Here a portion of a story yesterday by columnist Robert Koehler at the Chicago Tribune:
"I found myself running down the hall all the time because of fights," Rhonda Richetta told me, speaking of her early days as principal of Baltimore's City Springs School, a K-8 school in a tough inner-city neighborhood. "I would look at kids' faces. Everyone looked angry, like they didn't want to be here -- adults and children both."
In poverty-wracked neighborhoods, this is the American school system. "Education" takes place in a context of anger, violence, intimidation and arrest. The kids are struggling not to learn but "just to survive," as Ted Wachtel, founder and director of the Bethlehem, Pa.-based International Institute for Restorative Practices, put it.
"How as a society can we live with that?"
At City Springs, one of four charter schools run by the Baltimore Curriculum Project, Richetta had no intention of living with the situation she had just walked into. This was in 2007. In her quest to change the environment of her school, she learned about IIRP and took training in restorative practices, an extensive philosophy of community-building based on respect, listening and truth-telling rather than punishment. Unlike traditional methods of keeping order in troubled schools, restorative practices require everyone's full participation, not merely their obedience. It's a philosophy of "high limit-setting and high encouragement," Wachtel said.
And Richetta was positive it would work at City Springs. Five years later, with her vision firmly in place, the effectiveness of restorative practices is obvious. I spent half a day at City Springs recently, as part of my own determination to see how people are creating peace on our planet. I sat in "proactive circles" with first-graders and eighth-graders, listening and participating as the kids checked in and talked about how they were doing that day. One teacher said the proactive circle, held not in response to a problem but simply to get the day started, was like taking a daily vitamin. Kids and adults connect with each other and a context of respect and mutual cooperation is established anew.
What I was part of that morning was the result of five years of painstaking effort, on the part of Richetta and others at the school, to apply restorative practices in every situation: five years of patience, listening and asking "what happened?" This question "jolts the kid," Richetta noted. Suddenly the boy or girl who has gotten into trouble realizes, "Oh, she wants to hear my side" -- and begins talking, and becomes part of the solution, not the problem.
Read the full story here.