Urbana Middle School (UMS) embarked on a whole-school restorative shift in the summer of 2015. A year and a half later, they are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their restorative labor.
Out of class behavioral referrals by teachers are down by 20%.
Fights are down by 35%, with a steep drop in REPEAT fights by the same kids.
Out of school suspensions are down by a dramatic 67%.
What are the staff, faculty, students, and administrators of UMS doing to help improve school climate and connection?
1. RELATE: Daily Listening Circles and Team Building Activities
Source: KQED news - A restorative justice circle at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, California (Sam Pasarow/Edna Brewer Middle School)
To get along with each other in an increasingly complex world, we need to practice listening, perspective-taking, collaboration, and care.
Schools are the perfect venue for practicing these social and emotional skills.
At Urbana Middle School, each staff and faculty person facilitates a DAILY 20 minute community building activity with a group of students during the morning Advisory period. Other schools do this during various flexible times that are build into the school week.
The team-building activities wary. On any given day, the kids may be:
seated in a circle sharing answers to a set of community building questions (What is the most surprising thing that ever happened to you?)
seated in a circle to discuss an ethical dilemma (What would you do in this situation?)
seated in a circle to process something that happened in the cafeteria (How did you feel when it happened? What were you wishing for? What is one small thing you can do to make it better?)
The change did not happen over night. Both students and staff took time to get used to the circles. Social skills and cohesion build slowly as people change their expectations and begin to make a restorative shift.
Sitting in circles daily also prepares students for listening and problem-solving in other kinds of restorative and conflict circles.
Interested in trying out classroom circles or learning how to make them more fun?
These sheets ask people to pause and reflect on their FEELINGS and NEEDS around the conflict - before they talk about it together.
Some of the short restorative conversations (7-10 minutes in length) are facilitated by a trained staff member; others happen fluidly between people.
The difference is the intention.When people are curious about each other's Feelings, Needs, and Decisions, they are able to treat each other with dignity and find a win-win.
3. RESTORE: Formal Restorative Dialogue Circles
When conflict has been "stuck" for a while or the harm is deeper, UMS students and faculty engage in formal conflict circles facilitated by a trained staff member.
These dialogue basedRestorative Circles derive from the process developed by Dominic Barter in the Brazilian favelas.
The goal of the circles is to get to the root of the problem by helping participants hear the underlying unmet needs in the conflict. Sometimes, participants use tools such as Conflict Cards to increase clarity and mutual understanding.
An example of a classroom-wide Restorative Circle can be found in the Listening Underneath blog post.
In this way, the daily community building circles, informal restorative conversations, and formal conflict circles work together to weave a more restorative building culture and community.
These are three examples of restorative practices that have helped UMS decrease their discipline numbers.
A whole-school restorative shift is a multi-year initiative that involves commitment from staff, faculty, students, and administrators to do things differently.