* This story was originally published in the fall 2022 edition of Surgere Magazine.
For students, creating community and being truly included—seen, heard, respected—are fundamental to feeling safe enough to engage in learning, relationships, and challenging conversations at school. Though inclusion has long been a priority at Westridge, last year, the
school began to tap into the field of restorative practices for its work in:
- Creating a positive learning environment and school culture
- Addressing social problems
- Responding when harm occurs
- Setting high expectations while being supportive
- Providing direct feedback and asking questions that foster accountability and ownership
Introducing restorative practices was high among Director of Equity Ian Tatum’s priorities for his first year at Westridge (the 2021-2022 school year).
"Building relationships is a core tenet of restorative practices, a framework to work through conflict and issues," said Tatum. "If you have an established relationship, when conflict arises, you can rely on that connection to have someone walk through this issue with you, rather than point a finger at you.”
Restorative practices are not new to the social sciences and have a long history among indigenous people worldwide. Community circles—in which participants build relationships through exchanging ideas, experiences, and stories—are fundamental to the practice. Another core element is restorative chats, which are facilitated conversations with individuals or groups of people when a conflict or issue arises. The chats emphasize creating pathways of understanding and agreement on how to repair a situation and relationship.
“In stable communities like schools, it is important that we don’t allow conflicts to fester,” said Tatum. “While restorative practices still seek accountability, it is more about ownership than punishment. The ultimate goal is restoring a broken relationship or community and empowering students to make real personal growth through their mistakes."
As part of this work, last year Tatum started “Lunch Talks with Mr. Tatum” for students, facilitated some restorative chats, and was joined by Lower and Middle School Director Zanita Kelly, Ed.D., for training at the International Institute of Restorative Practices. (Tatum started training with them back in 2014.) In October, the pair continued their training by attending the Courageous Conversations Summit in Washington D.C.
“We are still in the infant stages but restorative practices is an approach that I would like to see spread across the school,” said Tatum.
Interesting in learning more about restorative practices? Check out www.edutopia.org/article/