Let’s be honest. While the emerging field of Restorative Practices is praised in many circles, there are people who are not so eager to embrace this work with open arms. Some disregard the practices as “new age”material, bound to phase out with the passage of time. Many more will credit the work as valuable but will deny the need to learn it, stating “I know this stuff already!”
We’re often confronted with this statement around midday of a training. Having been introduced to the concepts and practices, a participant or two will grow comfortable enough to announce that this approach is not so groundbreaking because they are already implementing these practices on a daily basis. To this, we normally respond with praise, after all, we assert that being restorative and trauma informed is how we show up when we are our best selves and accomplishing this daily is no easy feat. We also use this as an opportunity to remind participants of the value in explicitly codifying what may be implicitly inherent. In other words, what value is it to have great outcomes if we are just stumbling onto them without the understanding of what created them or how to replicate them?
Dr. Muhammad, founder and lead trainer of Akoben, often details his discovery of Restorative Practices. As it goes, prior to learning about these skills, Dr. Muhammad was the Executive Director of a group of alternative schools which were performing exceptionally well. He and his staff could boast high attendance rates and rising GPA’s, however, when asked about the specific method being used to achieve such results, he was unable to provide a concrete answer. Apparently, he and his staff had achieved success without a blueprint, raising a number of “what if’s”: What if this was just luck? What if the student body was just made up of the “right” kind of students? What if he just had the “right” kind of staff members?
It was only after learning about Restorative Practices that Dr. Muhammad had an “Aha!’ moment. He felt intuitively familiar with the practices proposed in this discipline, however now he had a way to codify and replicate these methods. This allowed he and his staff to work consciously toward establishing a restorative school culture and reach those students who were still slipping through the cracks.
Power Begins on the Level of Conception.
Once we have a conscious understanding of what and why we are doing something(conception/theory), we have a standard/barometer/gauge to evaluate our action and ensure that we are on the right track. Many trainees often express a need for tools and not theory. While this is understandable, we remind participants that action without theory is shaky ground for this kind of work. Without a conceptual framework, how do you ensure that in the face of changing variables and contexts, you are still able to implement this work? How do we ensure that results are intentional and not a matter of luck?
Framework allows us to replicate positive results
A framework gives us an explicit way to share what we do and how we think to our stakeholders. Our staff need to know how to communicate the basics of our approach and those we serve need to understand what we are doing with them.
Execution of work like this requires both an intellectual and intuitive understanding of the material. We encourage practitioners of this work to recognize the value in both theory and practice and to consistently analyze the “Why?” of the practices, even if it does seem intuitive. After all,even our intuition needs a system update every now and then. ?