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End of Year Action Plans: A Restorative Practice

I'll begin this week with a word about "restorative practices." A lot has been written about changes to school discipline in the last few years (including this great series on this website). Unfortunately, much of what is written focuses on what schools are not doing (often not suspending for certain behavior infractions or all together).

I have worked to develop and implement restorative justice plans at two schools and it is clear to me that any good plan leads with what school community members will do, as opposed to what they will not do.

figure-of-justice-237109_1280.jpgTo that end, I submit the following restorative practice which has helped me engage in a positive way with students during high stress/high anxiety times like the end of the school year:

During my second year teaching in the New York City, there was a fight every day the week before winter break. The following year, during our faculty meeting, our principal implemented one of the most successful short-term restorative justice campaigns in which I have been a part.

On poster paper, he printed the names of every student in our school sorted by grade level and advisory (our school's version of "homeroom"). All staff members walked from poster to poster with a pack of stickers. We placed a sticker next to any student who we knew was going through something difficult at the time or who we had noticed was acting out for some unknown reason. Importantly, this activity included teachers and other staff in our building. School aides and support staff often know information about our students and their families which classroom teacher do not know.

Once we finished  with the stickers we took the posters down off the walls and we gathered around the ones for our grade with the members of our grade team (at our school this meant that each adult team of about 10 adults was looking at a group of around 120 students).

We then focused on the students who had the most stickers. People who had put stickers for that student briefly shared their concerns. The student was assigned a point person from amongst the team. No adult had more than three students for whom she or he was a point person.

Each "point person" developed an action plan for the student tailored for that student and their situation. This action plan could involve time-consuming tasks like a parent meeting or connecting a student's family to a social service organization, but it was often something much simpler. Many adults pledged to take time to check in one-on-one at the beginning of the day with a student or to give the student extra help with a difficult topic in class.

We sent our action plans to team leaders through a Google form and those leaders sent reminders to staff to follow through with the plan they had created. Administration shared the resulting list with all staff so that we could reach out to the "point person" of a student who had a rough day or acted out.

The entire identification, selection, and plan creation process took about an hour. We walked out of the meeting with a documented and individualized plan for almost a quarter of our school's population.

That year there were no fights in the final week before winter vacation. We created an analogous set of plans each of the next three years and for each of the next three years there were no fights during that time.

The plan exemplifies a few hallmarks of successful restorative justice plans:

1. It started from a desire to care for our community, not punish people in it.

2. It divided work amongst all adult members of our community and valued each one's perspective and knowledge.

3. It created a sustainable workload in which adults were responsible for a manageable number of students and could exert control over the type of work they did with students.

4. School leaders trusted the people who knew students best to act on their behalf.

Obviously, the nuts and bolts of how we implemented this plan might look very different at your school and at this different time of year, but the basic principles still apply.

By thinking strategically and proactively, we can implement systems which are sustainable and support healthy interactions in our communities. Restorative justice should focus on those things we are DOING — not on what we choose not to do. How do you actively "wage justice" in this busy and stressful time of year?

Photo by tpsdavehttps://pixabay.com/en/figure-of-justice-new-york-city-237109/


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