By Matthew Berger, Service Leader serving on the Northwest Elementary School Team.
On July 22nd, City Year New Hampshire’s staff and Senior Corps set out for Plymouth State University to attend the 2019 Holmes Center Problems of Practice Summit: a four-day conference focused on problems of practice within education and the work we do in schools. This was a great opportunity for us to not only connect with each other on a site level, but also to connect with other educators in Manchester and in the larger New Hampshire community. We were able to bond with the assistant principal from the Manchester School of Technology, and employees from GEAR UP New Hampshire, a non-profit group that works in secondary schools to increase the number of low-income New Hampshire students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college. Seeing educators from different fields, and with varied experiences, come together to learn more about social justice practices and devise plans to implement them in their own work was inspiring.
At the conference, attendees chose different strands to follow throughout the week that focused in on specific equity issues and education techniques. Options included making more trauma-informed high schools, creating culturally diverse lessons, and best practices for co-teaching. My own strand focused on restorative justice, and how it can be implemented in our schools. According to RestorativeJustice.org:
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that allow all willing stakeholders to meet, although other approaches are available when that is impossible. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.
Sometimes in schools, punitive behavior management systems can cause harm to students and not allow them to properly process the harm that may have been done. By using restorative justice practices, harms can be addressed in a more intentional and supportive way. Students are brought into a circle and allowed to express their feelings and plans to do better in the future. For example, sometimes students misbehave when a substitute is leading the class. Instead of using a blanket punishment when the teacher comes back, a restorative practice brings the students together in a circle to discuss why they may have acted the way they did and determine an appropriate consequence as well as a plan to do better in the future. This method doesn’t completely absolve the person who caused harm from punishment, but it helps all parties move forward and repair their relationship.
As an organization, City Year staff and Senior AmeriCorps Members also came together to discuss our own Problem of Practice; specifically, how do we reaffirm and improve our dedication to fostering a sense of belonging within our community. We were able to meet and have fruitful discussions about what we’re already succeeding in, as well as what we need to improve. While the conversations were not always easy, they were necessary to help our organization move forward towards a greater sense of equity, and I was thrilled to be a part of them as a Senior AmeriCorps Member.
The Holmes Center Problems of Practice Summer Summit was a great introduction to the type of work I’m hoping to continue as a I go through my second year with City Year. I was given a great toolbox of techniques to use both in my classroom and with fellow AmeriCorps members, and I can’t wait to help push everyone forward towards a better, more inclusive and equitable future.
If you’d like to learn more about the work done by the Holmes Center for School Partnerships and Educator Preparation, click here!