UIS School of Education partners with District 186 to ‘create magic’

In 2002, while working as an elementary school teacher, I frequently walked past the gymnasium and noticed a physical education teacher’s remarkable way of handling student behavior. She masterfully motivated students to buy into a team approach, where everyone looked out for each other and regularly “helped a friend.” The same students who challenged me in my classroom behaved like angels in hers! It felt like she had some kind of magic. As a new teacher, I wanted to learn her secret. When I approached her, she handed me a book on restorative practices, which is a way to build relationships and resolve conflict. That was the magic I had witnessed in her classroom.

Fast forward to 2015. While visiting an alternative high school, I met an administrator beginning to implement restorative practices to reduce fighting and suspensions and improve student attendance. This work included him holding restorative circles for students with low attendance, their caregivers and teachers to discuss how the students’ behavior affected everyone involved. These circles led to significant increases in attendance by students. Talking to the teachers at the school, I learned how restorative practices were improving their relationships with students and colleagues. Again, I witnessed the magic of restorative practices in action.

Since then, I have attended numerous restorative practices trainings and received certification to become a coach and trainer. It has transformed the way I approach leadership, resolve issues with students and even how I parent my children. I have experienced the magic on a more personal level and witnessed its positive impact.

Having witnessed the magic of restorative practices firsthand, as the director of the UIS School of Education, I have been inspired to make it a unifying concept within the school. We have woven restorative practices into how we conduct meetings, resolve conflicts and incorporate pedagogical practices. We aim to become the first educator preparation program in the country to guarantee that all undergraduate and graduate students receive training in restorative practices.

With strategic investment funding from the university, the UIS School of Education is developing a Restorative Schools Network. This visionary endeavor will bring together multiple school districts to transform education through restorative practices. Participating schools will become model restorative practices schools and classrooms – places where UIS future educators can observe and learn about their implementation and a source of learning for schools and districts nationwide. As a part of the program, climate, discipline, achievement and attendance data will be collected to measure impact.

The multi-year program begins this summer with nine Springfield District 186 schools joining the network. District administrators and UIS faculty and staff will attend three days of training this month. Teachers and staff will be trained for two days in July and two additional days in the fall. Throughout the year, UIS faculty will provide coaching to help the schools implement what they learn during the training and refine their skills. In subsequent years, additional school districts will be invited to join.

The core tenets of restorative practices include shifting from leadership models that emphasize “power over” others to a more collaborative approach of working “with” others. This approach combines high expectations with the necessary support, whereas “power over” models include high expectations with little support and generate a fear of making mistakes.

Additionally, restorative practices involve using circles, an approach practiced in many indigenous cultures to facilitate conversations, academic discussions and address conflicts. Restorative practices strategies ensure a fair process exists, including allowing each person the chance to speak uninterrupted and to listen to others to build empathy and understanding when conflict occurs. However, no one is ever forced to participate.

Finally, restorative practices aim to reduce shame-induced behaviors such as acting out toward others, internalizing self-hate or unhealthy avoidance behaviors. Whenever conflict is not addressed directly with a healing-centered approach such as restorative practices, people and relationships can get stuck within damaging cycles of shame.

Research shows that schools implementing restorative practices with fidelity experience a transformation in school climate. They see fewer suspensions, expulsions, conflicts and misbehaviors such as bullying. Furthermore, restorative practices help build a positive school climate by improving relationships among peers and between students and teachers, promoting prosocial behaviors by developing students’ social and emotional skills. Ultimately, restorative practices provide a trauma-informed, healing-centered approach that benefits children and adults alike.

Restorative practices have the potential to transform. I am excited about the future where the magic of restorative practices is at the heart of education, leading to safer, healing-centered communities.

Beth Hatt is an experienced educator and the director of the UIS School of Education. She has taught across grade levels from kindergarten to youth in alternative high school settings.

Beth Hatt

Beth Hatt is an experienced educator and the director of the UIS School of Education. She has taught across grade levels from kindergarten to youth in alternative high school settings.

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