Connections to Classroom and Character

Amongst the chit-chat of life, most of us encounter the famous question, “So, what do you do?”.  Well, I’m a Restorative Approaches (RA) Coordinator, and most people don’t have clue what that means.  So recently I’ve found myself perfecting the “30 second elevator speech” about how my job fits into the world education and what I do at my school.

My work as an RA Coordinator has two parts, like two wings on a bird, that must be in balance in order for our school to keep our students in the classroom, engaged and learning.  To be a restorative educator, or lead a restorative school, we have to engage in the two wings of  preventative and responsive RA.  In short, preventative RA is teaching values, building relationships, and creating connection; responsive RA is dealing with conflict and repairing relationships and harm.  When preventative and responsive practices are expected, taught, and used, then Restorative Approaches are how we do things in our community, not just a program or a process we have to go through.

So often our students lives are inundated with trauma, gang activity, abuse, neglect, poverty and other forms of oppression.  We are here to serve them something different: a place where dignity feeds their spirit and relationships bring meaning to their lives.  The preventative wing of RA requires those relationships.  To do so we work with our students to discuss critical issues of conflict, explore what makes a good community, and learn values that strengthen and uplift.  Most importantly we talk with each other, maybe through the process of a circle, or maybe just in the hallway or cafeteria.  From these relational practices on the preventative wing of RA our classrooms and schools to emerge as places of belonging and connection.  That connection actively draws our students closer to their education and achievement.  A student will be more willing to learn from you if they know you care.  If we seek to discover the best ways to support achievement, healthy school culture, and succeed with supporting the whole child, then we must consider these Restorative Approaches.

If you are an educator, or have worked with youth, you know that what I’ve described as preventative RA doesn’t always work, because there are know silver bullets.  RA is a philosophy, a mindset, the way we do things, NOT a guarantee.  Why? Because we are human.  Because healthy relationships, a holistic life, and learning to deal with conflict are not a destination, they are a lifetime of work.  Because there will be students whose trauma runs so deep that you or your school alone cannot heal their wounds.  Because there will be days when your mood is off or the students are raging under a full moon.  There will be conflicts you can’t prevent.  There will be lots of attitudes and boundary crossing that students will need to experience, and you will take the brunt of it.

It is during these times when we tend to kick kids out or shut kids down and we become responsible for distancing them from the classroom and the instruction.  It’s at those moments when we must engage the social-emotional aspect of teaching and  lean on the responsive wing of RA.  Responsive RA keeps us in check for how to deal with conflict when it happens, what to do when values go awry, or how to facilitate repair when harm has occurred.  Responsive RA gives us options such as Restorative Dialogue, 1-1 mediation, and healing circles to address group harm. When students repeatedly mess up, act out, and violate school rules, RA teaches us to respond by seeking alternatives to suspension. We must provide students the opportunity to right their wrongs and avoid the disconnect that occurs when students are excluded from class or the building.  Prioritizing these restorative processes honors the adolescent journey of moral development and positions educators as the guides who know education is more than just reading and arithmetic.

With Restorative Approaches as a guiding philosophy we as educators can live up to our responsibility to provide our students with quality educational experience that empowers the academic and social emotional-self.  When we infuse our teaching practice and our school culture with the elements of Restorative Approaches we pave a pathway for our students not only towards academic achievement, but towards the best versions of themselves.

A white girl’s thoughts on #blacklivesmatter…

How do I, just one white girl, actively interrupt this racism that runs so deep in our  society? The wounds are bleeding out and I feel that I am left here helpless with blood on my hands and tears running down my face.

In this past year or so it feels like the attacks on Black America in particular are becoming more blatant, ridiculous and frequent. Part of the problem is that it takes white mainstream media forces speaking up for the cries of the black community to be heard.  Be what it is, it is the truth.  Then there are those who so ignorantly simplify the issues by saying, “don’t resist arrest, don’t look like a thug, don’t riot for your rights (only sporting events, if your white, right?), don’t…” What…go to church and worship? Right.  Basically, don’t be black unless you’re white or Latino using “black” as a status symbol, a way to have cred, or appropriate the richness of black culture. Then its profitable and cool.

Black is beautiful. Black is powerful. Black is it’s own narrative in this country that too many misinterpret because the negative messages about black people on episodes of Cops, skewed reporting on Fox news, and stereotypical gangster rap are the only “black” some people know.

Another unarmed young black man dead.  Another “crazy” white man committing a mini genocide awaits trial while more unarmed black men are gunned down.  Another person in power spews racist propaganda on popular media streams.  After a few days or weeks these stories slowly fade into the distance of my consciousness, only to find that the next day or week another event shakes my soul and our nation. This tells me we all need to wake up.

I guess for now something we can ALL do is talk about it, write about it, read about it, pray about it.  It’s uncomfortable, I know.  It took me two whole days to find the courage to write something.  Words and dialogue awaken something within us. Even if its anger, distaste or disagreement, it still moves something inside you. When you are neutral on matters of injustice you side with the oppressor. Never forget that. So, have the courage to speak up, have the courage to be wrong, to be challenged. I’m just a white girl trying to find my own way to break the chains of racism and injustice so that my brothers, sisters and I can all be free.

Inescapable Injustice

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Last night as I lay in my bed, ready to fall asleep, I encountered my privilege in the silence.  I was bewildered by that nighttime silence for the first time in my life.  Just minutes away, yet worlds away, I knew my students could at the same moment be trembling in fear as gunshots fire outside their windows.  Four murders in one week.  Countless shootings heard on the block.  Student homes being targeted with rounds of bullets and molotov cocktails.  Students in hiding, students crying, students acting out.  The stories flood from fearful hearts into my powerless hands; it was her cousin, his cousin, right next door….”Miss…it’s going to be a war”.  The neighborhood has become a prison and a battlefield for our youth and families.  One  students says, “I worry for my family who loves nature and to be outside…now we cannot even go outdoors for fear of being shot”.  My mind flashes to last summer’s memories: bike rides through the neighborhood at dusk with family and friends.  I have that privilege of peace and freedom and did nothing to earn it; my students would be putting their lives at risk to do the same.  This is unfair, infuriating, devastating.

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I can do nothing except shed light on injustice and inequality and equip my students with courage in their hearts to speak their truth and stand for something that makes our world a better place.  This is not a gang problem, a black problem, a brown problem, or a Baltimore problem.  This too is my problem, our problem.  As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.  I am once again reminded that to remain silent is to take my privilege for granted and further darken the shadows of injustice.  I have the privilege to speak without fear of retaliation or becoming a target of violence and so I must speak.  I hope that you too will have the courage to speak on the topic, explore your opinions and realize that until we remove the chains of poverty and inequality amongst our brothers and sisters none of us are truly free.  If anything, please reach out to a loved one, pray for our communities, or just be grateful for the blessings you may be so privileged to    experience.  “If we do not have peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”- Mother Theresa.    privilege

Be “The Light” Without Feeling Bad

 

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As a friend, a parent, an educator, a boss, a service provider, or generally a connected human, I can imagine that at some point in your life you have experienced the ironic frustration that sometimes happens when others seek your support in times of need. I think it is a fairly common human experience to feel annoyed, or even undervalued, that someone ONLY thinks of you when things are tough.

I’m guilty of this in both my personal and professional life.  I’ve been frustrated with friends who only call to talk about their problems.  I am the friend who has only called when I was lonely.  I am the daughter who hadn’t called my Mom for two weeks and then called crying at the end of a horrible week.  I am the student who only gets in touch when I need that recommendation.  I am the teacher who has begrudgingly helped a kid who acted like a jerk all semester and then sought support a week before the semester’s end.  I am the co-worker who said yes to helping out, but felt hurt because you made it clear I was your last resort.  I am the partner who said no (because it’s easiest to say know the ones you love the most, right?) and had to live with the pain I caused by leaving him alone in that darkness.

The experience of being annoyed by someone seeking your light in their darkest time come straight from the illusions of our ego.  When we involve our own judgements and fears of self-worth, it becomes about us, and not about the person in need.  These judgements are also the reason that so many of us shy away from reaching out to our loved ones, our colleagues, our support networks, etc.  Instead of judging people for when, how, or why they reach for you light in a time of darkness, it would help make this world a better place if we all tried our best to accept the blessing (and the privilege) of being that light for someone else.

 

Life is an exciting adventure…

In my life’s work as an educator and my personal life I am learning to do the things that feel right. Especially when I follow my gut feeling on things related to work I seek a combination of what sounds like tons of fun for my life and is aligned with my purpose to meaningfully serve others. As I reflect on how that’s been working out for me I can be honest that it usually freaks me out and leaves me grasping my forehead and asking myself why I even got into this (whatever it might be) in the first place. Recently, I’ve been “failing” at a lot of things when I follow that bliss+service combo. It’s been scary, and sometimes feels foolish like I’m wasting my time and energy on things that “aren’t working out” or appear to have minimal impact. And then things like this happen… I received this amazing appreciation note from a colleague who stopped by my house during a workshops series I run for second year teachers on Restorative Justice in schools. I’m so grateful when I’m reminded by colleagues, students, experiences, simple feelings or synchronistic moments that I am on the right path. It’s validation that the side projects, the volunteering, the all-nighters, the risk-taking and the failures are worth it.

Life is an exciting adventure..

The best thank you card I’ve ever received and never expected.

 

I’m learning and growing and becoming the woman, the educator and the community leader I know I am meant to be. We each have a voice telling us to go forward and do something; no matter how bold, simple, challenging or beautiful it may be, we all have something to add this this world. I’m learning that in order make our biggest impact we must have the courage to start small and follow our passion and happiness. In reality, authentic service and an life’s exciting adventures stem from someone who is in love with who they are and what they do.

Come-Alive