DWS Studies ‘Restorative Practices’ for Conflict Resolution
A group of 20 teachers, staff and parents gathered for a day-long Saturday workshop to learn how to incorporate “restorative practices” at The Denver Waldorf School.
“The use of restorative practices is a highly effective response to social conflict in schools,” said Deb Witzel of the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, who led the workshop.
Tougher than traditional discipline focused on punishment, expulsion or school-suspension, restorative practices, used around the world, can foster a school climate of respect, responsibility and healthy communication, Witzel said.
In restorative practices, teachers, staff and students learn to resolve social conflict issues collaboratively, and students learn to take responsibility for their actions.
The philosophy is based on the concept that people respond best when you do things with them and not to them or for them, Witzel said. These processes prevent the harm to the community caused by kicking children out of school, or permanently labeling children as “bullies” and “victims.”
People from every sphere of The Denver Waldorf School community came to the workshop on Saturday, January 19th, included representatives from the leadership team, the faculty, the college of teachers, the administration and parent council. Leigh Rhysling, Director of Enrollment at The Denver Waldorf School, coordinated the in-service day.
Restorative actions give students responsibilities to heal the emotional impact on others who have been affected by social conflict, Witzel said.
“In a restorative response to social conflict, children who have harmed others are held accountable by being directly confronted by the emotional harm they have caused,” Witzel said. They are also required to play an active role in repairing the harm that has been done, she said.
Using a tool called a “connection circle,” the group learned that restorative practices are meant to empower those who have been harmed, by means of supported face-to-face meetings with those who have harmed them. The connection circle also includes everyone who has been affected by an incident.
Key to the success of the connection circle, is everyone speaking their truth with “I” statements, listening with an open heart, and keeping confidential what is disclosed in the circle. A special speaking “stick” or object, allows the person holding the object the space to speak their truth, without interruption. The object is passed around the circle so that every voice is heard.
Witzel told the group an inspiring story of how restorative practices can lead to community healing.
The father of a boy who was seriously injured by another boy met with the so-called “bully” and his mother. Initially intent on punishment and restitution, through the connection circle, the father learned that the boy had been struggling without a father present in his home, that his mother worked many jobs, and that he was left to watch wrestling for hours alone. When he tried a wrestling move on the playground, he broke the neck of his classmate. The father of the injured boy volunteered to direct the other boy’s energy on his football team.
Witzel said Waldorf schools, which put an emphasis on acknowledging the inherent worth of every child, tend to grasp the healing powers of the connection circle faster than other schools.
The goal is to have these healthy communications tools in place well before any incident rises to the level of “bullying.”
The 5 R’s of Restorative Practices
Beverly B. Title, Ph.D. – Longmont Community Justice Partnership
Respect is the key ingredient that holds the container for all Restorative Practices, and it is what keeps the process safe.
For Restorative Practices to be effective, personal responsibility must be taken. Everyone needs to accept responsibility for his or her own behavior and this begins with the offender.
The restorative approach is to repair the harm that was done to the fullest extent possible, recognizing that harm may extend beyond anyone’s capacity for repair. It is through taking responsibility for one’s own behavior and making repair that persons may regain or strengthen their self-respect.
Relationships may be mended through the willingness to be accountable for one’s actions and to make repair of harms done. Restorative practices recognize that when a harm occurs, individuals and communities have been violated.
For the restorative process to be complete, the offender and any others who may have felt alienated, must be accepted back into the community. This reintegration process is the final step in achieving wholeness.
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