by Ted Wachtel
In a circle, each person speaks in turn without interruption, providing a forum in which everyone is guaranteed a voice.
While my colleagues and I dream of a new reality, we have had to deal with immediate challenges—bullying, violence and other negative behavior—in our own CSF Buxmont alternative schools, and in the public schools where we do training and consulting.
The goal of our Safer Saner Schools program, founded in the early 2000s, is to train school staff and students in creating a school climate where everyone feels safe and sane.
Punishment currently is the prevailing method of maintaining order in schools, but it doesn’t work very well. It only gets students to do what teachers want while they’re watching them. The challenge is to get students to do the right thing when no one is watching. This behavior will then extend into adult life.
Working for many years with delinquent and at-risk youth at CSF Buxmont alternative schools, we have achieved just that: creating a spirit of community, in which students take responsibility and care for themselves and for one another.
These strategies rely on engagement—doing things with students, not to them—and we call them “restorative practices.”
In the late 1990s, when we first used the term “restorative practices,” results from an Internet search on the term would only have yielded items about “restorative dentistry.” Today, there must be a lot of unhappy dentists on the Internet, because “restorative practices” monopolize the first few hundred results on a search engine. The same is true for YouTube videos. If you’re interested in seeing what “restorative practices” look like, there are lots of YouTube video choices.
Significantly, there is now a substantial investment being made in scientific research that evaluates the outcomes for restorative practices.
This website will follow the outcomes for two such randomized control studies, when they become available: one for 14 schools in the state of Maine, the other for all the schools in the city of Pittsburgh.