Columbia Teachers College has made a commitment to offering restorative conflict resolution practices to master's-level students at its New York City Summer Principals Academy (SPA). For the past two summers, IIRP President John Bailie, Ph.D., and Provost Craig Adamson, Ph.D., who are now adjunct faculty at Columbia, have co-taught “Basic Practicum in Conflict Resolution.” This three-credit course is geared to help aspiring school administrators primarily serving diverse urban populations communicate effectively, build relationships and meet the needs of their constituencies’ competing demands.
Dr. Bailie comments, “These students are some of the most passionate, creative new principals in the country. This program has them thinking about the future of education and the schools of the future. Rather than approach conflict as a power struggle, we taught them to take a problem-solving approach.”
Dr. Bailie says the course focuses on developing personal skills and competencies, including self-awareness and the ability to recognize and verbalize one’s own emotions within a context of setting clear directions and strong boundaries while also being supportive.
“The goal is to focus on unmet needs,” explains Dr. Bailie. “Recognizing other people’s needs is crucial to the process of resolving differences.”
The Summer Principals Academy is a 14-month master’s degree program. Students take courses during two consecutive summers, with an intensive internship in their home schools during the interceding school year. During the second summer, students produce a culminating project. Small teams develop a “new school design,” some of which are likely to be funded by private venture capital as new charter school models.
This summer, Dr. Adamson attended final presentations developed by the 2016 cohort. He observes, “One of the major focal points of the program is equity and inclusion. Many of the projects talked about the overrepresentation of black and brown kids in the criminal justice system, as well as disproportionate graduation rates and other achievement measures. The system is failing us. How do we deal with these significant problems in our US schools? That was a key theme and tone of all the presentations.”
The answer? “Just about every single one of them had some restorative element embedded in their new school plan,” says Dr. Adamson.
In one case, a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum would be taught using a restorative circle format in classrooms. In another project, circles would be used to create inclusive processes to engage parents and children in the community. Restorative approaches to discipline were embedded in a number of new school plans. One presentation listed the IIRP as an official partner.
Dr. Adamson says he is excited about the shift from more traditional perspectives on conflict resolution, which focus on responses to harm. “The discourse has turned, and people are saying, ‘let’s have more of a proactive approach.’ When we can bring restorative practices to a cutting-edge institution like Columbia Teachers College, we have more influence with more folks who are doing pretty amazing things.”