East Lyme schools have contracted with two consultants to train staff in the use of restorative practices for resolving conflict between members of the school community.
The training is part of a district-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan that has been unfolding over the course of the school year. In September, the district received the results of an equity audit in which community members brought up concerns about the district’s atmosphere and lack of diversity and asked for change. In November, students at East Lyme High School staged a walkout in protest of how the district administration was handling incidents of racism within the school system.
Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said that the restorative practices would help educators be better prepared to address any issues that might arise in the district.
“We’re excited about it,” Newton told CT Examiner. “It’ll give us one more tool in our toolbox to continue some good work with kids and staff.”
Later this month, a group of about 55 staff members from the district’s elementary, middle and high schools will participate in a two-day instructional program on how to use relationships and community-building as a way of responding to and preventing conflict between students.
The training will be led by consultants Pat Ciccone and Jo-Ann Frieberg, owners of School Climate Consultants, LLC. Frieberg was previously an educational consultant at the Connecticut State Department of Education, and Ciccone worked as the Superintendent of Westbrook Public Schools until the end of 2020. Both are members of the National School Climate Council and the CT Social Emotional Learning Collaborative. The district has contracted with them for $4,000 to provide the two-day training.
Freiberg explained in a video call with CT Examiner that restorative practices are meant to focus on repairing harms done rather than simply punishing people for their actions.
“If you run down the hall, you get a detention. You do your time, but nothing changes,” said Freiberg.
Ciccone said that many times, children are conditioned to apologize when they have been caught doing something wrong, but that an apology does not necessarily rectify the situation.
“When there’s harm done, it’s incumbent upon the facilitator to say, that’s great. You’ve apologized. Now, how are we going to fix it?” said Ciccone.
Anneliese Spaziano, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment in the district, who has herself participated in training through the International Institute of Restorative Practice , told CT Examiner that restorative practices are, at their core, all about relationships.
“You can’t do any of this work if you don’t have solid relationships at the center and the core of it,” said Spaziano.
Frieberg explained that restorative practices are more than just a disciplinary model — they include actions that can be incorporated into the classroom on a day-to-day basis.
According to Friedberg, restorative practices are inherently more equitable than rote guidelines for disciplinary actions. She said that many times, discipline that happens within schools has its own biases — certain genders or races, for example, are more harshly or more frequently punished than others. By making an effort to include the unique context of each situation when deciding how to resolve a conflict, Freiberg explained, it takes out some of those biases that are built into the disciplinary system.
“When you follow a process that doesn’t change and the consequences are determined collaboratively among the people who did the harming and were harmed, it removes – probably not all bias — but an awful lot of it,” she said.
But Frieberg also said that restorative practices are centered around holding children and teens accountable for their actions. They work in tandem with traditional disciplinary measures in cases of serious misbehavior or criminal actions. For example, a child might be suspended or expelled for a particular action, but restorative practices ensure that the student remains connected to the school community even while being punished. Part of this might be requiring the student to present something to their peers.
Spaziano said that when a staff member engages a student in restorative practices, the staff asks the students to reflect on a series of questions, such as what the student was thinking about at the time an incident happened, what they have been thinking about since then, who was affected by their behavior and what needed to be done to make things right.
She also said that teachers can do other things to promote good relationships, such as having off-the-cuff conversations with students in the classroom, speaking in affirmative statements and working to create dialogue when a conflict happens.
Frieberg said that restorative practices aren’t just for resolving student conflict — if a student “pushes a teacher’s buttons,” for example, Frieberg said that that student and the teacher will also have to come together one-on-one to resolve the issue.
The district’s draft implementation plan for restorative practices says that these practices allow people who were harmed by a particular incident to have their voices heard, and gives the person responsible for the incident an opportunity to take accountability for their actions. They are also designed to increase empathy.
The first day of the training will be focused on developing strong relationships with students, family members and colleagues, and the second day will address the use of circles to build community and facilitate conversations. Freiberg said that circles improve communication by allowing people to see one another’s body language, and at the same time bring everyone — including the adults in the room — down to the same level.
“Everything restorative emanates from something that’s called the fundamental hypothesis,” said Freiberg. “Human beings are happier, healthier, more cooperative and most likely to make positive changes in their own behavior. When those in positions of authority, do things with them rather than to them or for them.”
Newton said that the district plans to regroup in the fall to consider next steps based on what staff learned in the training. He said the district planned to use the training to create learning models to educate all staff members in how to use restorative practices.
“We just don’t want a small pocket of people trained. We want to move it forward to further involve new staff across the district,” he said.