First Person

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New York

Restorative justice: An alternative method to make schools safer?

Yesterday's Student Safety Act rally brings to light the need to explore alternatives to policing for making schools safer. Few would dispute the need for school safety agents to handle the most serious incidents of violence, but what options exist for resolving the low-level incidents that characterize many school environments and make students feel unsafe on a day-to-day basis? Could school safety agents and others in schools play a different role in resolving conflicts? Finally, how can schools prevent problems and resolve underlying issues? This post takes a look at one possibility — expect more in coming weeks. What is restorative justice? An article about restorative justice in Rethinking Schools describes what happened when a student who broke a window at Humanities Prep in Manhattan went before the school's "Fairness Committee": During that session, the members of the committee found out that the day before he broke the window, his family received notice that they were being kicked out of their shelter and had no place to go. While this did not fully excuse his actions, we were able to discuss more fully and fairly what the consequences should be, as well as discuss more constructive ways to deal with anger. We jointly decided that he needed to give back to the school community in some way. Knowing that it would be ridiculous to ask a student who was homeless to pay for the window, we all agreed he would help answer the phone after school for a month. In the meantime, his advisor and the school social worker were able to reach out to his family and offer support. If the fairness committee had been a systematic, rigid mechanism, we would not have been able to brainstorm these solutions. "Restorative justice" refers to interventions like that conference that facilitate discussion among the offending student, those harmed by his or her actions, and others with significant relationships to either the victim or offender, such as family members. The process seeks to make the offender aware of the harm he or she has caused, take responsibility for it, and try to repair that harm to the extent possible by making reparation to the victim or community.
New York

On using models, drafts, and peer critiques in the classroom…

I think people are afraid of candor with kids because they feel like they don’t want to fight with them; they don’t want to hurt their feelings; they don’t want to step on them. I think that’s a big mistake. I don’t think clarity and candor means meanness or hurting kids’ feelings. If you can be very specific about what’s working in a piece of work and equally specific about what’s weak, it’s a gift to the student who created it. So says Ron Berger in a thought-provoking interview in UnBoxed, "a journal of reflections on purpose, practice and policy in education" published by the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. Berger, of Expeditionary Learning Schools, thinks student projects should be organized around the concept of "crafting beautiful work," with the teacher using models of excellent work, peer critiques like those practiced in writing and art workshops for adults, and multiple drafts to help students create something truly masterful. Berger says that his ideas were informed by his experiences in the arts and architecture: As a self-employed carpenter I designed homes and additions, and you would never do blueprints for anything without an incredible amount of critique from the homeowners, from engineers, from other builders, from architects. That process of many different iterations of the project and many improvements along the way was the ethic of what we did. And that ethic, of being a craftsman and carpenter and trying to do things really well, certainly spilled over into my sense of what a classroom should be.