student to adults. So there are many stakeholders that could be involved at, at all levels here and those individuals can come up with and can suggest they're really at the forefront of suggesting what happens next. And so they are the ones who decide how the harm can be repaired, which I I absolutely love now similar to circle practice. I want to acknowledge that the origins of restorative conversations and conferencing come from indigenous nations and what is currently known as the Americas and the South Pacific. So specifically the training that I have had draws on these Indigenous Nations practices. And so that's, that's what I'm going to be sharing with you today is my understanding of these practices and just want to acknowledge where that comes from. So let's talk about the why, why restorative conversations conferences? Well, when we have this focus on repairing the harm addressing underlying means that are going unmet and we truly try to restore connection and sensitive belonging.

We see improved attendance in students versus more punitive disciplinary measures. We also see an increase in perception of safety and conducting this by those students in the communities that use restorative practices versus punitive disciplinary practices. And for the rest of this list, just know this is kind of a comparison of spaces that do use restorative practices versus those traditional punitive disciplinary practices. When we use restorative practices and specifically conferencing, we reduce exclusionary discipline rates. Specifically, we see that black low income female and students with disabilities. Um these populations are suspended less often than punitive disciplinary environments. It also when we have restorative conferences, democratizes power. So anyone can actually call a restorative conference, you can have a student, call a teacher to justice or to a conference. Um It, it doesn't have a typical top down. It's not that the teacher forces students into this environment. It's an invitation to have a conversation and I have had students call a teacher to justice. I have had students call one another to justice and in conversation.

And so I do love that democratization of power that it is now in the hands of the person who is harmed most typically. Um but also a person who has harmed and wants to repair that harm can also call that conference. Um But typically the individual who has been harmed or individuals who have been harmed, they have that power to call the person to justice and have the conversation and say, you know, I, I want to be acknowledged and valued. And I want an opportunity to share my experience of the situation and co create the solution that I need from whoever has harmed me. So I do love that democratization of, of the power dynamic there. I also love this practice because it is universally usable, right? You can use this in any class. Of course, the language is going to be different and maybe you structure the steps a little bit differently. Uh It might be a shorter conversation and it might be that you use different language. I'm gonna talk about unmet needs and things and that might be a little um bar for students who are in maybe like preschool. But I do think you can have the same kind of conversation. It's just that maybe you use different language um and different scaffolds.

So you might use something like emojis or facial expressions or something to determine, you know, what is the feeling that I'm having versus a word wall of choose from these words, what feeling you have, right? Things like that. So it is universally usable. And while I have had training and I support training for anyone who wants to do this, I actually think you can um with intention with a little bit of foundational knowledge which you'll have by the end of this episode, to some degree, you could start tomorrow, right? You can, you can make the effort and you can always improve as we always can, but you can make the effort to actually start this practice tomorrow. It is not something that requires, you know, like maybe curriculum development. Um mm months of of practice of honing of all these different moving pieces. It's like a few questions and a few principles and you just get better as you go. And that's again, my understanding of it and my, my experience with that has been this is very user friendly and, and ready to go as long as you understand, the basic underpinnings of it. I also love this because it offers structure.

So sometimes we're really eager to have conversations about harm and healing and we're just not sure how to do it well. And I love that this provides a concrete structure for anyone who is interested but really apprehensive because they're just not sure what it actually looks like in practice or, or what the steps should be in practice. I also love this because it decreases the future frequency and this is anecdotal. I, this is just how I've seen this operate. Um But I've witnessed kind of a a decrease in in future frequency of conflict between students when we resolve it in this way versus when one is disciplined. And then we have the tension that escalates and continues. Um I've seen a decrease in the intensity of future conflicts. It's much easier to, for example, bring folks together in a conversation when they've already had one, they're familiar with the process, they understand that it's not, you know, putting them on trial or anything. And, and so that intensity um of of the initial harm is reduced because there's more connection built, more trust and more compassion built within the conferences. But also that the um the duration of kind of the negative impact of the conflict are reduced because there is a clear structure in place that you can just have this restorative conversation.

So you don't have to fester and let all of this tension bubble up and really negatively impact the classroom environment or the interpersonal relationships. But instead say, hey, let's move this to this next phase and I'll link to more even more research than that um in the blog post for this episode. That's gonna be Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 65. So feel free to head there and get some more. OK. Now what are the steps? Let's go through those. So I think step number one is understanding the component. So you wanna make sure that you understand what exactly a short of conferencing is and how it, how it kind of moves. So the facilitator likely this is going to be you whoever is listening and it doesn't matter what your role is, it could be. You're a classroom teacher, you're a para professional, you are a cafeteria worker and and witnessing conflict in the the lunch line. It could be that you are a district administrator um resolving something in your staff, uh whatever it is, anyone can be a facilitator and that includes students and that's a whole other percent probably is is training students for taking on roles like this and facilitating experience like this.

But the facilitator is going to invite participants which will include the person or persons who caused harm and the person or people that were harmed. Each of those individuals can also invite an adults or peer if they would like to just for moral support. So this is optional. Many students are just like that feels complicated and I actually just want to resolve this quickly. Um Others are like, yes, absolutely. This feels very stressful for me and I would like to be able to call my mom and see when she can come in, right? So whatever works for you and, and by you, I mean, the individual students or individuals who are in the conference, the facilitator, once you get everyone together is going to ask questions, you're gonna ask them one at a time so that each person can respond uninterrupted. I encourage you to share with them some agreements which we're, we're gonna talk to you in a, in a bit. But one of the big ones is just to speak from the eye. What is my experience, my feeling? Um Not like I think you did X, right?

But I experienced frustration, anger, sadness, you know, when, when this happens, um I witnessed uh this happening, right? Like so these are kind of the things that we wanna think about as we're inviting students to converse. It's like, how do we set that stage? Now, one of the supports that you could use as a talking piece. So if students are familiar with circles, what a great way to extend that to this smaller conversation and say just a reminder when you are holding the talking piece, you can speak or share. But when you don't have it, you really wanna make sure that, you know, you're, you're listening actively. Um you are paying attention to whoever is sharing at the time. Now, step two, after you really understand the kind of components of how this works, prepare the questions you're gonna ask. So I'm gonna share some now feel free to use these to adapt them to generate your own. How I was trained was basically uh an arc similar to this one. What happened? So you kind of get the gist from every member involved. Again, they share what their experience of the situation was.

So we gotta get clear on what exactly happened. Then how did you each feel? Right? Or if you want to go a little bit deeper and talk about a met knees, like what need did you have in that moment that you weren't able to get? So for the person who did harm, right? Like what was going on for you as well as the person who was harmed? Like why was this so frustrating to you or so harmful to you? Like what was the need that didn't get met for you as this all was happening? Who was affected? Right? So who was affected in terms of you individually? Like how, how you shared how you felt but who else might have been affected? What did you witness? Right. Again, speaking from the eye, um you know, did students come up to you later and share something and then finally, how can the harm be repaired? So really identifying what happened, how did you individually feel who was affected? Like what was the impact of whatever happened? And then how do we move forward, repairing the harm and for the person who caused the harm specifically for that question, you know, what can you do to repair the harm? So really taking on that accountability piece step three after you've prepped the questions in the general structure, I would share with participants or I would core with them either or, you know, feel out the situation and think about the willingness that students have to engage or participants have to engage in the co creation of agreements, but I would have them ready to go.

So for the conference, what are the agreements we're going to use? So here's some sample ones that again, feel free to use, adapt, generate your own, only speak if you have the talking piece use I statements, focus on your own experience, your feelings, your unmet needs, listen, deeply, exercise compassion as much as possible and take responsibility for repairing any harm you may have caused. So, thinking again about this idea of we're speaking from the eye, we're listening deeply. It's not just about us. We are sharing our point of view, our, our experience, feelings and needs. We are also really working hard to listen and exercise compassion, right? As well as that accountability piece of course, of of repairing the harm and what can we do to move it forward before I would familiar familiarize yourself with your language that you want to use. So again, that's gonna vary by age. I really like the idea of unmet needs because we all have these core needs and typically a conflict is going to be connected to one of them um in my experience.

So I use an adaptation of glasses, five basic needs and I call it base. I've talked about it before on the podcast. I will link in the blog post uh poster that you can get that has these on it in case you're interested in hanging it up in your classroom or space, the base acronym stands for belonging, autonomy, survival and enjoyment. So not only you as an individual want to familiarize yourself with this as a potential facilitator, but you also want people in your community, adults students to be familiar with this as well. So if you ask them in a restorative conference. It's not the first time they've heard what Unmet needs do you have? Right? Like you have something ready to go, you have the poster, perhaps ready to go or some other sort of um visual or support mechanism for providing some language if they're really unsure how to answer. And again, it might not be unmet needs that you decide is the thing that you want to use to anger this conversations. But think of something whatever that is where you go with that. And then honestly, I think step five is just a practice. So use the language for example of unmet needs if that's the thing you're going with, with students with adults in as many situations as possible.

So a conflict arises in school. OK, let's talk about this. Let's debrief what was unmet need even if it wasn't in your space in your class and your OK. So there was this other conflict that happened in this other space. OK. Well, what was going on with that? Right. That's actually kind of helpful to separate yourself and the people practicing this from what's actually going on. It's not your own thing. The emotion is a bit lower. We can think in our heads a little bit more and it feels more emotionally safe. And so when you're discussing conflict, for example, in the news or a book, like a character is going through conflict that becomes a nice stepping stone to eventually getting to the point where you can share your own emotional experiences and your advent needs. So practice with that, but also invite others to role play restorative conferences. So come up with some fictional scenarios, there's some online and learning for justice has some on their website. I think this works really well in a formal kind of training environment when everyone's learning restorative practices. So this might be a staff professional development student training if you're training students for something like peer mediation. Ideally, it's it's specifically for restorative conferencing facilitation, but students can do this too.

And I want to emphasize that and they're really good at practicing. Even if it is not for a formal training, I have done just pure, I think this is becoming more common here but social emotional learning circles or activities that are separate from like just integrating social emotional stuff and all that we do, which is I think the best idea. But when we do um separate curriculum for fel like this is a great one, right in our lives, we will come into conflict with so many individuals, we need to just be able to do this well. So it's a wonderful skill to be able to equip students with, you can definitely take class time to practice or if you're a leader, encourage your teachers to take class time to practice this. It will benefit the school community, but it will also benefit these students individually, many of us need breakfast with us. Finally, as a last tip before you go, I would practice those last two steps to familiarize yourself with relevant language and practice the actual conferences by trying this simple practice for the next week as many times as you can for one week after you're done with this episode.

Ask the question, what does this person need? Anytime you see conflict arise, anytime you interact with a person try to identify their unmet need, feel free to substitute any language or um foundational thing you want here. So if it's not I that need like what is this person expressing in their nonverbal language as they communicate with me, whatever it is, but get practice with one of the components of restorative conferencing and just practice for a full week that will make it so that it becomes kind of second nature as you facilitate these conferences as you participate, potentially in these conferences, as an individual participants, it will make everything just better. Your community will be strengthened. You will have these skills to rely on when you need to repair harm in the moment. You can do this. You are amazing. Let me know how it goes and I will be with you again next week. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane, Sapir and Jamila Dugan talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street Data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time.

Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period? I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar to brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers. Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the teach better podcast network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

165. Repair Harm with Restorative Conferences
165. Repair Harm with Restorative Conferences
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