On November 24 about 20 students and staff members at Lincoln Academy participated in a Restorative Justice training. The goal of the training was to increase the use of Restorative Justice practices in many aspects of LA life, including advisory groups, faculty meetings, and the resolution of disciplinary issues.
The primary tool of Restorative Justice is the Community Circle, in which participants communicate with each other without interrupting. Often specific questions are used to address an incident in which someone was hurt. These questions include: What happened? Who was affected, and how? What can I do to make things right?
According to the Restorative Justice of the Midcoast website, Restorative Justice is a movement started in the 1970s that has attempted to change the criminal justice system by seeking to “repair the harm done to people and relationships” through a criminal act, rather than simply punishing offenders. Thanks to the success of this approach in criminal justice, other communities, including schools, have embraced the practices of Restorative Justice. These days community circles and face-to-face conversations to communicate, build trust, and resolve conflict are a growing part of campus life at many schools.
Jake Abbott, Director and instructor at LA’s Teague Street Learning Center, Alternative Education Teacher, and dorm parent, has been integral in introducing Restorative Practices to Lincoln Academy. He says that the goal of Restorative Justice in schools is “to build a climate of trust, respect and empathy, as a proactive and preventative way of reducing conflict, bullying and aggressive behaviors.”
Abbott, along with Associate Head Andy Mullin, Director of Resident Life Ken Stevenson, and School Nurse Ricki Waltz organized the on-campus training and led the group on November 24. The focus of the Lincoln Academy training was on understanding the philosophy of Restorative Justice, understanding the role of the Community Circle, and helping participants get comfortable with participating in and facilitating these circles.
The final discussion topic at the training was was next steps for using the practices in the greater LA community. The group agreed that its overarching goal is to continue to help the LA culture evolve towards encouraging direct communication and safe community.
Specific plans to implement this philosophy include: more effectively integrating community circles into Monday advisory groups, faculty meetings, and Resident Life discussions; introducing community circles into the Friday Community Meeting; training more LA students and staff in the practices; and continuing to meet as a leadership group.
The group that participated in the training will serve as the “LA Leadership Corps,” who will activate Restorative Practices in every aspect of LA life, especially facilitating Community Circles as a way of deepening communication. In the words of Jake Abbott, “once we are, as a school, practiced at Community Circles and we have established a better sense of trust and respectful communication, there are no bounds to what we can do. This is about changing the culture of the school!!”