The 2017 IIRP World Conference, Learning in the 21st Century: A Restorative Vision, was held October 23-25 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the Hotel Bethlehem and IIRP Campus. The conference created a vibrant community of learning and mutual support for more than 370 participants from 34 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces and 11 other countries: Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Kingdom.
IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., welcomed all participants Monday morning at the Central Moravian Church with introductory remarks. "The 21st century presents new needs and challenges, and educational institutions must rapidly adapt. What’s needed is a fundamental re-visioning of what it means to learn and what it means to teach," he offered. "Our goal is to bring new voices into the field of restorative practices that can challenge all of us to develop, grow and think expansively about the future of learning."
Over the three days, conference participants chose among 70 high-quality breakout sessions with an emphasis on restorative practices in schools as well as community, justice, workplaces and families. Featured speakers presented on such important concerns as student equity, social and emotional learning and including students with disabilities. Topics included "Making School Optional," "Courageous Conversations about Inclusivity in Higher Education," "Beyond the Icebreaker: Proactive Circles and Student Voice" and "Why Restorative Practices Work in Any Context."
The following are some highlights from a sampling of sessions:
Author Mica Pollock, Ph.D., during her session, "Schooltalk: Transforming Communications That Feed Inequality in Our Schools," explored how educators talk about and to students in school. She emphasized the need to develop processes for discussions in a range of areas, including culture, data and inequality. She challenged participants to think about how we talk about race as well as what it means when we refuse to talk about race.
St. Claire Adriaan and Tommy Ramirez, directors of charter schools working with Latino pupils in Los Angeles and San Diego, California, respectively, explained "How Schools Can Meet the Needs of Immigrant Students and Families During a Trump Presidency." Restorative circles are used to let students share their fears with one another and get support, and the schools counsel students on how to speak with their families about their immigration status. These schools have developed countless methods to inspire and connect with students educationally and culturally, including hosting graffiti festivals near the Mexican border.
IIRP Alumnus Rev. Paul Langston-Daley (2008), talked about "Restoring Civic Society" by engaging in restorative practices-informed community organizing in marginalized communities. He advised engaging with people to ensure the impulse for change comes directly from the community itself and not the organizer. He warned, "Never do for another what they can do for themselves."
Current IIRP student David Fletcher, Ph.D., a professor at Lehman College, City University, in the Bronx, New York, presented on "Creating a College Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice Community-Based Program." His diverse activities include training future teachers as restorative practitioners, hosting an annual conference that attracts 300 participants from the New York City metro area and supporting students to develop community projects. Two of Dr. Fletcher’s students co-presented. Ocali Cantano spoke about his work teaching science to teens who have left school but are preparing to take the high school equivalency test. Tashika McBride spoke about Rebirth Your Soul, a program she started to create a supportive community for female and male sexual assault survivors, as well as a visit to a juvenile prison in South Africa for serious young offenders.
Allyson Lorimer Crews, Deputy Chief U.S. Probation Officer, and Maria D’Addieco, U.S. Probation Officer, shared about their "Restorative Work with Unlikely Players … the Feds." They have piloted a restorative program with young firearm and drug offenders in Boston, Massachusetts, who have been adjudicated in Federal District Court. The program invites participants to consider how their actions impact others and exposes them to the experience of victims of crimes similar to those they committed, as well as other community members. Crews explained that the sentencing statements written by participants in the program are more self-aware than any she has ever heard from offenders. Consequently, judges have largely not sentenced participants to prison; of 15 offenders who have completed the program to date, only one has been rearrested.
Throughout the conference, participants networked with colleagues old and new. Some took part in conversations on "Special Topics" facilitated by IIRP faculty and a current student. These included discussions related to self-care for professionals, including mindfulness; connecting with people when we disagree; planning a "restorative retreat; and being a "compassionate witnesses" to help heal trauma.
There were also sessions that looked at the serious business of play and creativity in restorative work, including "Learning Through Playing" (IIRP Lecturer Borbala Fellegi, Ph.D.), "Creative Interactive Activities for Training Adults in Restorative Practices (Marian Fritzemeier, Ed.D.) and "Teambuilding for Everyone" (IIRP alumni Pam Thompson and Samantha H. White, of IIRP’s model programs, Community Service Foundation and Buxmont Academy).
Most of all, participants left recharged to carry on their efforts until the next conference. As one participant affirmed, "Hundreds of thousands of children are impacted by our work!"