“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” —Barack Obama
“All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth is change.”
—Octavia E. Butler
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
—James A. Baldwin
During a coaching visit, I remember speaking with a reluctant teacher about restorative practices. There were clear signs of discomfort: halfhearted smiles, looking away, deflecting with humor, and one of my own go-tos– sarcasm. However, I continued asking about their commitment to a restorative approach and wondered how they could personally make their environment one that prioritizes healthy relationships. After a few minutes of silence and following up at the end of the day, I could not get a definitive commitment.
What I was hearing weren’t protests of theory, practice, or process but resistance to change.
In our predominately punitive society, change typically is the result of something not working—in education it may look like: you/your school/the District didn’t do something right (usually based on a data point), so now things need to be overhauled. Sometimes this change can occur without having opportunities for those that are directly impacted by decisions to have a voice in the decision-making process, breeding an environment of mistrust. At times change can be predicted with the announcement of new leaders, standards, or initiatives and while change can be a given, and at times a necessity, there is a tendency to resist it.
So, when restorative practices is introduced, and we are used to scripted programs that we can pick up and put down, resistance comes from folks feeling that it is “one more thing” to learn, practice and implement.
Honestly, it is probably one of my favorite parts of the journey because it gives communities an opportunity to reflect and explicitly define what restorative practices is and what it isn’t.
In contrast to these programs, restorative practices is a mindset—an invitation to relationships, connection and community. In restorative processes, change comes from a deeper understanding of the importance of connection, creating deliberate consistent structures that strengthen relationships, and shifting mindsets towards the collective. This also means restorative practices calls us to see change not as something that occurs in response to something wrong, but as an opportunity to come back to ourselves and back into right relationship with each other (make things right/better).
Halfhearted implementation could be passive resistance to change
Resistance to change is compounded when power dynamics are considered.
One of the drawbacks of the power based punitive system is it doesn’t allow or invite community members in the decision-making process. At times when a restorative practices approach is implemented, folks may not be able to express dissent or concern about the state of their community. In those instances, restorative practices become another tool those in power may wield to control over other community members.
In this case, community members may not have the safety and trust needed to speak their truth yet and may resist change in more covert ways.
Where echoes of active resistance to restorative processes may sound like: “I’m not doing this,” passive resistance may say: “I would love to do this, but I don’t think I can… I don’t know if I would be allowed to do this…I’m just doing what I’m told/I’m just following orders.”
On the other hand, positive change can still occur in this state. On my journey, I have heard multiple stories/ witnessed skeptics that decided to try a restorative process and were shocked at how the process helped to strengthen their community. While the goal is to adopt a restorative mindset in a deliberate and intentional approach to building/strengthening community, one doesn’t have to be fully “bought in” before using an affective statement, modeling explicit practice, or facilitating a community building circle.
Resistance to change should never be an excuse to disconnect.
But if disconnection is occurring, it may be a signal that inner/community work needs to occur for clarity of purpose and vision.
If implementing restorative practices is causing some resistance to change, consider posing the following questions:
- What is bothering/concerning me about this change?
- How does this change impact my attachment to the story I created about my community?
- Who would benefit from this change?
- How can I address my concerns about the change for the betterment of the community?
- Who can support me in actualizing this change?
Change is evident in mindset
One way that a shift towards restorative processes is evident is by looking at the shift in mindsets. It should be expected that when implementing restorative practices, not everyone in the community will adopt a restorative mindset overnight. There may be some that are already restorative, some that see the value and are beginning to adopt, others that are still on the fence, needing modeling and still some that dismiss a restorative approach altogether. Resistance should be expected, and while it is important to honor the space each community member is entering, it is equally important to challenge and support members to get to that healthiest state for the community.
How do you know that your community is adopting a restorative mindset?
Some characteristics of a restorative mindset are that:
- Relationships and trust are at the center of community
- All members of the community are responsible to and for each other
- Explicit practice is critical to transparency, communication and trust
- Multiple perspectives are welcomed, and all voices hold equal weight
- Healing [repairing harm] is a process essential to restoring community
- Harm-doers should be held accountable for and take an active role in repairing harm
- Conflict that causes harm is resolved through honest dialogue and collaborative problem-solving that addresses the root cause and the needs of those involved
A shift to restorative does not mean that everything in the community is wrong. It does, however, give the community a shared language, mission, process and commitment around relationship and ensures a collective vision and purpose. Change could mean a maintaining/fine-tuning/celebration of things that are going well, in conjunction with problem solving/addressing/action planning around opportunities to strengthen connections for the community’s betterment.
Change is an invitation, a celebration, a grieving and an honoring of the space you are currently in. It is a call to move your community from its current state to its desired state.