By Carly Thornburg, DRC Volunteer Manager
Building community is essential in today’s fragmented, digitalized world. Community can provide the connection, vulnerability, and support that all humans crave. How is community created? How does a community support its members? What happens when things go wrong in community?
This June, DRC Training Manager, Carrie Stringer, and I had the pleasure of attending two trainings that addressed these questions. The first was Introduction to Restorative Practices by the International Institute for Restorative Practices, or IIRP. Forty people from DRCs across the state gathered for 3 days to gain some consistent language and practices to offer restorative practices to schools. Restorative Practices are a set of tools and processes that focus on relationships: building them and restoring them. We were introduced to a circle facilitation model: a question is proposed, a talking piece is passed around, and each participant has an opportunity to respond based on their own experience without cross-talk.
The days began with having fun together. The circle model was used to share our hopes for restorative practices in Washington Schools, our take-aways from activities, and our perspectives. We played games to get to know each other. This practice allowed us to build trust and rapport as a learning community. Similar to mediation, restorative practices include using emotionally-intelligent affective statements and focusing on values and needs. Although we were eager to learn the tools to fix problems when they arise, this training taught me a valuable lesson: if community doesn’t exist in the first place, then there is nothing there to restore when an incident occurs. Later we learned a set of restorative questions and techniques to facilitate restorative conferences to address misbehaviors in a community.
Restorative conferencing focuses on including an offender in the process of creating a plan to repair harm done. In mediation and restorative conferences, the facilitators are neutral and everyone is offered uninterrupted time to share their story. Mediation can be considered a restorative practice, because it does have the ability to restore broken relationships; however mediation and restorative conferences are different. During mediation the parties are sometimes joined by support persons who simply listen and provide moral support. The process guides the parties through opening statements, agenda building, negotiation, and possibly a caucus. During a restorative conference each person is joined by a support person (or people) and representatives from the greater community who contribute to the process by providing their perspective. All parties are led through a series of questions using the circle model to explore what happened, how they were impacted, and what can be done to make things right.
The next training was called Cultural Competency and Beyond by the F.A.C.E. Consulting Collaborative from Seattle WA. The training focused on building knowledge and skills for growing more effective cross-cultural relationships and partnerships. “Culture,” as defined by by Gary Wederspahn “is the shared set of assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people by which they organized their common life”. Our cultural background is a powerful lens through which we perceive, experience, and understand the world around us. Remaining culturally flexible and adaptable takes practice and intention. By examining our own biases, automatic unearned privileges, and the dominant structures that reinforce social inequity we were able to explore what it means to be an ally and to be receptive for the truths of other people, especially when those truths seem to threaten the systems we rely on to provide order in our society.
Implementing restorative practices in schools is a critical way to be an ally to youth. Restorative Practices empower youth to be a part of problem solving and to understand the impacts of their behavior on the school community. In doing so it begins to break down the school to prison pipeline. My hope is that as we continue to promote restorative alternatives for solving disputes between students, teachers, and school administrators, we will continue to support all students growing into empowered, positive, happy adults.
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