Core Values: Relationships and Restorative Practices

by Alan Reinstein, Columnist
photo contributed by Alan Reinstein

As part of last month’s Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Speaker Series, education lecturer Dr. Josephine Kim talked to the faculty about how building meaningful personal relationships with students early in the school year helps lay the groundwork for challenging conversations that may come up later. 

The worst time, she said, for a teacher to begin a relationship with a student is when there’s a concern or problem. She was specifically addressing how teachers can best reach out to their AAPI students in order to express genuine support during this recent period of increasing anti-Asian sentiment.

I suspect that every teacher at South would say that having positive relationships with their students is of importance to them. This is not solely because it’s good teaching but also because it’s good living. Here is an idea so simple — personal connections and relationships matter — that this hardly seems like news. Yet it’s worth the reflection. 

There is a strategy for dealing with conflicts and challenges within schools called restorative practices, which focuses especially on relationships: how to build them up within a school community to form a strong foundation and also how to repair, or restore, them when harm is done. Our school employs this practice, too, and some students have seen its value. 

A restorative conference is used for serious incidents when a person who has caused harm listens earnestly to the person or group harmed in order to repair a relationship that has been damaged. For a restorative conference to be effective, both parties must be ready to listen to one another, and then, ready to either apologize or forgive.

 Less serious incidents will employ restorative chats, which utilize the same principles of listening and repair. The primacy of personal relationships is the central tenet of restorative practices. 

Another practice in the restorative model is an activity called Community Circle. This is a structured small-group activity where all participants are invited to share stories, feelings and worries within a trusting community in order to build and strengthen relationships. 

That’s the whole point: developing relationships in a positive setting, with an ultimate hope that these positive relationships will not only lessen the likelihood of challenges or conflicts later on, but that they will also engender goodwill and emotional health.

A school that sees strong relationships as the bedrock of its community’s emotional well-being is one that sprints to support its members who are hurting and yearns to repair the harm that it causes. This is the future that I envision for our school.