Show Your Work: Tracking Restorative Justice Implementation in Brooklyn Schools
This month, we’re bringing you a multi-part update on our Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project.
Here, Dr. Anne Gregory, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University shares findings from the first two years of the project.
Anne has conducted research and evaluation to help schools improve their implementation of Restorative Justice. Her commitment to high quality Restorative Justice in schools is driven by the need to reduce race and gender disparities in school discipline. Her research interests also include leveraging strong teacher-student relationships for positive change, and supporting teachers through engaging and sustained professional development. On a personal note, Anne was born and raised in Brooklyn herself.
2018 marks the third year of the Brooklyn Restorative Justice Project, an initiative aimed at transforming the way students, teachers and leaders build community in school and respond to harmful incidents on campus. In 2016, we introduced Restorative Justice (RJ) practices into a small cohort of Brooklyn schools and have been taking surveys of teachers, staff, and students throughout the process.
One of the unique aspects of this project is how it tracks RJ implementation. While RJ is being practiced with increasing frequency in schools, it can be difficult for staff and administrators to carry out amid an onslaught of initiatives, and few scholars or organizations are systematically tracking the successes and challenges that students and staff are experiencing. This research is especially important in light of the recent threats to federal government support for school discipline reform in the wake of school violence across the country.
A big takeaway from the first two years of the project is that schools can carefully track RJ implementation to help them identify needed areas of support and training.
As an evaluation team, we are developing a tool that identifies eleven indicators of RJ implementation. The indicators are: addressing racial and social justice in the school; schoolwide RJ buy-in and leadership; administrative support for RJ; RJ student leadership; discipline policy reform; RJ professional development; community-building circles in classrooms; repairing “less serious” harm and restoring community in classrooms; repairing “more serious” harm and restorative conferences; RJ family/community involvement; and data-based decision-making to guide change.
While no one indicator is more important than another, administrative support, student leadership, and discipline policy reform provide examples of how we can measure RJ implementation.
We found that administrative support is demonstrated in how administrators “walk the talk” and in whether they take concrete actions to advance RJ. We found that key actions include administrators setting aside time for RJ circles in advisory and designating space for restorative conferences. At one school, administrators gave their own time to RJ, which signaled their authentic commitment to restorative approaches to discipline. They set aside a space and time at the end of every school day for an open meeting to discuss any disciplinary or conflict issues from the day.
“To have administration on board and it was always at least one administrator who was in our meetings. But there were a number of times when both of them were there. I think that commitment spoke volumes,” said an adult from one of the schools participating in the project.
Without administrators setting the tone with their actions, staff and students found it more difficult to use RJ practices in a meaningful way.
Student leadership was also critical in determining the success of restorative justice efforts, and the project has been tracking the mechanisms and activities that show students taking restorative justice into their own hands and participating to create stronger connections with their peers, teachers, and administrators. Activities like Peer Group Connections (PGC) show a concerted effort to include student voice, and students who have participated them had positive things to say.
“It actually helps us...instead of like resolving the problem by yourself at least you have a group like PGC to help you. You could come ask them and they will help you,” said one student.
Another said, “Sometimes we have meetings with the principal...and they say, ‘What do you think we should do? What should we do to try to help the students?’ So, we get our voices heard.”
In addition, discipline policy reform was an evident marker of success. In one school, students and teachers used the New York City DOE Blue Book, which outlines disciplinary policy, as a springboard for their own guidelines codifying RJ as a policy for their school.
In a survey about discipline policy, one student said, “Our school used to be one of the top schools that suspended people…and our rates went down after we started implementing RJ. RJ has helped people deal with each other and be able to communicate more and not fight and stuff like that. And that’s super important.”
Staff also reflected this attitude about changing discipline policy. Said one staff member, “‘Disciplinary policy reform’: yeah absolutely… we developed pretty much a catalog of infractions and suggested one of those solutions, or steps to take for misbehaviors or wrong-doings that are aligned to the blue book …I think it’s been something that really has helped the dean and staff out and helped the restorative staff out in identifying, ‘okay, well this is what would’ve happened but this is what we want to see happen’ and having a clear policy around what the work is.”
Our findings around the eleven indicators of RJ implementation show that this project will provide not only case studies in RJ implementation but concrete models for measuring implementation moving forward.
This blog was written in partnership with Maria Yvlisaker, a Communications Intern with Brooklyn Community Foundation for Spring 2018.