Melissa Sorenson is Assistant Director for Special Projects at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, California. She wrote this piece after attending a restorative practices training conducted by Stacey Miller, IIRP Trustee, Assistant Provost for Inclusion at Valparaiso University and Managing Partner of The Consortium for Inclusion & Equity.
Sorenson is part of a small team that is responsible for organizational development at her college. Her work includes facilitating training and development opportunities, supporting leadership groups and collaborating on institution-wide projects.
In November 2018 I was invited to participate in a three-day training on restorative practices held at Middlebury College. I had never heard of restorative practices before the training, and, to be honest, I was a little skeptical about how relevant the training would feel in a professional context.
Restorative practices is defined by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) as “an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities.”
To be clear, those topics are right up my alley, but I was surprised I was being invited to dedicate three days to learning about social connections for my job. I don’t think anyone would deny the importance of community, but is there actually supposed to be room in everyone’s job descriptions for this work? Should relationship building be viewed as a critical component of our jobs?
The restorative practices training convinced me that the answer to those questions should be “yes.” In fact, for a community to successfully navigate change, overcome challenges, and demonstrate a value for diversity and inclusion, those answers need to be yes. By day three I had gone from skepticism to an overwhelming sense of certainty that I had found a critical missing piece at the foundation of my work.