As educators, we focus on building positive relationships in our classrooms, so that a community of learning centered on respect and responsibility can be maintained. Communities are complex living organisms, and at times, relationships are damaged by actions of individuals, and repair and restoration are needed. That’s why we as teachers believe in the power of restorative justice and practice, which ask a child to reflect upon the impact of his/her actions on a classroom community, and then to help make things right – to heal and repair the bonds of relationships between community members.
Too often, society can focus on the intent of an individual’s action, which we may never fully know. And historically, we have sought to provide consequences to that individual, in the hope that future actions will be changed. But restorative practice asks us to take a better approach – to acknowledge the impact of an action or behavior on a community, and to actively involve the individual in the process of restoration and healing. We as an association offer restorative justice training to our members, because we see the power of providing consequences that are fair and not simply punitive, and that recognize the power of reconciliation and restoration.
We have an opportunity now to engage our young scholars in restorative practices. But we as a community of adults must help provide the process and system. What occurred on Tuesday afternoon on a bus ride home impacted not only children on that bus, but also children who saw the posting on social and news media. And in our community, richly diverse in so many ways, the power and use of such language is destructive, creating a cacophony in which we cannot hear each other. Our school system is right that this is a “teachable moment,” and not just for students. We all can learn from this moment: our children, our school system, and our community. I would urge us to take it. Yes, there are opportunities to teach history and context, and I understand that some disciplinary actions have been taken, but those in and of themselves will not heal the community.
This summer, I had the opportunity to work with over a dozen high school students from the Minority Scholars Program (MSP) here in Montgomery County, with the help of a grant from the National Education Association (NEA). These scholars worked with us as interns in our office, with a focus on creating solutions to address institutional racism and close opportunity gaps. They met with the County Executive, testified in front of our school board, and engaged in conversation with educators from around the country through the NEA. The commonalities of their stories have power for us as a community, should we chose to listen. I do not fully understand what it means to be a child of color in MCPS, but through their personal narratives, I better appreciate the significant challenges. None of them, nor any of the children we teach, needs “saving.” They are intelligent, resilient, creative, and powerful beyond measure. Instead, what they need help making real is our superintendent’s vision of providing hope, opportunity, and success for all students.
MSP is seeking to expand to six middle schools this year, broadening reach and impact to a different set of grade levels. The impact of an MSP chapter in a building is not just for minority students, but for all students. We cannot fully understand the experiences of others unless we have opportunities to and choose to listen. In part, restoration is about that understanding, and in that moment of clarity and empathy, we receive our call to action. Even, if the events on Tuesday result in teachable moments for students on a bus or in a school, or disciplinary action, we will still have a community that needs healing. The events also include our teachable moment as adults, where we learn how to engage all of our young scholars in a meaningful process that restores a community. We can and should create a safe space for this essential work. In this environment of mutual trust, our children can pause and reflect and listen to each other. This work is indispensable for our future, and provides a framework for these young leaders to act, for the good of our collective community.
Christopher Lloyd, NBCT