Living Restorative Practices Outside the Classroom

Livie Kleinow is a restorative practices coordinator whose work is to build, strengthen, and repair relationships at an elementary school in Michigan, USA. Her professional journey began with working in a prison system utilizing restorative justice. Through this work, she realized the importance and impact of proactive relationship building and changed career paths. Today she is working with young people to bring restorative practices to early education.

Q: What brought you to the IIRP?

A: I was getting my undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Michigan State University where I had a professor, Derrick Franke, who had a program called Inside Out. My fellow MSU classmates and I learned alongside our incarcerated classmates about the restorative framework and the impact of restorative justice. The class used the framework as its curriculum and the connections and insight from all my classmates sparked my love for restorative practices. After working in the criminal justice system for two years, I moved to schools and focused on the proactive side of restorative work. While working in the schools, I started my masters with the IIRP. I ended up finishing my degree in 2023 after moving out of state and working as a full-time nanny.

Q: Please tell us about your restorative work now and what makes you passionate about it.

A: I always joke and say my life mantra is doing things backwards. I learned all about restorative justice and got a job at a juvenile detention center right out of college. I had a hole in my heart because I couldn’t seem to get ahead of the current. I decided to try working upstream instead of swimming upstream. I got a job at an elementary school as a restorative practices coordinator, even though I never saw myself working with children. I quickly realized that I had a lot more to learn from them than they had to learn from me.

Brad Montague, an incredibly restorative human being by nature, is the author of my favorite book Becoming Better Grownups. There is a quote from his book that really stuck with me during my time at the elementary school:

Becoming a better grownup is not about achieving more. Part of being a better grownup is letting people know they are enough—including yourself. It's realizing that every single day is another layer of fresh color on the masterpiece of a life you're painting. It's handing out trophies to let people know they've wowed you by simply being the best at who they are. Maybe it's even creating a trophy for yourself, holding it, and owning it.

I think this idea encompasses the need for human beings as a whole.

Walt Disney said, “Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.” I really feel fulfilled when I do anything WITH kids and everyone else in my life. I had to go backwards and rebuild my emotional intelligence in my twenties alongside hundreds of five- to eleven-year-olds…. And all the schooling in the world could not have taught me even a sliver of what I learned sitting in a circle with those kids. Restorative practices isn’t “work” for me necessarily; it’s the way I live my life. It’s the way I talk and interact with the entire world around me, and I am a happier human being because of it.

Q: What would you like to see in this restorative work in the future?

A: I think what I would like to see in the future of restorative work is working from within. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to get a taste of what restorative practices can do inside a prison. However, it wasn’t until I put in my own work on my thoughts, feelings, and actions that I really felt the full effect of what restorative practices has to offer.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” It has taken me close to eight years to get to where I am in my restorative journey, but I am proud to say I actively work toward Gandhi’s idea of happiness every day with what I do, thanks to restorative practices.

As for now, I just accepted a position at a school in Michigan as a restorative practices coordinator. Building, repairing, and maintaining relationships is at the forefront of my job description. Relationships are an expectation required of my position, and I could not be luckier to have that as my job description.