"This is where it all started".

Photo by David Spearman

When I was cleaning out my home office, I found something that gave me pause. It was the essay I wrote when I was a candidate for Chief Dean at Christian Fenger High School. I and the other men and women vying for this position were asked what we would put in place in our first month in our position. This is what I wrote.

"My goal for my one month plan as Chief Dean would be to support staff and students in the new discipline policies being instituted by offering a variety of strategies. First I would work with the Safety and Sercurity team to deal with the lunchroom issues. I will utilize the After School Activity Coordinator to talk to the youth about creating awareness around Restorative Justice and hav them sit with us to discuss ideas on spreading the word. We will then ask that all adults in the lunchroom engaging with the youth and be actively involved in addressing issues that may arise. Each stackholder will be asked to offer suggestions as to how to make the lunchroom a safe and peaceful place. As needed, I and other support staff will be on hand to support security and staff in the lunchroom which includes the Athletic Director. I will ask that adults expect the students to be respectful in the lunchroom to each other and staff and to positively reinforce this.

An important part of the philosophy of Restorative Justice is relationship building, creating a safe space and communication. Once a youth expresses how they feel about something we should listen not only with our head but with our heart. I wuolkd invite these youth to sit with me and other adults in a Talking Circle to address these concerns and begin to work on strategies together to increase their knowledge on the changes that have occured and how we are to learn from this process together. I wuld also invite members from the community to be apart of this talking circle.

In terms of our teachers having difficulty with this implementation of this new discipline policy with their students, we will set up learning and support circles for our teachers so that they can hear from their collegues some of the challenges they are facing and how to support each othe with ideas on how to use these techniques with our youth. I will also ask that our counsellors and social work staff be apart of these circle so that they can available as a resource to the teachers When teachers feel unsupported they are likely to feel disconnected and not involved in making our school a safe envirionment for all. Our teachers are a crucial part of this plan working. I would also ask the teachers who are strong in the implementation of this process to mentor teachers who are having challenges. Also staff who are willing to come in on Saturdays would be given mini-clinics to address concerns and give practical tools for our teachers to assist them in learning the Boys Town Model as well as restorative justice practices and priniciples.

Youth that are repeatedly finding themselves in trouble and sent to the office are the ones that challenging this new process as well as seeking their needs to be addressed. As we assess the reasons why the youth is sent to the office I will ask the teachers and counsellors for their suggestions to reaching this youth. With the help of home liaison, we will talk with the family about these issues and work very closely with the families on ways we can work with the youth. We will explain our expectations and what we need to do together in order for this youth to have a successful high school experience.

As the plan moves toward the end of the month, our team will assess whether the objectives were not met concerning the issues that were brought up during the first month of using the Boys Town Model and Restorative Justice practices. These issues dealt with a variety of concerns which included unsafe lunchroom environment, teachers and students feeling overwhelmed in their new school, and repeated youth offenders. Our school is a school where our youth and communitycan and willbe apart of the solution to the issues that we face."

When I read this, I am reminded of what I did not know about what we were about to face. The tremendous odds we were forced to overcome. Reading my proposal showed me that at that time, I did have a plan of action for this new team at Fenger and I was willing to chart a new course as Chief Dean at Fenger. Little did I know, I was creating a whole new position for a public high school in America. A position that relied less on legal authority and more on moral authority. My focus was not just the "frequent flyers" of students who were keeping up the most trouble. I was to engage the whole school community with the practices of Restorative Justice and the use of social-emotional learning. My focus became mastery of social skills, building relationships across all sectors of the school community and building bridges with the wider community that surrounded Fenger. This proposal is telling concerning my evolution from Chief Dean to Culture and Climate Coordinator. Looking at this proposal and having gone through this journey shows me that it was already in me. I just needed the right conditions. Those condition evolved over the 4 years I had the opportunity to grow in my new role. This is what I encourage schools and school districts throughout the U.S. that this is not a sprint but a marathon to shifting our school toward a restorative path. I hope this helps you as you look to shift your schools and school districts from zero tolerance and exclusion toward restoration and inclusion of all of our students.

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