Hands Up, Smiles Down

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(Continued from last post)

We gathered again the following week with the same eight students, their teacher, and the school principal. A Restorative Circle (RC) is meant to be non-hierarchical, so, as much as possible, titles and roles are left at the door so that RC participants can meet as humans who are equally valued. However, we didn’t explain the non-hierarchy principle as well as we could have, and the power structure of the school environment isn’t easily shed, which meant that students raised their hands to speak while the teacher and principal spoke more freely. Nonetheless, the students spoke their truth, mostly to the principal, and I was inspired by how she repeated back what she had heard them say. Of course, the principal and teacher also got to share and be heard by whom they wanted to be heard.
There was much to share, so the RC took place over two meetings. Everyone attended both meetings except the teacher who missed the second circle due to other obligations. It seemed to me that, by the end of the mutual comprehension and self-responsibility rounds, the principal and teacher understood more about the students’ unhappiness about how their conflict had been handled, and the students understood more about why the principal had handled it the way she had.
The action plan included the principal posting in the classroom more information about what consequences she is required by the school district to enforce for violations that happen on school grounds. The action plan also included our meeting with the teacher and principal to talk about the students getting trained in RC facilitation so that they could support conflict among their peers and among the younger students in their school. Five or six of the students expressed interest in RC facilitation training. There were some action-plan ideas that were not very specific and doable but we included them because we wanted all voices to matter and because we weren’t able to turn them into specific, doable actions. A post circle was set for two months from our main circle.
Our Restorative Bainbridge team has been spending at least one full day a week at this kindergarten to grade twelve school on Bainbridge Island. We’ve been working with the principal and the high school student leaders to set up a restorative system and our efforts are beginning to show:

• There is now a Restorative Circle bulletin board in one of the school hallways and an empty locker across the hall from the bulletin board in which any student can initiate an RC by dropping a note through the locker vent. Feedback of any kind can also be written on a card or on paper and put into the locker vent—the student leaders check the locker twice a week.
• Two assemblies, one for the high school students and one for the middle school students, have taken place and there is talk of doing smaller classroom RC presentations.
• The old library is the designated space for RC’s and could certainly use some symbols of restoration and shared power to furnish or compliment the space.
• The student leaders are getting training in RC facilitation and have witnessed or assisted in three live RC’s within the school community.
• We have engaged with some of the power sources in the school to dialogue about what is working and not working with how conflict in the school is responded to and about what they’d like to see in a conflict response in the school. There is certainly more engaging to do. We did however get some very valuable information from a grade ten health class: Most students in the class said they wouldn’t initiate an RC due to fear of backlash from those involved and from others in the school who might label them as snitches or tattle tales.
The above list speaks to the steps taken in setting up a restorative system. Please find more about setting up a restorative system here or at www.restorativecircles.org.
There is much more we could be doing to support and co-create a culture of shared power and peace in the school. Unfortunately, we all have many other commitments to attend to. My commitments include a month away in April and May giving workshops in BC. I love the work and I’m grateful to have those opportunities, and I’d love to stay here and help keep the momentum going, not just with the school but with the larger community.
Along with supporting other groups in the Bainbridge community and surrounding area, we have been working more with the Bainbridge police department. Our team was invited to an “All Hands” meeting to introduce the police force to RC’s. There were some crossed arms, furrowed brows, and upside-down smiles, but there was a shift to more openness and supportiveness by the end. It helped that we listened attentively to their concerns, offered RC’s as only one option for responding to conflict, and didn’t try to convince them that RC’s would be an effective response every time. It also didn’t hurt that the Chief is a big supporter of our team* and wants RC’s to happen in the community. Once we were finished our presentation, he came to the front of the room and listed off a few examples of community conflicts for which he thought RC’s would have been an effective response, one that would have freed officers up to do other work. Many of the officers nodded in agreement. We’ll get more opportunities to connect with the officers as we’ve been invited to ride along in patrol cars so that we can learn more about their work and about conflict in the community.
Please visit www.restorativebainbridge.com and www.restorativecircles.org and www.roadtocompassion.com
*The Chief is so supportive that I’ve been invited to use the station parking lot for my van, Rosa. Rosa has never felt so safe and secure. At one point a rumor went around that Katherine and I were homeless and sleeping in Rosa. Apparently, the officers were keeping an extra eye on Rosa at night, even though we were tucked in our bed at our friend’s condo a block away.

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