The link I have shared is a PBS NewsHour segment on Restorative Justice (RJ) education specifically as it pertains to the successes at Hinkley High School. Over the last year I have been working with RJ at several different junior high schools in Aurora, Colorado. My primary role in RJ has been to conduct and analyze focus groups with parents, students and teachers, to attend equity meetings with teachers and administrators, and to translate various tools and documents.
For this reflection I will draw from two different projects I am currently working on. The first is a teacher observation tool I did not create but have recently worked closely with; the second is an analysis of focus group interview conducted with teachers at an Aurora middle school. The teacher observation tool is designed to measure and sustain a culture of care in the classroom, as opposed to a culture of “zero tolerance”. The focus group analysis fits nicely with the practical and theoretical goals of the observation tool since it incorporates reflections from teachers themselves about their classroom dynamics.
Observation tool basics: observers are asked to observe each teacher being across 7 dimensions and write comments in the following areas: (a) descriptive - exactly what the observer sees and hears in the classroom, (b) interpretive – the observer’s concurrent thoughts and reflections about what is being observed, and (c) feedback – the content of the feedback given to the person being observed and their response.
The 7 dimensions are (and there is much more depth to these concepts): 1) In the classroom students are treated like: passive receptors or co-creators; 2) The focus in this classroom is on: rules and regulations or relationships and interactions; 3) In this classroom: the teacher was in control or power was shared; 4) In this classroom: teacher was solely responsible or responsibility was shared; 5) In this classroom: misbehavior was seen as disruptive to learning or wrong doing and conflict were seen as learning opportunities; 6) When discipline problems occurred: consequences were determined by someone other than the teacher or capacity of teachers and students was built up so that conflicts could be solved nonviolently; 7) In this class: punishment and retribution were seen as deterrents or healing the harm to relationships was the focus.
The tool goes in depth about each dimension and exactly what the prompt is implying. This tool is designed to foster and promote long term changes, as the tool can continued to be used even when RJ is no longer actively in the classrooms.
The other project I want to share (and i will go into how it relates to the OBS tool later) is the focus group with teachers conducted in April of 2014.
The first question is very general and states: what are some of the experiences of minority students at this middle school? immediately teachers begin to talk about the usage of the term “racism” in its various forms. When the interviewer asked the teacher making the initial comment what they thought the students meant by racism when they invoked in in relationship to unfair treatment, teachers unanimously dismissed it as a “catch all term” that is intended to get the kids off of the hook. I think that at this point of the interview a theme of totalizing ignorance upon the students emerges. What I mean by this is that teachers are quick to dismiss complaints of racism since it is so often used. However, as the teacher observation tool suggests, in co-creating the classroom environment, students ought to be given the space to justify their claims. Why are these situations being quickly dismissed and not seen as an opportunity to learn and begin a critical dialogue around race in a school at is predominantly Latin@ yet taught by mostly white instructors?
As the teachers continue discussing the significance of racism in their schools, they suggest that using racism as a scapegoat is perhaps an acquired trait learned and reinforced in their home environment. If this is the case, why are teachers so quick to dismiss claims that are situated in the lived experiences and relationships of the students?
Unfortunately this particular middle school did not approve of the final report and recommendations we submitted to them and so they dropped RJ at the beginning of this school year.
Equity in education and the dismantling of the prison to school pipeline must necessarily include a restructuring of systems and ideologies of power. The changes must be real, substantive, and enduring. I think that the PBS NewsHour special importantly highlights the transformative potential that RJ and Culture of Care have upon schools when fully embraced.