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Our School Before Laura

We have a tough population of kids with a very high poverty and homeless rate. Every year, our school had really high staff turnover with teachers requesting to transfer to a different school. My staff was there for the right reasons, but it felt disjointed in how we were addressing behavior. Out of frustration and anger, teachers could be really reactive and make punitive comments. But I realized that the same teachers who were asking for harsher punishments were the same ones who would go sit out in the cold and watch their student’s football game on a Friday night.  Their comments did not align with how they actually felt about our students; they loved our kids. I was in my third year as principal and I really wanted to bring Restorative practices into my school because it has always aligned with who I'm as an educator and a human.

Working with Laura

When we started working with Laura almost immediately I went from disheartened to hopeful and optimistic. Laura helped me create an action plan that was so much more proactive, aligned and really methodical with how to approach implementation based on my staff's needs. In our first year we worked on circles in classrooms and using the restorative questions and language. Then the second year we focused on problem solving circles and our whole school response when issues arise. 

 

Before working with Laura, I felt so disjointed with the staff. We would have conversations and they totally would sound on board, but without any type of action to follow up or accountability. Through Laura’s facilitation I learned how to have hard conversations, but not me telling them what to do, but instead I learned how to use staff circles to get input from everyone. As a leader, I don't know if there's anything that brings more joy than knowing than having an aligned staff, both in thinking and actions, and a common path to grow together. 

 

Our School After Laura

The impact on our teachers, students, and families has been amazing. Nearly all of our students have been open and responsive to Restorative Practices. Where I've seen the biggest shift is the kids who are always in trouble. When we have restorative conversations with them, they actually feel heard and validated. Instead of being defensive, they can be open. Initially I was worried, “how are parents going to respond?” I remember sitting at a board meeting when parents felt like something was not dealt with appropriately and they “wanted blood.” But I can honestly say now our parents understand the process of restorative practices and they're on board.

I was also worried “Am I going to be able to move my staff?” We had a long history of  high staff turnover due to student behavior.  Because of our work with Laura implementing Restorative Practices, last year I retained 95% of my staff, which had NEVER happened. I have no openings going into next year. I didn't even have to interview because I had teachers requesting to transfer in!  Everyone wants to work at Taft! Just knowing that I can say in an interview that we are a restorative school because I can honestly say that and that my teachers and our parents understand the process now. 

 

Since working with Laura, now my school has a shared philosophy, which I didn't know was even possible, to actually have a breathing, a living, breathing shared philosophy. Now as a staff we have a common language in how we respond to kids. What we learned from Laura, and is now our school phrase, “If you don't have a community, then there's nothing to restore.”

 

After Laura’s training we surveyed teachers on their use of Restorative Practices.  Our data showed that 90% of our teaching staff do community circles at least once a week. but most do them 3-5 times per week. In the survey we asked teachers to rank how supportive they found different responses to problem behavior. The response they ranked as MOST supportive, was the Restorative Chat procedure that we implemented after Laura’s training. The second highest was Re-Entry Circles before returning to class after misbehavior And the lowest ranked, the least supportive action, was punitive. Which, coming from our staff, was a huge difference. 

 

 If anyone is on the fence about working with Laura, they need to jump over the fence! Working with Laura has helped me align our school and see our path forward. It's no longer a question of what type of a school we are. Our staff truly believes in restorative practices, we believe that kids have the potential to solve their problems and that it is our job to empower them.

Becca Bostwick, Principal

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