Hello, and welcome to Bridge Builders!

We are a collection of scholars and practitioners who are dedicated to supporting schools and educators who want to use restorative justice (RJ) to support antiracism and social justice work. As you read this newsletter, please note that any blue and underlined text is a clickable link to provide more context. Additionally, each newsletter edition will be accompanied by a podcast episode. Our first podcast guest is Dr. Sean Darling-Hammond. Dr. Darling-Hammond is a restorative justice researcher and assistant professor at UCLA.  You can find Bridge Builders: The Podcast Episode One available here.

We believe that racial and restorative justice are necessary components to creating compassionate, inclusive, and anti-racist schools. This is important, not only when thinking about better approaches to disciplinary practices – particularly for Black students and students of color – but also when supporting conflict resolution, relationship building, and safe environments for everyone. The orientation of the newsletter views school-based restorative justice (SBRJ) not as a discrete set of practices but as a ‘paradigm shift’. We hold that RJ has the potential to be revolutionary and offers a mechanism through which to address structural racism in schools.

What are our Goals?

The goal of this newsletter is to translate research on SBRJ to support practitioners in anti- racist implementation of RJ. We aim to answer the question, ‘How can restorative justice best be used to create racially just schools?’ Our hope is that through each published issue, we can connect the bridge between theory and practice to best support schools and young people.

When deciding the audience for this letter, we found it best to create a newsletter that will be effectively used by teachers and in class practitioners to hold meaning in their classroom practices.

Through this first edition, we will be looking at the Denver Public School (DPS) through the work of Anyon and colleagues (2016) and discussing educator beliefs and perceptions around RJ implementation in schools supported by the work of Dhaliwa and colleagues (2023).

Restorative Interventions and School Discipline Sanctions in a Large Urban School District

Overwiew

This study in DPS was driven by discipline issues, and racial inequities seen in education. Latinx, Native American, and Black students are considerably more likely to be suspended or expelled, which make them more likely engage with the criminal justice system going forward. The study looked to see if students’ restorative intervention (RI) participation in the first semester led to lower rates of suspension and fewer office discipline referrals (ODRs) in the second semester. As schools are making decisions about the place restorative work has in their building or district, studies like this one provide useful information and data points.

“[Schools] should be places where Black students feel deeply seen and affirmed, where even if they have a police officer who’s haranguing and harassing people who look like them in their neighborhood, that when they get to school, that junk is not following them.”
—Sean Darling-Hammond, PhD, Assistant Professor, UCLA

Staff Training

District staff attended a four-hour initial training that focused on preventative aspects of restorative work, such as community building. A two-day training later followed and discussed how discipline fits into RIs. District staff also learned RI principles, data use, preventative practices (proactive circles and language use), and intervention practices (reactive circles and conferences).

Findings

  • Students who attended schools with higher schoolwide RI implementation, and who received RIs in the first semester of the school year, were less likely to receive an ODR or suspension in the second semester.
    • Students without an RI: 72% chance of receiving at least one second semester ODR.
      • Students with an RI: 28% chance of receiving at least one second semester ODR.
  • Students who identified as Black, low-income, or receiving special education services were more likely than peers to receive an ODR or out of school suspension.

Application to Schools for Educators and Administrators

  • Use of RI can push students away from disciplinary outcomes and lead to less suspensions.
  • Whole school and community engagement in restorative work is key to implementation.
  • Restorative implementation should look to intentionally address equity issues.
    • Attention should be paid to discipline disparities seen in Black, low income, and special education students
    • Prevention and intervention, beyond RI, need to be implemented

Educators’ Beliefs and Perceptions of Implementing Restorative Practices

Overview

This study was conducted because there is not enough literature examining the attitudes and beliefs of restorative practices (RP) implementers within schools. Previous research has discussed that staff buy-in is a roadblock to the implementation of (RP). The study explored educators’ attitudes by looking at the topics of racial discipline gaps, roadblocks to RP implementation, the perceived impact of RP.

“Participants who more strongly believe in punitive discipline (i.e., zero tolerance, suspensions) report greater hindrances to implementing RPs.”
—Dhaliwal et al., 2022

Educator Training
Educators were trained over two days. The training focused on foundational philosophies of RP and common RP strategies (affective statements, restorative language, and restorative circles.) Attendees were also given virtual resource access and a network of individuals to help with implementation. The goal by the end of the training, was to have educators be able to implement RP in their school settings.

Findings

  • 53% of educators place priority on closing the racial discipline gap
  • Reasons listed for the racial discipline gap included:
    • Socioeconomic status, implicit bias among educators, and discretion in discipline
    • Only 11% of participants believed that teachers at their school have a clear RP understanding.
  • The largest roadblocks to implementation included:
    • Time constraints, educator’s ambivalence, and professional development limitations.

Application to Schools for Educators and Administrators

  • Lack of time for RP is often a challenge
  • School sites should make intentional efforts for sustainability
  • Implementation keys:
    • Closing the racial discipline gap
    • Being critical of punitive discipline
    • School sites need to ensure there is an understanding of RP amongst stakeholders
    • Support should be provided via coaching or training to shift mindsets

 

Takeaways from our Conversation with Sean Darling-Hammond, Ph.D.

What you’re doing within your restorative practices is likely already working.
Just because it has not been systematized does not mean it’s not working. Most teachers attempt to understand students’ perspectives and want to support them. Continue what you are doing!

Restorative work is not on teachers alone.
Administration and leadership have to implement structural support for restorative justice work to be done within classrooms. The biggest shift in disciplinary statistics per the research is when young people transition from 5th to 6th grade. For younger students, community time is often built into their day. Once students get to middle school and beyond it lessens drastically in most schools. Having non-negotiable, scheduled community time is imperative.

Schools have historically been harmful, performance-driven environments for Black students.
It is possible and necessary for schools to be safe spaces for Black children, especially in a society that is inherently racist. Black students and students of color must be deeply affirmed and protected.

When students are poured into emotionally with care and concern, they can access and interact with academic content better.
Sometimes we must go beyond our performance-based job description and dig deeper into connective work.

Working with parents and supporting their understanding of restorative justice, especially when it comes to consequences, is crucial.
There may be incidents, such as bullying for example, when families feel a suspension is necessary. However, our goal through RJ is to create fewer bullies and other harmful scenarios.