News & Events

Coming Full Circle

Written by Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, in News

photo from fatima

“Sustainable implementation requires grassroots engagement of staff, students, parents and administrators at the school level with support from district administration…training alone is not sufficient.” Kay Pranis

Below is a post by Kay Pranis. Kay is a national leader in restorative justice who lives right here in our town. She served as the Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1994 to 2003. Before that, she worked six years as the director of research services at the Citizen’s Council on Crime and Justice. She has written and presented papers on peacemaking Circles and restorative justice in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan. Since 1998, Kay has conducted Circle trainings in a diverse range of communities—from schools to prisons to workplaces to churches, from rural farm towns in Minnesota to Chicago’s South Side. Here, Kay shares some lessons from those experiences and thoughts about implementation of restorative justice in our schools.

I find myself in an interesting place. From 1981 until 1990 I served on the school board of District 112 (Chaska). For nearly a decade I was deeply involved in exciting discussions about education reform, including passionate advocacy for incorporating the wisdom of parents in the formal K – 12 education process. In 1990 I moved away from Chaska and away from school involvement since my children were nearly finished with K-12 schooling.

I spent the next two decades working in the field of Restorative Justice. I learned about the Peacemaking Circle process when I worked for the MN Department of Corrections and eventually I became a national trainer. The use of the Peacemaking Circle as a restorative process originated in the justice system but spread quickly to schools, workplaces, churches and community groups.

For the past five years the fastest growing area of Restorative Justice has been the use of Restorative Practices in schools. During that time I have trained numerous people working in schools across the country. A year ago a manual I co-authored for using the circle process to build a restorative school community was published. Now I am becoming involved in supporting Restorative Practices in schools in my own community – in St. Paul. So in thirty-five years I have come full circle from my initial involvement as a board member in my community to involvement through my professional role in schools outside my community and now back to my own community.

I am excited to be engaged in this conversation with the St Paul Federation of Teachers. The restorative vision for schools is about cultural transformation. A big part of the transformation is the engagement of all voices in decision-making. The restorative philosophy asserts that there is wisdom in each of us and that the collective wisdom is always greater than the wisdom of any individual. Restorative processes are particularly effective at allowing voice for every person and at accessing the collective wisdom of a group.

Schools are nested communities. The classroom is a community within the community of a particular school which is a community within the community of the district as a whole. At each level of community it is important for the stakeholders to engage in conversation about the values and principles of restorative philosophy – to talk about how we are going to live together. The specifics of implementation are designed to meet the needs of that particular community. Self-governance is a very important principle of the restorative framework. Sharing power happens at every level. Teachers share power with students. School administration shares power with teachers and parents. District administration shares power with schools. Sharing power is necessary to access collective wisdom! 

Experience across the country suggests that the individual school level is the critical unit for implementation. Sustainable implementation requires grassroots engagement of staff, students, parents and administrators at the school level with support from district administration. Experience also suggests that training alone is not sufficient. A restorative culture in a school requires major behavior change of the institution. It takes time. It requires role modeling and coaching. It requires practice.

In my own journey with restorative justice I have had to pay more attention to how I show up every day. Am I bringing my ‘best self’ to my interactions with others? Am I listening with an open heart and an open mind? Can I stay in a place of curiosity rather than jumping to judgment when I do not like what I am hearing or seeing? I have had to pay attention to what is going on inside me. The circle process helps me to slow down and notice my thoughts, my assumptions, my judgments so I can then be more intentional about my actions. 

The underlying concepts of a restorative approach are not new. They are indeed ancient and go by many names. Restorative practices are designed to allow us to live together as humans in a good way. For many people they are intuitive. The articulation of this philosophy and the development of specific restorative practices has given us a way to be more intentional about living together in a good way. 

Mary Clark, a biologist, suggests that the two most fundamental needs of humans are meaning and belonging. Our culture thwarts meaning and belonging in many ways. Our schools reflect our culture and they hold the potential to change our culture. Restorative approaches guide us toward a pathway to cultural transformation that could start in schools and spread to all our social institutions. Together students, parents, teachers and administrators can create a culture in which everyone belongs and meaning is nurtured for everyone.

To read more about what SPFT is proposing to support students, visit our Restorative Practices website.