On October 13, 2015, I officially started my journey with Restorative Practices. This day was the first day of a two-day Restorative Discipline Readiness Training for Administrators. Fifteen minutes into the training, I knew I was bringing Restorative Practices to my campus. The reason I say it was my official start is because I was not fully sold on Restorative Practices until this day. When I first learned I would be the assistant principal over that summer, I met with the Director of Student Services. I wanted to know his vision about how we should discipline kids. During our meeting, he told me about Restorative Discipline and Boys Town. At that time, Boys Town seemed to make more sense. But I continued to do my research on Restorative Practices. The more I learned, the more it seemed to be the best fit for my campus.
On October 15th, I introduced Restorative Practices to my staff and my plan for how we would implement it. The staff meeting ended and I was feeling great. This was the best staff meeting we had all year. The staff really seemed to get it. But as all educators know, the school day is like a roller coaster and this day was not going to be an exception. The moment I stepped into the hallway, someone let me know that there was a parent waiting to see me in the front office. They also gave me the heads up that the parent was pretty upset.
I walked by the office a couple times to try to figure out who the parent was. I finally stopped stalling and went to greet the parent so I could address her concern. Usually, all parents who wanted to see me were upset. Either somebody did something to their child or their child did something they were not supposed to do and I gave them a consequence. In this case, somebody did something to her daughter who was in first grade. The day before in the after school program, her daughter was minding her business and drawing on the whiteboard. Another student, also in first grade, walked up behind her and grabbed her butt with both hands. So basically, the mother wanted the “monster” that did this to her daughter dead. She either wanted me to let her kill him or for me to kill him. Regardless, she wanted him dead. I told her that was not possible but to give me a chance to try to fix it.
After two hours, I finally convinced the mother to let me fix the situation. The problem for me was how do you fix this? What’s the appropriate consequence for a six-year-old grabbing another six-year-old inappropriately? Is it in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, detention or something else? I really had no idea how I should handle this one. I knew the first thing I needed to do was go and talk to the boy. I walked down to the first-grade hall and went to the boy’s class. I walked in and asked the teacher if I could see the little butt grabber. The first thing I noticed was that he was so little. He barely came up to my waist and I am only about 5’10”. The other crazy thing was that he was so much smaller than the girl.
So I took the little boy and we went for a walk. We walked for about two minutes in complete silence. I honestly had no idea what to say. I mean, he was just six. How do you ask a six-year-old, why are you grabbing butts? Eventually, we walked up to an empty desk placed in the hallway and I asked him to have a seat. Then I finally asked him “do you know why you are with me?” He nodded his head acknowledging that he knew why. Then I just asked him “why did you do it?” Still staring at the wall, he placed his hand up to his head and said: “It was in my head, so I did it.” For some reason, that answer made complete sense to me. At that moment, I knew I had to make this right.
At the Restorative Practices training that I had just attended that week, I only had one interaction with the lead presenter, Kevin Curtis. He had suggested two books, Changing Paradigms: Punishment and Restorative Discipline and The Restorative Justice Pocketbook. I am frugal, so I was not buying two books. So during a break, I asked him which book he would suggest if I could only buy one. Lucky for me, he suggested the Restorative Justice Pocketbook. It also helped that I am an Amazon Prime member and so the book was delivered to me the next day.
I went to my office, opened up the book and came across something called a Community Conference (Restorative Justice Pocketbook, p. 85). The Community Conference brings the wrongdoer and victim together, along with bystanders, supporters, witnesses and/or other parties affected. When there is a serious incident, this conference is intended to provide a forum for all parties to seek ways to identify, repair and prevent future harm.
I called the boy’s mother to let her know what happened. She was shocked and absolutely agreed to meet with the girl’s mother. Then I called the girl’s mother and asked her if she was willing to meet with the boy’s parents. She absolutely wanted to meet with the parents of the monster who grabbed her daughter. My first Community Conference was set. Nothing could go wrong, right? All of this happened on a Thursday, so I scheduled the conference for Monday. I needed some time. As a consequence, I suspended the boy from the after school program until the conference. His parents were completely onboard with that.
Monday came and it was showtime. I strategically asked the boy’s parents to come at 8:30 a.m. and the girl’s mother to come at 9:00 a.m. I wanted to talk with them in person to get a better feel for whether or not I should be putting these adults all in the same room. The boy’s mother and father, who were married, came to the meeting. When we sat down, they immediately apologized and explained to me what they thought happened. They told me that the boy sometimes went to the park with his brother who is in seventh grade. The parents speculated that the boy either witnessed his brother or his brother’s friends modeling the behavior that got him in trouble. They went on to tell me that they talked to his older brother about him or his friends displaying this behavior in his little brother’s presence. But they even took it a step further. They stopped letting the boy go to the park with his older brother. Everything they said was exactly what I was hoping for. As we waited for the girl’s mother, the parents went on to tell me how they just moved to Texas from Kentucky less than a year ago. They really did not know anybody in Dallas, but they moved here for a fresh start.
Then the girl’s mother came to join the meeting and it officially became a Community Conference. Usually, the kids participate in the meeting but I thought it was best for just the adults to start out this meeting. It was very tense at first. The girl’s mother’s intensity had not dissipated much since the prior week. However, the boy’s parents immediately did what I hoped they would do. They apologized. Then they explained to the mother everything they explained to me earlier about how he may have learned this behavior and what they did to try to make sure it did not happen again. They even did me a solid and told the mother that I had given their son a consequence. At this point, the girl’s mother really had nothing to say. She struggled to remain upset. It appeared that she almost had the closure she needed.
Noticing that her demeanor had changed, I suggested that we go see the kids. Both of the kids were down in the auditorium with their class. I went in to get them and the moment the girl’s mother saw the boy, she just started laughing. She finally put a face to the “monster” who assaulted her daughter and she immediately realized that there was not a monster. This was another child. The girl’s moths er and the boy’s mother exchanged phone numbers because the girl’s mother wanted to help them out since they were new to the area. Everyone exchanged pleasantries before we all went our separate ways and that was it. Or so I thought. Then the girl’s mother pulled me to the side because she had something she wanted to say to me. I was thinking, oh no, what now? But what she said shocked me. She told me “I know you gave him a consequence and that’s what I wanted. I know I may sound like a hypocrite but whatever you are doing to him, stop. You have done enough.”
What she said sealed the deal for Restorative Practices for me. I walked away feeling like I did the right thing for people rather than meeting the standards of a system. Consequences are about numbers but true accountability is about people. That boy did not grab another butt that I know of and did not get in any real trouble for the rest of the year. He was a good kid and he made a mistake. Most importantly, the girl’s needs were met too. The kids were friends and they continued to be friends. Sometimes the adults are the ones that need the closure. The Community Conference provided that closure.