BOARD INSIGHT: Restorative Practices

One of the main responsibilities of a Board of Education is to adopt and maintain current District policy, an example of which is the District Code of Conduct. This particular policy is required by NY State Education law (100.2) to be reviewed annually. In 2017, PCSD Director of Student Services Dr. Patricia Vaughan-Brogan collaborated with assistant principals, parents and students to learn about Restorative Practices, gather feedback, and make a recommendation to the Board about incorporating the practice into the 2018-19 PCSD Code of Conduct.

Restorative Practices, a philosophical method for resolving conflict and strengthening relationships, aligns with and can be incorporated into the district’s Social Emotional Learning framework. In March 2016, The National Center on Safe Supporting Learning Environments presented an online learning event in which Stephanie Autumn and Kathleen Guarino describe Restorative Practices as,

an alternative response to crime, harm, or misconduct that brings together all those involved in conflicts in a way (the methods vary) that help people address harms, assume responsibility, move past shame and guilt, work things out to everyone's satisfaction, and build stronger and healthier relationships with each other.”

The Board of Education holds learning retreats throughout the school year. The Board’s first retreat this school year included a presentation by Dr. Vaughan-Brogan. During her informative presentation and discussion that followed, she helped us understand the principles, philosophy, and processes of Restorative Practices and how the method intersects with social emotional learning. The premise is that people are likely to resolve conflicts more productively and achieve positive changes in their behavior if they’ve already built a trusting and supportive relationship with the other party and they all agree to work together toward a resolution. Dr Vaughan-Brogan states that Restorative Practices:

“…includes taking responsibility for understanding how their behavior affected others, acknowledging that the behavior was harmful to others, actively working to repair the harm, and making personal changes to avoid such behavior in the future.”

About 35 PCSD instructional and non-instructional staff members have been formally trained in restorative practices, and have already started to integrate this method into student discipline. There are different types of Restorative Practices, beginning with getting to know one another and forming bonds with other students and adults through understanding and trust. This is called Community Building Circles.

Our trained staff members are reporting that they are spending time with students in small lunch groups and individual conversations working to build those connections. They’ve used Community Circles during classroom meetings to form relationships and discuss events that impact the classroom. During the principal’s report at the January 28 Board of Education Meeting, we enjoyed hearing Allen Creek Elementary Principal Michael Biondi describe examples of community building, and how students are using the concepts of being Accepting, Cooperative, Empathetic, Supportive or ACES. Principal Biondi says his students are ACE-ing it!

Another type of Restorative Practice is Conflict Resolution and Collaborative Negotiation. Recently, it was brought to the attention of a PCSD trained facilitator that a student had a conflict with a teacher over a grade. Working with a counselor, teacher, and student, they came up with a plan to apply a restorative practice to address the situation. Both parties agreed to participate by sharing their versions of the event and listening to the other person. The facilitator reported that,

Both sides came to a positive outcome and went away with a renewed trust in each other. All parties felt it was successful.

Each board member also received the book, “The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools,” by Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet. One of the goals of Restorative Discipline is, “To encourage accountability and responsibility through personal reflection within a collaborative planning process.”

For example, if a student is caught vaping, the student may be given the task of researching vaping and developing a PowerPoint presentation about the dangers of vaping. Dr. Vaughan-Brogan, PCSD Prevention Coordinator Ann Kane, and members of the District’s Reality Club have used these types of materials to produce a podcast, which is posted on the Student Services webpage. Instead of a one-size-fits-all punitive approach to discipline, such as suspension from school, the Restorative Practices method is more personalized for students and will hopefully lead to the long-term goal of self-discipline.

The Board of Education places a high value on building, maintaining, and repairing relationships within our school and broader community. Having an opportunity to learn about the different types of Restorative Practices and how they align with our mission, vision, and values helps inform the board’s policy decisions and keeps its focus on outcomes that are in the best interest of our students.