by David Sheridan
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Jeffrey Farr teaches English at a school that is often the last stop for students who have not been able to succeed in the other schools within the district. Many of the students at Antietam Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland are going into or coming out of the juvenile justice system. To reach these students, Farr employs restorative practices in his classroom.
“I realized that I had to quit worrying about control and think about relationships. When we don’t focus on who is to blame and who is right, we can start to focus on what we have to do to make things better, and that is my goal,” said Farr.
He explains that the restorative practice is not a disciplinary model but a leadership model. The teachers at Antietam Academy were one of the first groups to go through the Whole School Implementation training—and continue to work on full implementation as staff and students change. Restorative practices allow students and teachers to build a healthy community in the classroom and offer every student the opportunity to be a part of it. Students learn how to resolve issues in the classroom and avoid being moved into the juvenile justice system. Restorative practices effectively break the school to prison pipeline.
By contrast, exclusionary school discipline policies—referrals, suspensions and expulsions—are pushing kids, especially minority students, out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at unprecedented rates. What’s more, research shows exclusionary policies do little or nothing to improve overall school climate. You lose the student and things don’t get better in your classroom or school.
While there is ongoing research on the long-term efficacy of restorative practices, Jeffrey Farr has seen fewer students in his classroom move into the juvenile justice system. “It is not easy, and I work at it every day. But when I am a good practitioner I have fewer headaches. I am a restorative practices evangelist,” said Farr.
For anyone interested in beginning to implement restorative practices in their classroom Jeffrey Farr recommends four steps:
- Use affective statements. Many times these statements will start with “I.” I am feeling ignored or I am proud of you. Expressing yourself in this way helps your students understand the impact of their actions and develop empathy.
- Understand the power of with. Students are more likely to change behavior if their teacher takes an action with them rather than does something to or for them. The fundamental hypothesis of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative and productive and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to or for them.
- Develop relationship circles in class. Build relationships with your students and understand the relationships they have with each other. After creating a circle culture, you can use these relationship circles to help solve problems.
- Listen. There is power in listening. By hearing what students are actually saying you can better understand the role the student, others and you play in creating a respectful and effective learning environment.
There are a number of resources available on-line to get more information about restorative practices and its implementation. To learn about how restorative practices work in schools check out Saner Safer Schools and Restorative Practices: A Guide for Educators.