Restoring Community

distancing socializingU.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sadie Colbert

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens across the country and around the world, most of us are settling into a life characterized by physical distancing and sheltering in place. The IIRP has been receiving numerous inquiries and requests about how restorative practices can be applied to help. Overall, we know that people are the experts in their own communities; in fact, we look forward to people sharing their experiences so we can all learn. (Our social media platforms are already available as a place to share, and we are currently developing other meaningful options.) However, we would like to share some principles derived from restorative practices that might help us frame appropriate responses in our families and work, and with our friends and community.

While the coronavirus is a medical issue, a large part of what we are experiencing is a social crisis. Therefore, the relevance of consciously being relational becomes even more important. As many restorative practitioners understand, restorative thinking and practice isn’t just reserved for the workplace. We take restorative practices wherever we go. Now that so many of us are confined closely with our nuclear families, we can really focus on how to interact with our loved ones using a restorative lens, as we navigate this crisis together.

Keeping the social discipline window in mind can help. We need to continue to engage WITH people – including those we work with and our community, even if we are all working in isolation. During times of stress, we may be more inclined to default to other quadrants of the social discipline window, doing things TO or FOR people, or even withdrawing to the NOT box. We need to be aware when that is happening and make a conscious decision to step back in the WITH box as much as possible.

There are many ways to connect – in person with our families at home, but also using email, phone, texts, video calling, conference calls and social media. Circles can happen virtually, and we have already been hearing about teachers using circles online with students in Google Hangouts or Zoom meetings. These can be sequential or non-sequential, even fishbowl format, just like when people meet in person. Ultimately, it’s about creating opportunities to speak and listen to one another in an atmosphere of safety, decorum and equality.

As always, it is important to ask good questions, whether one-on-one or in group settings. The questions we choose often demonstrate our willingness to hear what others are thinking, feeling and experiencing. Remember when doing so that you are following the affect theory blueprint for community – by allowing the free expression of affect while attempting to maximize the positive and minimize, without inhibiting, the negative. When we share in each other’s expression of affect, we support one another to strengthen communal bonds.

Finally, from a leadership standpoint, let’s remember how important fair process will be in these anxious times, especially when people are working remotely and may not be able to communicate as directly and easily. As a leader, you have a responsibility to help employees manage the greater levels of stress they may be feeling. Plus, remember that you may have access to a wider range of information than they do. Be sure to engage with people and get their input on decisions, and share information widely and often. When you do make decisions, be sure to spell everything out so that your expectations are clear. And always provide an explanation: Remember, people will tend to respect your decisions and consider them fair when they understand why a decision was made a certain way.

Obviously, we are all adapting rapidly to circumstances that change daily. Stress levels are high. We may be making quick decisions, and we are going to make mistakes. As a leader, it is really important to be humble and be able to admit mistakes. You may say, “I may not be at my best, but I’m going to stay reflective about it.” Ask people for feedback and be willing to reflect humbly on what they tell you.

Naturally, this is only the beginning of the conversation; it is not possible to cover everything in a short blog post. But we believe it is worth sharing these ideas and trust that restorative practices will prove useful for developing resilient responses in these trying times.

Gina Baral Abrams, DrPH, EdM, LSW, MCHES®, is Director of Research and Program Evaluation and Assistant Professor at the IIRP Graduate School. Her background is in community health. Joshua Wachtel is the IIRP's Communications Specialist and earned a Master of Science in Restorative Practices from the IIRP in 2015.

LA Conf 3From right to left, Claire de Mézerville López (Costa Rica), Kay Pranis (U.S.), John Braithwaite, Ph.D. (Australia), Miguel Tello (Costa Rica) and Manuel Delgado Chu (Peru) On Thursday and Friday, March 5 and 6, IIRP Latin America held an international conference, Congreso Justicia y Educación con Visión Restaurativa (Justice and Education with a Restorative Vision) in Mexico City. Over 100 participants from 11 different countries (Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain and the United States) gathered to share experiences and programs related to how restorative practices and restorative justice can help us to find hope in our Latin American region.

Our keynote speaker, John Braithwaite, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor at Australia National University and IIRP Honorary Trustee, inspired and encouraged participants on Thursday morning, calling for them to seek points of hope and to "aim breathtakingly high."

During the conference, 40 breakout sessions were held on topics including peace circles following the establishment of the peace agreement in Colombia; restorative approaches in Mexican schools; a restorative approach for supporting youth with drug addiction in Brazil; restorative practices with indigenous communities in Peru; and restorative responses for communities struck by natural disasters in Guatemala, along with many other topics.

The main plenary session on Friday morning featured four keynote speakers:

LA Conf 1Carlos Alvarez from the United States presented on research that explains how restorative justice impacts the nervous system of people who have experienced trauma, making the case that restorative conferences provide an appropriate emotional space for conflict resolution.

Magistrate Gerardo Rubén Alfaro presented on the experience of facilitating restorative conferences as a fully embedded strategy within Costa Rica's criminal justice system.

Karla Quirós Robles, a representative of Costa Rica's Ministry of Education, presented on how restorative practices is  becoming a necessary approach for public schools.

Finally, Dr. Braithwaite challenged us to understand that restorative justice needs to begin with a focus on children and youth, finding better ways to repair harm, build stronger communities and develop healthier relationships. We must lead children, he said, so that soon enough they will lead us in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

After two full days, the conference concluded with a final plenary session. Participants expressed the importance of continuing to build a community of practitioners, noting that those of us at the conference are certainly not alone, and that our diversity of thought and practice make us stronger. We left ready to aim breathtakingly high!

fernanda rosenblattThe IIRP Graduate School is proud to announce the creation of a Thesis Option for students and alumni of our Master of Science in Restorative Practices. The thesis option provides an opportunity to conduct and publish research in the restorative practices field.

To help facilitate the program, IIRP Assistant Professor Fernanda Fonseca-Rosenblatt, Ph.D., has been named a faculty member and will serve as Faculty Advisor for students choosing the thesis option.

“For the past three years I have been an adjunct professor at the IIRP,” says Dr. Rosenblatt. “We have so many great students who are not just interested in studying and research but who are working in the field every day. With the thesis option, we are giving them a platform where they can show the world what they are doing and actually contribute to the field, not just theoretically but in practice.”

Dr. Rosenblatt completed her doctorate at Oxford University and is Professor of Law at the Catholic University of Pernambuco - UNICAP (Brazil). She has researched restorative justice community processes in the U.K. and the potential for restorative processes in domestic violence cases in Brazil.

Dr. Rosenblatt has supervised students conducting research for many years, but she says this program feels different. “The process of developing the thesis option at the IIRP has been a refreshing experience,” she says. “I have found more of a team feeling than I ever experienced elsewhere.”

The sense of collaboration – the “with ethos,” as Dr. Rosenblatt dubbed it – will be built into the student experience. “Each step of the thesis will be meaningful!” she concludes.

The thesis option has two prerequisite courses (first offered in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, respectively) to teach research skills in design and analysis. After students complete all other coursework for the Master of Science degree, they may with approval enroll in the Thesis Seminar, which takes about one year from the initial design phase and research through writing and defense.

IIRP Provost Craig W. Adamson, Ph.D., adds, “What I find most exciting is the opportunity for our students to advance the field of restorative practices through research and scholarship. Each thesis will be publishable and made readily available to scholars and practitioners throughout our global network.”

For the first time alumni are eligible to return to take courses and complete a thesis, as well.

“Alumni get the opportunity to expand on the work they did in their classes,” concludes Dr. Adamson. “There’s been some incredible work done by students. It’s really about an opportunity to continue their learning and push the field of restorative practices by conducting original research.”

Learn more about pursuing the IIRP’s graduate programs and Thesis Option.

Kate Shapero headshotIt was a Friday night, the skies were clear, traffic on I-76 was light, and the Center City Philadelphia streets were bustling. I was going to meet friends for a birthday celebration at a karaoke bar on 20th and Chestnut Streets.

I worked my way south on 23rd street and approached Chestnut, preparing to make a left turn. When the light turned green, two couples were standing near the edge of the sidewalk outside the driver’s side window, as if getting ready to cross. They were laughing and chatting, but looked to be in motion, and I couldn’t quite tell which way they would proceed. When I realized that they were hesitating and waiting to continue behind me down Chestnut, I began the left turn, looking ahead a second too late.

Directly in front of my headlights was a woman who had begun to cross from the opposite corner. I had been so focused on the group near me that I neglected to re-check the other side of the street before moving forward. I hit the brakes and stopped less than an inch from her knees. She slammed her hands on the hood of the car to brace herself and looked at me with an expression of surprise, fear and anger. In the lights, she looked frozen and shocked.

She collected herself from her stance, I rolled down the window, and our exchange began. At the same moment, we both called to each other. She began yelling “You weren’t looking! You should have been looking! Where were you looking?!” as I started apologizing profusely, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m so sorry.” I told her I wanted to pull over and tucked into an open spot near the corner. Through the window, she continued to demand a reasonable answer for which there was none: “What were you looking at? You should have been looking!” I quickly relayed the description of my attention being focused on the couples on the corner, and she replied with the same justified anger, “You weren’t looking!”

In that second, restorative tools shot to the surface of my consciousness. This person, who was frightened and upset, did not need to see my side of the story; she needed support! She needed to know that no one was trying to hurt her on purpose and that someone actually cared about her well being.

I stepped out of the car and said, “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking in your direction. Are you hurt?” In a shaking voice, she replied that my car hadn’t hit her and that she was okay. With quickly welling tears, I blurted out, “I’m so sorry; I would hate for you to go home thinking that someone didn’t care what happened to you.” This one sentence; it kind of stopped her in her tracks. She took a step back and looked at me with a quizzical expression, like she was trying to figure out how to integrate something unexpected.

I’m not sure if it was those words or my obvious distress, but after a moment she stepped forward and opened her arms to offer me an embrace. As I hugged her, I mumbled, “You shouldn’t be the one comforting me, you’re the one who had something happen.” After the hug, I asked a few more questions about whether she was really sure that she was physically okay, whether she wanted to go to the hospital, and whether she wanted a ride home. (She said “no” with a laugh to the last one.) We embraced once more, and I got in my car. Before leaving, she walked over to the open window, made the sign of the cross, and said, “May you be blessed.” And I was.

In that moment, I was blessed with her forgiveness, which was a great and generous gift. I realized later that I have also been blessed with opportunities to study and integrate restorative approaches to living. In a stressful situation like this, the skills that I’ve practiced were there and available to use. Being able to recognize what was truly needed and attempt to meet those needs changed the whole energy dynamic of the situation, from a potentially adversarial accident to two people moving forward together.

Kate Shapero is a science teacher at the Miquon School in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. She earned her master's degree from the IIRP in 2010.

John W. Bailie, Ph.D., President of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) Graduate School, invites the local community to the Opening Session of its 2019 World Conference, Community Leadership. Keynote speakers will address how to heal violence, polarization and sexual abuse.

Monday, October 21, 9:00 a.m. (Free)
Central Moravian Church, 73 W. Church St., Bethlehem, PA 18018
Learn more and register:

walter long"From Violent to Thriving Society: Trauma-Organized Systems and Their Opposites" — Walter C. Long. Founder, Texas After Violence Project

Walter will suggest how our society might transform systems that promote violence, trauma and toxic stress — in criminal justice, schools, government, organizations and communities — into regenerative systems where health and well-being are enhanced, polarization and domination are diminished, and individuals can thrive.

Symposium smallThe IIRP Summer Symposium, Advancing Community Well-Being Through Restorative Practices, was a dynamic two-and-a-half-day experience. Through interactive activities, lecture and open-ended questions, IIRP faculty and other speakers challenged participants to think about community health and restorative practices in new ways.  

Community health is a multi-disciplinary field that applies public health science to improve health and quality of life for everyone in a community. Restorative practices is an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals, as well as social connections within communities.

While restorative practices can respond to harm and help repair relationships, most of the time the practices should be employed proactively, to build community and prevent harm. The Symposium focused on this proactive approach.

Community health practitioners can utilize restorative practices to create a social environment that fosters health and well-being in a systemic and sustainable way.

Bailie HeadshotWriter Kerra Bolton of recently interviewed IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., about his presentation at the 2019 IIRP Europe Conference: Community Well-Being and Resilience. Download Dr. Bailie's paper, A science of human dignity: Belonging, voice and agency as universal human needs.

Is there a science of human dignity?

John W. Bailie, Ph.D. thinks there is.

Bailie is the president of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), the first accredited graduate school wholly dedicated to restorative practices. Restorative practices is “an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities.”

He recently spoke on his theory about the science of human dignity to a transformational group of leaders, practitioners, changemakers, scholars and community advocates. We gathered at Buda Island in Kortrijk, Belgium, to learn more about using restorative practices to enhance community well-being and resilience.

class of 2019The 12th Commencement of the IIRP Graduate School took place Sunday, July 21, 2019, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Fourteen recipients of the Master of Science in Restorative Practices — out of a class of 20 — travelled to attend the ceremony from as far away as Costa Rica, St. Lucia and the Yukon! The new graduates are involved in the fields of education, justice and the social services. Including the class of 2019, the IIRP has conferred 208 master's degrees.

Bill Ballantine, Chair of the IIRP Board of Trustees; John W. Bailie, Ph.D., IIRP President; and Craig W. Adamson, Ph.D., IIRP Provost, each offered welcome remarks to the friends and family attending and watching live on Facebook from all over the world.

Graduate Keisha Allen, Executive Director of the Training Institute for IIRP partner, Black Family Development, Inc., in Detroit, delivered an inspiring Commencement address. In a reflection on the power of "engagement," Keisha shared how that power has impacted her life and work.

badge4change3IIRP partner Lutheran Community Care Services (LCCS), of Singapore, is determined to spread restorative practices across the entire island republic. “Our goal is the universal application of restorative practices everywhere,” declares Justin Mui, Director.

They're making great progress, introducing the practices to more than 45 organizations, including the Housing & Development Board (HDB), the State Courts, the prison system and religious organizations.

The HDB provides public housing to 80 percent of Singapore's population, with a mixture of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Filipino residents. Restorative practices helps bridge cross-cultural differences and tensions and resolves neighborhood disputes that would have gone to the State Courts.

Kecia McMillianThe 2019 Shawn Suzch Scholarship has been awarded to Kecia McMillian. Kecia has spent many years working with young people, including those who are homeless, underrepresented, and who have mental health and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The scholarship is awarded annual in memory of Shawn Suzch, a young man who overcame adversity with courage and determination.

Currently an in-home tutor for youth who are struggling with learning, Kecia believes in meeting students where they are to help them reach their goals.

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