Transcript: The role of restorative practices in school transformation: Centering relationships and connection
Lan Nguyen: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining us today. On behalf of the CCSC, I’d like to welcome you to our session, “The Role of Restorative Practices in School Transformation: Centering Relationships and Connection. My name is Lan Nguyen, and I’ll be your moderator for today. This event is brought to you by the California Center for School Climate, and we invite you to go to our website to explore the range of supports we offer for free to schools and districts across the state. That link will be dropped in the chat now, or, alternatively, you can use the QR code on the screen to visit our website.
So, overall, our goal as the California Center for School Climate is to support schools and districts in their school climate improvement efforts and data use. And we aim to do this by delivering relevant, responsive, and engaging supports that meet districts where they are, supporting districts and schools in data use best practices to inform their school climate improvement efforts, serve as a connector across the state to promote and disseminate best practices, and to support LEAs and schools in building partnerships with education partners to support their staff and students.
We’ll go ahead and just talk briefly about what our time will look like together today. After some welcome and introductions, we’ll have a land acknowledgment, a review of a toolkit and restorative practices, followed by a conversation with some California-based practitioners. We’ll then have a Q&A and closing. And with that, I’d like to pass it to Hilva Chan from the CDE to welcome us today.
Hilva Chan: Thank you, Lan. Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of the CDE, I’d like to welcome all of you to today’s session. My name is Hilva Chan. I’m an Education Programs Consultant with the CDE and we are so happy you can join us today. We understand that the pandemic has put enormous stress on everyone, especially school staff that are trying their very best to reconnect and reengage students, support them academically amid staff shortages while managing their own stress and taking care of their families. We want just to applaud you for what you have been doing to support your students.
The CDE realizes the challenges and has been working really hard to support schools and districts. We launched the CCSC, the California Center for School Climate, in January, which hosts excellent events and many other training opportunities and provides technical assistance to help schools and districts build a safe and supportive school climate. We know that having a positive school climate is critical, especially during times of high stress. It is positive relationships and social connectedness that help make us stronger, make us feel like we are not struggling on our own, and there’s a community that we are part of. All this keeps us going.
During the last 2 years, there were so many discussions about ways to reconnect with students and restoring relationships. I’m so happy that we can hear more about it today as we talk about restorative practices and focus not just on the technical piece but also on the fundamentals behind the soft skills, which are the values and mindsets. I think the mindset is so often overlooked, and yet it is the missing piece that would break or make an implementation. So again, thanks for joining us today; it’s great to have you here. Back to you, Lan.
Lan Nguyen: Thank you, Hilva. Today we’ll be hearing from Lauren Trout, Sandra Azevedo, and Toby Espley. I’ll now turn it over to Lauren.
Lauren Trout: Awesome. Hi, everybody. My name is Lauren Trout. Thank you so much for being here. I am a Program Associate at WestEd, and I’m also a restorative justice practitioner based in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve been doing restorative work with schools and districts and inside of the justice system and community spaces for about 9 years now, and so I’m really excited to share some things that I’ve learned along the away. As Hilva was just speaking to, I also really want to enter into this space and this particular moment in time with a lot of humility. I know that you all are on the ground, you are doing the work, and that this virtual room is full of a lot of wisdom, so I really look forward to learning from you all today as well.
I’m learning a lot about starting meetings with land acknowledgments. I am coming to you again from New Orleans, the traditional and seated territories of the Choctaw and Houma nations, among many who still tend our land. Before New Orleans had its name as we now call it, it was called Bulbancha, which is the Choctaw name meaning “the place of many tongues or languages.” If you also, like me, are in this place of learning about the land that you’re on and who it belongs to, I really encourage you to check out some resources like what is coming into the chat—thank you, Rebeca—and to build some reflection space on how we can move beyond land acknowledgments towards land justice and land solidarity.
I also really want to take this opportunity to ground together. I think this is something that is also speaking to me a lot these days is the importance of grounding even if that takes a second. I think this is a good time, as folks are coming in, to check in with your body and your breathing and your heart and your spirit because we’re going to talk a lot about a lot of heart work today and really what is needed to show up into this space. We cannot fully ground without really acknowledging this moment of time that we’re in as an educational body, as a society, really as a world. And we are learning together today inside of an emergent context that all of these things that are feeling painful and causing harm are also opportunities to shift and move towards the world that we want to see and that we want to create.
As I’ve been thinking a lot about that these days, it makes me think of this quote that comes from Arundhati Roy, who is an Indian author and activist, and she wrote that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” I want to hear from you all in a chat if possible. I would love your participation in the chat. I want you to take a second to imagine that world that is on her way, and when you’re ready, drop into the chat some of those sights and sounds and smells and feelings of that world. Maybe you’re hearing laughter. Maybe you’re smelling excellent food being prepared from a block party or seeing lots of nature. I think maybe for me, it’s like I’m petting a lot of dogs and I’m in nature, and there’s a lot of community around.
I’d love to hear from you in the chat for a second. What are some of those sights that you’re seeing in this world that’s on her way? What are some sounds? What are some smells? These don’t have to be complete, full sentences, just what comes to you. I’d love to see a few. I think visioning is incredibly important in this work. If we can’t envision the world that we want, we’re less likely to move towards it. The smell of ocean, trees, open-mindedness, laughter, calm, amazing. The beach, awesome. Please keep these coming. I hope this chat serves as kind of a dialogue between you all and me as well.
As you keep filling in the chat, I want to introduce myself a little bit further. I come by this work of restorative justice through a background of community organizing and educational justice. As a young person, I studied and got to grow in popular education and critical pedagogy. And so, my work is really always rooted in this deep trust of people and communities that they know what they need to thrive. This led me to restorative justice work, as that is a fundamental principle and value of the work. I also come to this work as a White person, which means that I cannot pretend to fully understand or embody the roots and principles of restorative justice because it comes from indigenous communities that I’m not a part of. And we’re going to talk a little bit more in a little bit about why naming that and knowing that is important. And I just want to come back into the chat to see what’s coming up. Yep. Children speaking ancestral tongues, there’s community, there’s connected to cultures of ancestry. Yes, this is amazing. Thank you all. Please keep it coming.
Just as you’re seeing, my hope is that this webinar, although it’s a webinar and we can’t really see each other, is going to be really, really interactive. I really hope that you will use the chat as much as possible, even in the space as I’m not directly responding to it, that you all can be talking to each other. We are going to have some space for polls, some quiet reflection, as well as time for Q&A, like Lan mentioned. Overall, we’re going to do a high level of restorative practices and restorative justice, what they are, where they intersect. We’re going to talk about the different elements of restorative practices and why all of them are needed for successful and sustainable implementation. And what I’m personally most excited about is that you’re going to get to hear from two colleagues, two California-based restorative practitioners that are in the field, using the guide, and getting their insights about what’s happening in the field.
The driver of this webinar today, we’ve kind of been referencing this guide, this toolkit. It’s based on a guide that I wrote called The Toolkit Before the Toolkit: Centering Adaptive and Relational Elements of Restorative Practices for Implementation Success. And in my work in schools over the last decade, and also, really, in justice systems in some community spaces, but largely schools, I became kind of fascinated with this question of “we know that this works, why isn’t this working,” right? And “why is this not working on such a spectrum?” Speaking to restorative practices implementation. And so, this guide is really a little bit of a labor of love for me, of thinking about how we apply restorative practices as these technical applications of things, when really behind this technical application of these technical elements, just as Hilva was speaking to, are these really rich, deep, relational, and adaptive elements that so often go to the wayside when implementation happens.
We should be getting a link to the toolkit in the chat. You can also scan this QR code and, yeah, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts on it if you read it. I think for me, it’s important to say I’m really interested in thinking about and imagining how restorative practices can be a paradigm to change it all. To change the education system, the justice system, and how we show up to each other. How we come back to each other as humans. I’m less interested in talking about restorative practices in a way of how we handle discipline and organize the desks in the room. I’m curious to hear what you all’s thoughts are on restorative practices.
Again, I know what my thoughts are about the current landscape of restorative practices in education, but I think this is kind of a cool opportunity to get some in-real-time data from folks that are doing the work in the field. The way that I’m hoping we can do that is we’ve set up a poll with a few questions here. I want to take a second with this poll, and then we’ll get to the chat waterfall. I think, Randy, if you can open up this poll, it should have three questions in it, and we’ll look at these questions together and just kind of see what comes up.
You’ll see in this first question, it says, “In thinking about the landscape of restorative practices within education, I feel that there is a clear understanding of what restorative practices is and isn’t,” and you can respond yes, somewhat, no, and unsure. And then the second question we have is, “In thinking about the landscape of restorative practices within education, most schools, districts, and states are implementing with fidelity and success.” And then a third question, “I believe it is possible to implement restorative practices with fidelity and success inside of our current education system.” I’d love to give you all just a second with these questions, and then let’s look at them together and see what is coming up.
I see we’re at about 62 percent, so let’s give it 1 more second. I would love to hear from you all, and then let’s look at it together, see what comes up. Awesome. Okay. And Randy, can we show those results, please? Okay, so let’s look at these together. So, to this first question in thinking about the landscape, thinking about a clear understanding of what it is, looks like most people said no, there does not seem to be a clear understanding. So, this is super interesting. And then in thinking about how folks are implementing, again, seems like the overwhelming response is that, no, we’re not really implementing with fidelity and success. And this third question, which I was most curious about was is it possible to implement restorative practices inside of our current education system? And this one’s interesting to me; 50 percent say yes, 33 percent say somewhat, 5 say no, 13 unsure. Okay, cool. Well, I’m really glad to have that info. Thank you for bringing it in.
When talking about restorative practices, especially as a White practitioner, for me it becomes essential to really understand where “restorative practices” comes from. One, because it helps us root the paradigm and values of restorative practices into their original origins and how they were designed and meant to be. But secondly, because I think what a lot of folks are maybe speaking to in the polls, this work is at really great risk of co-optation by the very systems that we are trying to shift. “Restorative practices” is a name given to the practices, the principles, the values, and the ways of being that belong to indigenous communities from all over the world and have existed for thousands of years. They vary in practice because indigenous communities are not monolithic, but they generally hold similar ways of being and ways of being in relationship to one another. And again, as a White person, it’s important to acknowledge my lens and my subsequent areas of lack here because I don’t hold a lived experience of this work belonging to my culture or my community.
And I think if we leave out this understanding of where restorative practices comes from and who it belongs to, well, I think, minimally, we miss the point of understanding the context with which these practices and tools were designed, which is inside of a collectivist paradigm as opposed to a Western-dominant culture paradigm of individualism. And I think that has a profound impact on how we engage with these ideas. Further, as indigenous colleagues have recently shared with me, indigenous communities around the country and around the world are still existing in this paradigm and living out these practices and values and leading this work. And centering their present voices, as opposed to just acknowledging their past role, is really crucial to this work being transformational and, again, not being co-opted.
I want to highlight that one book that is really helping me grow in my own learning of how to hold restorative practices and restorative justice as a White practitioner is called Colorizing Restorative Justice. I think a link is coming into the chat for that. Both quotes come from this book, and I really highly recommend folks checking it out. It’s more of a journey than a book in my experience.
“Peacemaking is the people’s process. It is the root of Indigenous knowledge and experiences” [Justice Robert G. Yazzie, former Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation, 1992–2003].
“Restorative practices have been around for centuries, but Western modernity has reduced them to nothing more than an alternative to a punitive system” [Barbara Sherrod, Baltimore-based restorative practices practitioner].
So, let’s dig in. Let’s talk about restorative practices. We’ve talked a bit about the roots of restorative practices and maybe its present-moment tension of how to best hold it. Western-dominant culture in the ‘70s and ‘80s began to study these values and principles that belong to global indigenous communities as a way of potentially thinking about how to shift the justice system. And what was taken from that studying largely centered and popularized this redefining of harm. And since, researchers and practitioners have continued to study and build the idea of what we presently think of as restorative practices. “The fundamental hypothesis of restorative practices,” and this comes from the Internet Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP), “is that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them.”
The IIRP calls restorative practices an emerging social science, and we can think of restorative practices, generally speaking, as the spectrum or a continuum of practices and tools and processes that build, strengthen, and repair relationships. It is guided by the understanding that relationships are central to learning, to growing, and to healthy schools and communities, and it views incidents like conflict and general incidents as harm to relationships and not just as infractions of school rules.
The aim of restorative practices is, again from the IIRP, “to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and restoring relationships.” When we look at this spectrum or continuum of tools and practices, we see that they move from informal to formal, proactive to responsive. And I want to highlight that a big misconception about restorative practices is that it’s exclusively responsive. Something happens, we hold a circle, we respond, that’s restorative practices. But they are in fact overwhelmingly proactive. Because, again, when we’re really in alignment with the design and values of this work, this is again not just about how we do discipline differently; this is about how we show up to each other. When we’re really applying restorative practices with fidelity and connecting them back to their roots and their original design, this becomes about moving away from individualism and towards our inherent interconnectedness.
And I just want to note, quickly, that at the end of this continuum, where it says formal conference, this is where restorative justice falls. So let’s talk a little bit about restorative justice. I was appreciating somebody putting that in the chat because we tend to conflate them, and they belong to each other. They overlap. They hold the same values and principles, so I really like that. As a term, we’ve seen restorative justice have this very long history. We have talked about the indigenous roots of restorative justice as a paradigm for how to be in a relationship with one another. And again, noting that in the ‘70s and ’80s we saw it emerge as a sort of services almost in the justice system. And in the last couple years, it’s evolved towards classroom management and discipline tools within education spaces. And now we’re really starting to see it emerge as a bit of a social movement within the last few years, which is very interesting.
I really like to start talking about restorative justice by first talking about justice. I want to hear from you all again in the chat, what is justice? Where does it come from? Who decides it? And again, let’s just make these first things that come to mind. They don’t need to be full thoughts. What are some sounds when you think of justice? What are some images? Maybe it’s a protest in the street, maybe it’s a gavel in a courtroom. For other people, they might say that’s the opposite of justice. Yeah, what comes to mind? Fairness, lack of equity, interesting. Order, voice, fairness. Awesome, yeah. Please keep these coming. And again, with more time, we could really dive into an entire conversation about where does justice come from? Who decides it? How do we achieve it? How do we know when we’ve achieved it? You can feel free to answer those in the chat. I would love to see that conversation happen.
And I think really what I’m trying to get at here is that the kinds of questions that we ask about justice inform the kind of justice that we get. So, we have to look at the questions we’re asking in our current system and our current framework of justice. Because in our current justice system, the idea is that if we can center the rule or law that was broken, if we can find who broke that rule or that law and we can punish them, we will have achieved justice. And so, in this sense, it’s not really correct to say that our justice system is broken because that’s exactly what we’re getting. What we’re centering has us with the outcomes and the results that we do. Restorative justice as a theory of justice asks us to reframe the questions we’re asking.
Restorative justice says, “We get it, rules are important. They bring us safety, they help us with boundaries, they can bring us closer to each other. But when rules and laws are broken, we have to center people because what’s ultimately happened is that somebody has been hurt. Because we aren’t in relationship to rules and laws, we’re in relationship to one another, and there must be a process and an idea of justice that honors that.”
So restorative justice asks, rather than centering the broken rule or the broken law, we’re asking what happened. What happened? And then it centers the people who were harmed, and it asks how they were affected. And instead of asking what the punishment will be, we’re asking what is needed to repair the harm and bring healing. What does healing look like? What does wholeness look like for everybody involved? This is a massive paradigm shift, really, in these simple three questions, and the reframe is a massive paradigm shift when we think about it. It’s a shift from how we’re taught to think about rules and laws, how we center relationships and hold relationships, who makes decisions, how healing looks, even how power is held.
I want to talk about paradigms for a minute because for me this is the big piece that gets lost here. A paradigm is a belief system that informs our values, our assumptions, our habits, our practices. It’s kind of like our worldview. And we operate from paradigms as individuals, and our systems also operate from paradigms because our systems were created and designed by us. This is just like I was noting before about our current justice system, as an example, that, again, our justice system isn’t broken. The way it looks and the results it gets comes from the way we have defined justice as a society. When we think about the paradigm of our education system, it is not only individualistic, which is not how restorative practices are intended to operate. It’s driven by a paradigm or a belief system that academic learning and success are the priority and things like relationship building and community building detract from academic learning. Learning first, and if we have any time left over, which we rarely ever do, we will do some relationship building.
And we can see the ways this paradigm drives our outcomes and results in the education system. We can feel it in the ways we spend time in the classroom, the ways we view misbehavior and respond to it, how we define safety, the way it feels around testing, maybe even the concept of testing itself, really. And I think about how often I’ve heard teachers say, like, “I love circles. I love the circle stuff. My students love it, the community building, the relationship building. It brings calm in my room. People feel connected and like they have a voice, but there is no time for it. I squeeze it in, which is barely.” And that’s how we implement restorative practices. This incredibly rich theory of how we show up to each other, this is kind of what it’s being reduced to.
The paradigm of restorative practices believes that relationships and community building don’t detract from learning; they’re the conditions for learning. Relationship in community building is key. Learning actually cannot happen without them. And operating from that paradigm is a full major shift in how we would spend time, how we would interact with one another, even how power would be held. I’m going to ask you all again in the chat to imagine. And again, imagining is so important. We have to vision what this other thing can look like. What would the education system look like, what would it feel like, what would it sound like if we moved from a restorative paradigm? If we were moving in this idea that relationships and community building were conditional for learning and that learning couldn’t happen without them, what would be different? What would it look like? What would it feel like? I would love to see some stuff in the chat. I’m going to keep talking a little bit more, but yeah, keep it coming. Thank you.
So, if a school is operating from the paradigm that relationship and community-building practices detract from learning, then the very way restorative practices center relationships and community are going to pose an inherent struggle. Restorative practices, and all other whole-person initiatives, by the way—SEL, PBIS, trauma-informed practices, culturally responsive learning—in their values, their practices, their mindsets, they often operate out of alignment and often antithetically with this traditional idea and this traditional paradigm of the education system. This is the crux of the tension we feel when we’re trying to implement something new. This is why it feels hard. This is why it feels like there’s never enough time for it. This is why it feels like, soon enough, it’s going to get replaced with the next initiative.
So, if we can understand restorative practices not just as a technical program to implement within our existing traditional paradigm but rather as an adaptive paradigm itself, we can make greater progress. And that’s kind of like, well, what does that mean? That can sound a little confusing. But the analogy I like to give here is to think about the education system like a glass of water, okay? Imagine a glass of water, and that’s the education system. If we apply restorative practices as a program, it’s like putting oil into that glass of water. It never fully absorbs; it just disperses throughout, and we can shake it and shake it and shake it and work and work and work, but they are never going to fully blend together because of their inherent opposing scientific properties. But if we think about implementing restorative practices as a paradigm, it becomes like putting food coloring into that glass of water. It diffuses through the whole glass, and it changes the water’s very composition.
When we implement restorative practices as a program, they never fully actualize because we haven’t placed value on the outcomes restorative practices actually work to produce. However, when we shift toward the paradigm of restorative practices and reimagining with relationships and community at the center of schooling, then the technical elements that we’re speaking to, these technical elements of restorative practices, they don’t become more to do; they become a different way of being. And again, that brings us back to those roots.
Talking a lot about paradigms, at this point you’re probably like, “Okay, well, how do we implement restorative practices as a paradigm and not as a program?” This is where I want to introduce the elements of restorative practices. We can see all across the country at school, district, and state levels this very wide spectrum of not only implementation success and struggles when it comes to restorative practices but actually what is being implemented. And I think the polls kind of spoke to that earlier. There’s this whole spectrum and this variations of not only how it’s being implemented but what’s being implemented and maybe even what people understand it as.
Within the education system, there are these countless guides and toolkits for the technical elements of restorative practices and implementation—how to hold the circle, when to schedule the booster sessions, where to find the scripts. But really deeply lacking in our field are equally important resources and conversations that move beyond just these technical pieces and center equally important parts of restorative practices like visioning and unlearning and connecting. All of these often forgotten but necessary things are needed way before the trainings are scheduled and implementation rolls out.
And as a whole system that’s really eager to use speedy rollouts and package programs for these initiatives that are kind of meant to fix everything or change everything, it strikes me because we regularly overlook the critical and necessary steps of personal and collective unlearning and reimagining of what safe and equitable schools and systems could be, what they could look like. And this missed step of centering the technical work over the adaptive plays a crucial key role in causing our implementation of new strategies and initiatives to fail. We devalue and ignore the most essential parts of change work, and then we’re surprised when our efforts to do something new hasn’t worked or hasn’t worked like we thought it would.
Effective implementation of restorative practices that holds fidelity to the model rests not merely on getting these technical aspects right but also grounding in these other elements of restorative practices. In the education system, technical elements are the practices, the programs, the interventions that we implement to solve a problem or to apply a new initiative. In restorative practices, these are the circles; they’re effective statements; they’re restorative questions. These are really important. They have a huge role to play, but they’re one element of restorative practices and implementation and really actually kind of a small part of restorative implementation itself.
So, we just talked about the technical pieces, and I want to spend some time with the other three before we dive into our conversation. What drives the technical elements of restorative practices are the adaptive elements. These, as we’ve been kind of speaking to, and as exactly as Hilva was speaking to, these are the mindsets, the paradigms, the values, and the belief systems behind the actions, behind the tools, behind the practices. This is our why. Many districts and schools lose out on the full impact of their technical work with restorative practices because the adaptive components that imbue those practices have not shifted, those values, those mindsets, those beliefs. What’s more is that without the adaptive shifts in place, implementing the technical pieces becomes exhausting. It’s double work, ultimately leading educators to resent and dismiss restorative practices as one more thing that does not work that they’re being forced to do.
Implementing technical elements of restorative practices when the adaptive elements haven’t shifted is never really going to lead us to the outcomes that we are trying to produce. And this is like so often we run restorative circles to repair harm punitively, with the same mindset about justice that our society is steeped in that is antithetical to restorative practices and restorative justice, how often we do that.
And the moment that this all truly took root for me was when I was supporting a school. I’ll just tell a quick story. I was supporting them in their whole-school implementation and, as a good practitioner, I had emphasized the importance of relationship building. And so, the school was really dedicated to making their morning homerooms about proactive circle keeping and community building. And for a few classrooms, it just wasn’t going well. The students wouldn’t participate. The teachers felt like it was a waste of time. And I went in to support these educators and I did all the right things. I walked through the scripts, and I showed the facilitative tricks about space holding, and it wasn’t until I checked in with some of the students that it all clicked in for me. And it was because this one student had said to me, he said, “The circles are fine, but I hate being in them because they’re fake. When I’m in the circle, my teacher tells me I have a voice and treats me with respect, but the second that circle is over, my teacher is screaming at me and treats me like I am a problem for her. I know she doesn’t actually believe in this circle stuff.” And that was just kind of an incredible learning moment for me of what does it mean when we hold these technical elements perfectly but if we don’t have the values that imbue those technical elements, we don’t have the thing. We don’t have people bought in; we’re not shifting. So, deepening our individual and collective why and shifting our internal paradigm and larger systems paradigm are crucial to make this work actually be not what we do but who we are. When it is what we do, it is one more thing to do.
Meanwhile, we have adaptive elements. The relational elements of restorative practices are intentional actions that build relationships and foster agency, community, and social capital. Social capital we can think of as a resource that allows a school, a community, or a society to function together as a whole. And relational work is what we do to build that social capital. By focusing on the relational elements, such as building trust, listening deeply, being vulnerable, and unlearning bias, educators and leaders may help their teachers, students, and others in the school community accumulate the social capital needed to create space for transformation. So often we try to apply these technical practices, which is interesting to me because they’re ultimately about centering relationships. We try to implement them at this technical level without centering relationships, without doing the work to build and foster connection. And this is huge for implementation, the way we implement to students or at students, or to educators or at educators, rather than with them.
And a quick story again I’ll just highlight is being again at a school, being called in trying to get them to support restorative practices and talking to a principal and a call coming through on the walkie talkie of a request for help for a teacher. And the principal said to me, like, “Okay, let’s see what this is all about, come on in.” And walking into this classroom and there was maybe a 2nd grader was just totally dysregulated and activated. He was throwing chairs. He was screaming. The teacher was on the other side of the room kind of holding the rest of the class back in safety. And I was like, “Okay, well, I’ve got these tools. I have the restorative questions. I’m going to ask what’s going on.” And I went to the young person, and I sat down, and I said, “Well, what’s happened and who’s being impacted?” And it made everything worse. It totally tanked, it totally bombed, and I had no idea what to do. And all of a sudden, right as I think they were about to call in a disciplinarian and maybe even a police officer, the teacher that this young person had had the year before and had a really strong relationship with came into the room, had heard the noise, came into the room. And using the exact same set of questions that I had used and totally failed with, this educator who he had a deep relationship with used those questions to help get him regulated, to calm him, to in real time practice accountability and make a plan for how to repair the harm. And within 5 to 10 minutes that young person was picking up chairs and checking in with his teacher and his classmates and able to move forward in the room. Everyone was able to move forward rather than remove this student out. And I think it just speaks to the true importance of really thinking about these relational elements that imbue these technical elements; these relationships are everything. And if you want to hear about more of the how we can center relational elements, again, you can check out that guide. I’m not going to dive in too much because I want to go to this last element.
The third element of restorative practices is the structural element. These are the things that help this work actually embed and not just stay at this individual adaptive level or interpersonal relational level. And how many times have we experienced or witnessed an incredible training and left determined and inspired only to immediately let the lessons and the ideas and the inspirations go because of a lack of time, a lack of support, a lack of resources, a lack of accountability needed to maintain them? And so, putting the right structural supports and infrastructure in place can ease implementation of the technical elements of restorative practices and ensure that individual adaptive work and interpersonal relational work add up to create meaningful, sustained systemic change.
Structural supports, I’ll just highlight quickly, include critical infrastructure and resources like funding, people, time, discipline, and other policies and equity. And again, too often schools attempt to implement restorative practices without reallocating time, without redefining their discipline policies, without redesigning tools of measurement, and I would say perhaps most important, again, without reimagining education altogether and what it could be. There are a couple different ways to get those structural elements in place. I’ve highlighted a few in the guide, and I hope you’ll check them out.
What I want to do now is I want to get to our panelists who are in the field and who are really engaging with elements of the toolkit and the guide, but really just deep in the work in general, and hear from them. I’m going to introduce them quickly. Sandra Azevedo is a Coordinator of Continuous Improvement for Butte County Office of Education. She has worked in education for over 25 years supporting special ed, Multi-Tiered System of Support, socioemotional learning, equity efforts, and a leadership network. Sandra is a trainer for restorative practices after receiving training through the IIRP, and she is a steering committee member for her local healing center, ACEs Collaborative, as well as for multicounty regional ACEs Collaborative.
We also have Toby Espley, who is the Restorative Practices Coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education and Learning Support Services. The focus of her work consists of restorative practices, SEL, early childhood education, and PBIS within the California Multi-Tiered System of Supports. With over 20 years of experience in education, Toby continues to bring current research and best practices to support professional development for the preK through 12 continuum, and she holds a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in childhood development.
I am so excited to see you all. Thank you for being here. The question I want to ask first is just a little bit about each of your roles and how you both know each other. And then also, how did the three of us meet? Sandra, maybe you can start us off.
Sandra Azevedo: Sure, I’d love to. You’ve already shared my role, but one of the newer roles that I’ve had here in the last couple years is the restorative practices element. I’m so grateful to be a learner alongside everyone here today. I met Toby about 6 years ago when we started the California MTSS project in partnership with Orange County Office of Education, and we’ve stayed friends and been working together for these past several years.
Lauren Trout: Awesome. Thank you, Sandra. Toby, anything that you want to add? And maybe even a little about how the three of us know each other?
Toby Espley: I’ll do that part, yes. Sandra is the one that let me know that there was an application to join your cohort, Lauren. And I said, “I want to be a part of that too.” Through that, I was connected, and we both applied, and our applications were accepted into the first cohort. And so that was just an absolutely amazing experience, which I think we get to kind of unpack during this time together now.
Lauren Trout: We do, that’s right. Before we talk about the guide—they’ve been hearing a lot about it—for a second, I’m curious to hear from you all your observations in the field of restorative practices and restorative justice and education. I’m curious if you all were able to see those polls, how they landed for you, and just generally speaking, what are your observations about the current state of restorative practices in the education system? Toby, do you mind sharing first?
Toby Espley: Sure, absolutely. Definitely in the landscape of our education system, what we’re seeing right now is coming back from a pandemic returning to in person from virtual, there’s a lot of requests. When we walk into a training, it’s, “I need tools and fix this, help me fix this.” We’re coming from a very responsive lens, and we’re seeing that across the board as “I need something to quickly fix something,” and it’s in response. And then that’s when we say, “Hold on a second, let’s take a few steps back, and let’s look at what we can set up ahead of time, and let’s look at a bigger picture and a bigger system with that.” But we have students that started 1st grade and went to distance learning and came back a 3rd grader, so they’ve missed so much of self-management, self-regulation, problem-solving, social awareness, self-awareness. We’re seeing those pieces of the behaviors are manifesting and showing themselves on the playground, in the classrooms. And most people’s quick response is, “Let’s just fix it. Give me a tool. What tools do you have in restorative practices that we can fix it?”
Lauren Trout: Thank you, Toby, absolutely. I’d love to hear your thoughts too, Sandra. As well, this is for both of you, but I’d also love to offer, where is the future of this work headed? What are your thoughts?
Sandra Azevedo: I’ll say in our area, in Northern California, restorative practices are newer to our area. And so, the exciting thing I’m seeing is that people are showing interest and coming forward. The challenge is that I think some folks come with the expectation that it’s going to fix behavior instantly, or maybe as an alternative to discipline, without the full understanding of the elements around centering relationships and the significant paradigm shift. And we even have some districts where they’re doing. too, the educator is saying, “We’re going to do this, and we’re going to do it this way, and we expect you to do this,” which is really the opposite of doing with, which is what we’re wanting to model. So, kind of welcoming everybody, however they come to this, but also trying to bring it alongside educators and administrators in a way that can be sustainable long term, I would say.
Lauren Trout: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s just the ongoing question, I think, of this work: How do we make this sustainable? How do we figure out how to implement this in a way so that, again, as I think I’ve been saying throughout, it can shift our whole system to one that is connected, to one that is equitable, to one that brings healing, to one that brings authentic learning? As opposed to just one more thing that educators and students have to be told what to do, to then have it go to the wayside immediately after. Absolutely.
Yeah, and so I think on that note, I’m curious to hear from you, as for me, as I mentioned before, that guide was really a labor of love of really trying to figure out how do we talk about restorative practices in a way that can hold that idea? That this isn’t something that we’ll start implementing in August and see the exact results we want in May. There’s this linear thing, and we just follow the scripts, and that’s going to get us to our goal. I ’m curious to hear from you all: How did you come to the guide, and how do you see it in practice? Sandra, can I ask you that question first?
Sandra Azevedo: Sure. When I first saw the guide, I was so excited because you really gave language to something that we had been experiencing in the field, and by doing so, I think, will bring credibility and will be helpful not just for this initiative, but I think it’s really helpful for all initiatives, particularly those that fall along the realm of social—emotional learning and those that require a significant paradigm shift. So just by naming it, I think that’s going to be super helpful. And then, it helped us during our recent training to pause, to give us the impetus to say, “Hold on, we hear you. We know the tension about needing those technical elements, but this is the approach we want to take and here’s why.” It really supported us in being able to do that.
Lauren Trout: Awesome. Thank you. Toby, anything that you want to add in your experiences with the guide?
Toby Espley: Absolutely. Within our work for the California Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), when we’re looking at systems and infrastructure of systems, this was a really important component because it ties into also what else we’ve been seeing is everybody’s so focused on the practice and they’re forgetting the other pieces, the mental models. So how you so wonderfully delineated adaptive elements and relational elements and helping everyone take a step back to see that bigger picture, to ensure we can really sustain a good system for restorative practices.
Lauren Trout: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m so curious about, with all the initiatives, all the whole-person initiatives we speak to, it’s like I ’m always so curious about the way we implement them because it’s like a stool. It’s like, they each hold each other up, and without one of those pieces, we don’t have a stool, we don’t have the thing. And so, for folks kind of listening in, the Center for Socio–Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd was able to provide technical assistance to the guide, so we had an intentionally small cohort of practitioners around the country that were able to really just dive in and think deeply about the adaptive and relational and the structural elements, which is how we came to know each other. And I too just want to shout out you all’s work. Are you able to speak a little bit to the Restorative Educators Network, please? This is for either one of you.
Sandra Azevedo: Yeah, about a year ago we decided, Toby and myself and a couple colleagues from Humboldt County Office of Education, to get together and form a little coalition to support a Restorative Educator Network. And we currently have a group of almost a couple hundred folks registered. We have quarterly virtual meetings and a website on California Educators Together that houses resources. And we will, at some point during this meeting, drop the link in there; it’s free. And we’re hoping to grow this network because we feel like there’s a need to bring people together to share and learn from one another. I know certainly we’ve benefited from it so far, and we have spotlights from folks who are doing the work. Looking forward to having anyone on here join us for that.
Lauren Trout: And Toby, maybe you can speak to, what are some of the things you’re hearing in these quarterly meetings? What are the needs, what are the struggles? What are the things coming up for folks? What are the hopes, if any?
Toby Espley: Absolutely. I think because, like I said, what we’re seeing is everyone’s kind of reverting back to the two box, the authoritative, the strict, and they’re forgetting that support piece and that social discipline window. We know that it’s right, but we’re trying to figure out how to get there even with the central blueprint to maximize the positive, minimize the negative, minimize inhibition, to suppress our feelings, and be able to share how we’re feeling and do all three as much as possible. It’s all these cornerstones in restorative practices that we know, but we’re trying to figure out how to not only build that up within the classroom. I think really the big piece of that is you can say you went to restorative practices training; that doesn’t make you restorative. And so, what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, what we’re feeling is making the connection, bringing that together is having the why, having the buy-in, having that reflective piece of understanding how we view behaviors, how we view relationships and connection. And so those are all really important pieces of trying to bring those cornerstones together and understanding where we’re at and how we can practice that or just be that way.
Lauren Trout: Yeah, absolutely. Anything you want to add to that, Sandra, things that you’re hearing in the field?
Sandra Azevedo: I think that we need folks who are sharing things like how are we changing our discipline policies and making it more restorative? How are we getting buy-in with families and other educators? Some of that how, which again speaks to the relational elements. I think hearing from other folks in the field that have worked through that is really helpful; that’s what folks are looking for.
Lauren Trout: Yeah. It seems like the storytelling is really kind of crucial when people are able to share space to say, like, “Well, this is what has worked for us so far. This is really not what has worked for us.” Yeah, again, the more we can kind of ground these ideas and into actual practice and commitment is really where the wins are. And I think that ’s an important piece of it, too, is part of these structural elements is really about rethinking success. And speaking to, again, that, firstly, it falls on this linear timeline, that if we just follow every single step, we’re going to get to the place that we want. And by the way, it’s going to be at the end of May.
And so, but really taking a step back to think about what it means to have a paradigm shift internally and what it means to have a paradigm shift as a system, we’re really looking at a long time span here. But in that scope of time are endless spaces for small wins and little victories and on-the-ground shifts at that personal and interpersonal and structural level. And the more we can ground in those small victories with storytelling and connection and honoring those is really where the work actually starts to take root. Absolutely.
I would love now—I see a lot coming in the chat about an offering for questions. Maybe this is a good time. Sandra and Toby will also be on for questions, so any questions you have for me or for them would be awesome.
Lan Nguyen: We have some questions, and you all feel free to go about these however makes sense. So, one question is, and if you relate to this maybe share in the chat, if you’re in the audience and doing this work. One question is, “What would you say to people who are interested in this work or maybe are doing this work but feel isolated?”
Lauren Trout: I’m going to offer this up to Toby and Sandra initially, who are, I think, in the field a little bit more than I am these days. But my guess is, unfortunately, your isolation, you’re not alone in your isolation.
Toby Espley: Absolutely, your isolation is not alone. And I think that was one of the driving forces for us to even start the coalition that we did because even within our county, we’re trying to develop sustainability networks. That isolation comes from, you have an educator that goes to a training and then they come back and they’re trying to do the practices, but if their principal doesn’t know about it, the district doesn’t know about it; we ’re not able to move the needle; we’re not able to build that sustainability. We’re seeing those pockets of isolation everywhere because they’re like, “How do I know more about this? I know this is important; I know we need this. How do I get the buy-in? How do I get the push from our administration to have this lens as well?”
For me, that’s why we’re trying to create this space, and we were excited about the toolkit because that was able to enhance our work in finding that way to be able to do that because, for me, that’s part of that structural support element is finding the folks that can help us start moving the needle. It’s like, once we can identify that, it’s going to be, like Lauren said, those small wins that are going to help us take that one step forward. Sandra I’ll let you…
Lauren Trout: Sandra’s good.
Toby Espley: Right.
Lauren Trout: Cool. I would just love to add, too, I mean, exactly what Toby’s speaking to is those small wins. And yeah, people are really feeling isolated in general now, and then when you add isolation to thinking that you are having to implement a thing by yourself or wanting to implement a thing by yourself but not sure where to begin, is a particular kind of loneliness, I think. And I think what just comes to mind for me is, I think, perhaps a very intellectual answer that might not be helpful, but it makes me think about this idea of systems and our ecosystem of the way that the internal, the interpersonal, and the systemic all do kind of belong to each other. The internal and the interpersonal are always sitting inside systemic levels. Because again, we have designed our systems, so that means we can redesign our systems.
And those three kind of tiers of levels are not siloed; they’re always informing each other and interacting with one another and impacting one another. And I think this is where a little bit of we see Margaret Mead’s quote of, like, “Never doubt a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world” or Margaret Wheatley’s quote of, “Whatever the problem, community is the solution,” right? It is really about when we can do our internal work and then build relational connections around those shifts is where we do start to plant the seeds for the system to change. I know that’s big and that’s lofty, but that is something that’s grounding me these days.
Lan Nguyen: Thank you. So just kind of related to that, what have you all seen? I know you all have gone to your own trainings and are engaging in the work in your own context. I mean, have you experienced or observed moments where a light bulb went off in someone’s head? And what have you seen that’s worked in terms of bringing people along on this journey with you?
Lauren Trout: Go ahead, Sandra.
Sandra Azevedo: Oh, well, I would love to share. One of the things we tried this last training, inspired by the toolkit, was an exercise using the two loops of systems change, which we mapped out on the floor and named these kind of shifting paradigms and had folks go to where they are in the system. And we had about 30 people, and people were all over in different places. And then they have an opportunity to reflect on how it feels to be at that place in the system and then to share out to the rest of the system and what they need from that, what it feels like and what they would like the rest of the system to know. It’s a really powerful way not only to illuminate the different paradigms but also to allow the relational elements to come into the room and full kind of stakeholder engagement and super interesting and fun.
Lauren Trout: Cool. That sounds so cool. Yeah, that’s almost nearing exactly what I was going to say is really speaking to the relational pieces. For me, a lot of the guide and the subsequent TA I’ve done about it is not just talking about these things at a high level a little bit like I’m doing in this webinar but really the idea that the medium is the message, that the end goal of what we want is also the means; it’s also the way we get there; it’s the path. And so, when we can practice implementing restorative practices with restorative practices, we have people that feel connected to each other, that feel seen authentically, that feel like people are really showing up for them. And those relational pieces are just totally crucial to it. This is about how we are in relationship with one another and how we show up to one another, and people can feel when they’re being implemented at versus when they’re being implemented with. Really shifting that is key to me. And the spaces where I have seen growth is just where people feel like they’re being seen and they’re being brought along with, as opposed to, like, at.
Sandra Azevedo: I was going to say, Lauren, you modeled that so well during the four sessions that we had together and taking the time, the entire time, of the first session to really get to know each other and tell our stories is something that we don’t often do because we have, again, this paradigm that that’s going to take away from our time to learn when, in fact, building that community and modeling that allowed for us to develop relationships in a way that sustained us, that allowed people to want to come back. All of those things really made a difference. And you modeling that even when we have this tension of urgency to get to the work was really powerful.
Lauren Trout: Thank you. Yeah, exactly. The community building wasn’t a detraction from the work; it was the work. And once we did the work, then everything else fell into place. Absolutely. I think too, Sandra, if I could get you to speak on something that you brought up as we were getting ready for this meeting that I think is so cool that I hadn’t heard before, I think ties in, was about implementation integrity versus implementation fidelity. Can you speak a little bit to that?
Sandra Azevedo: Yeah, that’s a term that I just recently learned, but I think it is so important in relation to restorative practices because I think our schools are so rule-oriented, and they want to know what to do, and we have discipline matrix, and we have these things that say, “Well, when they do this, what do we do here?” And restorative practices invites us to think through principles. I think if we focus on principles and the integrity of the principles, then regardless of what the specific circumstance is, we can figure it out. If we’re integrious to the principles of repairing relationship, centering community, we can figure out almost any challenge. And I think the notion of fidelity is such a one that is so focused in our world right now that I liked the idea of having implementation integrity rather than fidelity. It feels a little more flexible, and I think it’s more appropriate.
Lauren Trout: I love that. When you said it in our meeting prior to this, I was like, “Oh my, that’s it. That’s totally it.” Absolutely. I think that we have about 5 more minutes left on Q&A before we start to close. So maybe we could take one more question, Lan, if possible?
Lan Nguyen: I’ve got one lined up for you. So, kind of bringing back in the toolkit and considering its main message, the question would be, “What can people growing in their practice and understanding of restorative practices do to center the adaptive and relational elements of this work?”
Lauren Trout: That is a very good question. Well, I think I’ll just jump back to the relational pieces, some of the things I’ve glossed over a little bit, but I’m happy to speak to a little bit. Again, I think with the adaptive pieces, the mindsets, the values, to me that really is deeply about questioning our internal systems. Are my values aligned with this? Does this align with my belief system? Why do I have the belief system that I have? Where does that come from? It really is about the deep reflective practice of looking at ourselves and maybe moving towards whatever unlearning we need to have. And I think that we often overlook that with implementation because learning and value shifts are hard to measure. And as a society, it’s kind of like we center what we can measure. If it’s measurable, it’s valuable. If it’s valuable, it’s measurable. And the deep work of unlearning and reflecting and paradigm shifting that actually is required in this work to do it well is hard to measure. And so that’s what I think I might speak to with the adaptive piece.
Regarding what folks can do to think about and center the relational elements is, again, I would simply say let the medium be the message, actually center people and relationships. What if we leaned less into the technical elements and more into the connectedness that is naturally there between educators and students, between students themselves, and educators themselves? What would that do to culture? What would that do to buy-in to just let those natural connections actually be there?
I think that we can operate from trust and, again, the honoring of our inherent interconnection, and we can ground and create active spaces for voice and agency as tools for building social capital. When people feel like they have a voice, they feel invested, and when they don’t feel like they have a voice, they’re not. And it’s really pretty as simple as that. What are the places we can create space for voice and agency? I think those are some kind of key pieces I would speak to. Toby, Sandra, anything that you all would add to that?
Toby Espley: I wanted to just circle back around; you did a land acknowledgment at the beginning, and we had some wonderful tribal members in our cohort that shared with us even in some of the tribal communities or indigenous groups, there’s not even a word for restorative because it’s a way of being; it is just the way they are. And this is why it has been successful for generations and for why we’re at where we’re at because this is all they know; this is how they are; this is the way they do business; this is the way they just lead by example. Yes, it is a way of being. And that was so grounding for me in those conversations in our cohort to hear from tribal members and folks from indigenous communities in that lens of this work.
Lauren Trout: Absolutely. Thank you for bringing that back. That was such a powerful experience for me as well. Sandra, anything that you would add before we start closing?
Sandra Azevedo: Well, I think you hit on it, but I would like to emphasize it because this piece about us interrupting our normal habits about the way we approach things, and a great way to start is at staff meetings and with adults is to say, “If I’m going to be talking about restorative practices, can we do it in a circle without a PowerPoint, for example? Can we center relationships? Can we have time for a check-in?” rather than let me get my slide deck and put it up here and click through these pieces. And also, of just having people check in, “What did you notice about this conversation?” Almost everybody will realize just sitting in a circle that there’s a shift in power; there’s a shift in voice; there’s a shift in quality and resonance of being. And so, by experiencing that frequently, it makes it a lot easier for them to understand why it might be so important to bring back to their students.
Lauren Trout: Yeah, absolutely. I love that grounding example. And, yeah, what happens when we let educators and adults experience how restorative practices feels as a way of leading into implementation? Absolutely. Cool. Toby and Sandra, thank you both so much for joining me in this conversation. It’s always such a pleasure to spend time with you.
Sandra Azevedo: It’s an honor, an honor, and thank you for your work.
Lauren Trout: Thank you.
Toby Espley: It is a great honor. Thank you so very much.
Lauren Trout: Thank you. With that, I will also say thank you for joining this webinar, and I will send it back to the CCSC team for closing.
Lan Nguyen: Thank you. So just, again, thank you so much to our speakers for sharing from their experience and offering this learning for us today.