Thanks to the School District of University City, St. Lousi, Missouri, and writer Nancy Cambria, Director of Communications, for allowing us to republish this story on how basketball coach Kelvin Lee is applying restorative practices. Lee and others at University City High School have learned from the IIRP.

restorative teamKelvin Lee didn’t have the easiest first year as head basketball coach at University City High School in 2017.

The team had a lot of raw athletic talent – perhaps even more so than in his days of coaching future N.B.A. stars at Chaminade College Prep in Creve Coeur.

But his new U. City players were not set in winning habits. They argued with him. They cussed each other out. They hot-dogged into turnovers and fouls. Off the court, it was cool to rattle the rules.

The final 2017 record showed it: 6-19.

This wasn’t easy for a man who has held assistant coaching jobs at Texas A&M, Baylor and Saint Louis University. It wasn’t easy for a coach who had mentored Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal and David Lee into the N.B.A.

But Lee knew two things really well: how to coach basketball, and how to coach kids through trauma and hardship into manhood.

Despite a rocky first season, he knew it was just a matter of time. It all came down to getting to know his youth and “circling-up” to build not just a team, but trusting relationships.

This short documentary film was made during the height of the protests in Oakland surrounding potential budget cuts, including cuts to restorative pratices in schools. Students took the bull by the horns, and insisted on being heard by school board reps. To do this, they invited the reps to come down from their elevated seats and join them in a restorative circle. A talking piece was used and students expressed to all present how valuable restorative practices was to them and how it helped them deal with their problems.


This film was made by Cassidy Friedman, director of the internationally acclaimed documentary Circles. View this film on youtube.

ripple1Some of the most marginalized people in the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania, are finding a voice, and a sense of dignity, belonging and empowerment, at Ripple Community Inc. (RCI).

They may be experiencing homelessness, mental illness, trauma or drug and alcohol abuse issues. Anyone who shows up at Ripple is welcome to sign in, hang out, eat and make art. Ripple offers a safe, comfortable place for people who live on the fringes of urban society to spend the day in the company of others, serving about 50 people a day.  

But what really creates the sense of humanity and community at Ripple is engaging people through restorative practices like circles. Every day, everyone shares their feelings and their story, builds relationships and sorts out issues and conflicts by means of a structured circle process.

"These are people not used to being listened to, not having a seat at the table,” comments Sherri Brokopp Binder, Ripple Executive Director. "To have this chance to speak is like a breath of fresh air.” Binder holds a Ph.D. in community psychology.

“We work with people, not for them, explains Missy Wise. "We walk their journey with them, allowing them to be self-directed.” Wise works part-time at Ripple and is a student service specialist at the IIRP, where is she is earning her Graduate Certificate in Restorative Practices. She points out that at Ripple , they never use the term "homeless person." They say "street neighbor" instead.

IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., maintains a blog called Leading Conflict: How to Fight at Work. In this installment, he discusses how to provide an employee a graceful exit when things just don't work out.

grow or goSometimes a colleague needs to decide: it’s time to grow, or time to go.

In the previous article, Seek Problems, Not Solutions: Leading Conflict Principle 8, I discussed why most leaders avoid disruption and seek stasis in relationships.

Instead, the article recommended that leaders seek the broken places and underdeveloped areas of organizational relationships and culture.

Huge performance dividends are paid to leaders that engage the sharp edges of workplace culture proactively, boldly and strategically. That, in essence, is leading conflict.

Here’s an example.

Many years ago, I was helping to develop a new unit in my organization. The business was growing rapidly and we hired several new staff to meet the growing demand for our services.

One new staff member had a perfect resume. He was technically proficient, worked hard and was exceptionally conscientious. He was willing to work extra hours when needed and readily communicated needs, updates and suggestions for improvements to leadership.

Sounds like a perfect hire, right? Not necessarily.

As described in the article, Creating a Deliberately Developmental Organization, this organization’s culture is very distinct. It is supportive and nurturing, but it also demands intensive collaboration and interpersonal risk-taking. If it was an ice-cream flavor, it would be maple-bacon. It’s a specific thing. For some, it’s an acquired taste.

This type of environment is not for everyone. It’s not enough to be personally brilliant or effective. Staff must also commit to maintaining our unique culture, collectively developing norms for work and behavior, and building their interpersonal competencies.

It’s what we teach to clients and students. We demand the same from ourselves.

If you’re the type of person, who just wants to show up, put your head down, work hard and be left alone, this probably isn’t the place for you. Such was the case with the new staff member mentioned above.

He didn’t like going to so many meetings. He thought the regularly scheduled “team-building” activities were a waste of valuable work time.

Leaders regularly called brainstorming meetings to gather improvement suggestions from staff. He found these sessions exhausting. He openly said that those in charge should just make these decisions on their own and stop interrupting the regular workflow for everyone else. “After all, isn’t that what leaders are paid to do?” he would often challenge.

Additionally, we have no formal disciplinary processes for low-level conflict between employees. Instead, leadership typically facilitate face-to-face meetings to assist staff in repairing relationships and responsibility-taking.

This new staff member also disagreed with this way of doing things. In his opinion, supervisors should just give the person a formal reprimand. “If they don’t change, just fire them,” was his common refrain.

These reactions were all things we’d heard before, or even said ourselves when we first joined the organization.

Our leaders were used to being patient with new staff. Since most new hires were used to high-monitoring organizations in their previous work experiences, suddenly entering a demanding high-trust culture could be jarring.

It can take a while, a few months to a year or more, for new staff to fully adjust to a new way doing things and to trust that it’s not just a bunch psycho-babble smoke and mirrors — that it’s all “for real.”

This staff member had been with us more than a year. They had plenty of training, practice, opportunities to challenge and ask questions, and support from colleagues.

It wasn’t that he didn’t understand or trust our culture. He didn’t like it.

During one critical conversation, the staff member said reflectively, “You know… I think I would just rather work in a place where I can show up, do my work and not be bothered with too much interaction with other people if I don’t feel like it.”

“Fair enough,” I said, “But you can’t do that here.”

Mind you, this staff member did great work when it was something he could do alone. He was honest and hardworking. We valued all of these things.

However, the people-part of our culture was just as important as excelling at tasks, and it wasn’t optional.

With some relief, this staff member asked if we would help him with a plan to leave. For the next several months we gave him ample flextime to attend interviews. He even happily trained his replacement; also giving them a fair and honest heads-up on what to expect from the culture.

There were no hard feelings and no drama. We wrote him some great references. We even asked if he’d participate in a “goodbye circle,” which we try do for all staff when they leave. Each colleague shared something that they valued and would miss about him. He thanked others who had supported him, including the leaders with whom he’d struggled at times and then helped him find another job.

Culture is a powerful thing. It’s also delicate. That is why occasionally it's time to choose... grow or go.

Jen WilliamsThe IIRP provided restorative practices training to 500 middle- and high-school students in the Miami-Dade County, Florida, School District. Jen Williams, IIRP '16, a middle school counselor, shares her experience of developing and presenting this training:

I was blown away when IIRP Lecturer Mary Jo Hebling asked to me to share my work with the Miami-Dade School District. The students in the Restorative Training Program in my small rural school in Southeastern Pennsylvania are trail blazers to me, but I never expected to be asked to share our work with others.  

2018 Dec Student Global Leaders Workshop 32Freshman boys at a high school outside Detroit shocked their community by performing a hate-filled anti-Semitic rap song in the lunchroom. But bringing people together to repair the hurt they caused turned an ugly episode into an opportunity to build empathy and respect.

Harm spread throughout the school as a video of the incident circulated. “The most difficult part,” lamented a member of Bloomfield Township's Jewish community, “was that it was not a single individual, but a whole group of 10 or so who were laughing and cajoling, filming and encouraging him.”

More than half of the staff at Bloomfield Hills High School had received professional development in restorative practices. Margaret Schultz, the district’s Administrator for Social Emotional Learning & Educational Equity, also a licensed trainer for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), got to work immediately, building understanding and accountability among those involved in the incident.

The following blog post is from IIRP President Dr. John Bailie's website Leading Conflict: How to Fight at Work, a series of articles about how leaders can improve relationships to help their organizations thrive.

blog photo simple isnt easyIt’s tempting to believe that conflict in relationships is a complicated topic. Complicated is actually easy. A complicated problem implies a lower bar for success. We expect less measurable positive outcomes.

When a problem with another person is seen as complicated we have many reasons to think about it some more, delay action and hesitate to say what we are really thinking. Why be hasty? After all, it’s complicated.

However, the vast majority of interpersonal conflicts, whether at work or in our personal lives, are not inherently complicated. They are often painful to face and endure, but that’s not the same thing as being complicated.

One great secret about coaching and mentoring leaders in their interpersonal relationships is that the vast majority of questions arise again, and again, and again. It’s mainly the setting and personalities that change. Here’s an example.

Pittsburgh kidsIn one of the first rigorous, large-scale evaluations of restorative practices in a large urban school district, researchers from RAND Corporation found that restorative practices improved school climate, reduced student suspensions and decreased discipline disparities in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS).

The randomized controlled trial compared 22 PPS K-12 schools that adopted restorative practices with 22 similar schools that did not, between June 2015 and June 2017.

PPS contracted with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) Graduate School SaferSanerSchoolsTM program to implement the practices, supported by a grant from the National Institute of Justice. PPS is now implementing restorative practices in all district schools.

The study found that climate and relationships in the restorative practices schools improved, compared with the control schools. In addition, the number of days lost to suspension declined in the restorative practices schools, as did racial and income disparities in suspension rates, when compared to the control schools.

vr picThe 21st Century will redefine our entire concept of higher education and adult learning.

The IIRP Graduate School demonstrates the innovation that is possible when empowering learning strategies meet the best of new technologies.

For instance, our graduate programs teach many forms of participatory group engagement that K-12 teachers can use with students. One such practice is called a “restorative circle.”

In the past, a professor might talk about circles. She might assign some readings on circles. If the class is together in person, the professor might run a role play or two. We do those things.

But what if you could sit in on a “real” restorative circle, in a real school, with real young people? And what if you could sit in on that circle without leaving home, without leaving your office or after you put your own kids to bed?

What if you could sit in on the same circle several times, perhaps seeing and learning something new each time? Then, you could bring that learning and insight to an in-person or online course cohort.

Well, today you can. Here’s a sample of a new virtual reality experience from the IIRP Graduate School.

henry and aliceHenry McClendon, Jr., IIRP Michigan Representative, with Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, Inc.The IIRP World Conference in Detroit was a triumph, our largest ever! Among the sold-out crowd were 75 Detroit residents who attended through scholarships, bringing a true spirit of community.

Their grassroots work as stewards of their neighborhoods is supported by commitment from the top. “Restorative practices will make our city safe,” Mayor Mike Duggan declared in the opening session. “Neighborhood police officers are working seamlessly with community block clubs and Detroit Public Schools,” added Todd Bettison, Deputy Chief of Police, who’s been trained in restorative practices himself. “It’s making a huge difference. Formerly challenging kids are now leaders.” 

Two school superintendents confirmed the district’s adherence to the practices. Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, stated, “Skillman is supporting training for teachers, police, courts and neighborhood organizations.” High school sophomore and Restorative Practices Ambassador, Faith Howard, vowed, “Change starts with me!” Her schoolmate and fellow Ambassador, Jordan Cook, agreed: “I’m the one who tells kids: You can do it!”