Stories & Voices

Tales and reflections about our work in schools, including In the Circle by Marieke van Woerkom and See and Be Seen by Dionne Grayman

I usually saw Shaun during one of his many hall laps, when he would literally pass the door to the Restorative Practices room about half a dozen times in a given period during the school day.

In the classroom, students who lack assertiveness skills may hesitate to share their thinking openly or ask clarifying questions when they’re confused, or allow a classmate’s bullying to go unchallenged. And teachers who lack these skills may struggle to set clear behavior expectations in the classroom or hesitate to seek support from coaches and principals.

The other day I was asked about a situation that an advisor and her group of 10th graders had been struggling with all year.
 
While the advisor was relatively new to the school, the students had been there for years and were familiar with the expectation of weekly circles. Yet whenever it was time for circle, students pushed back, insisting on doing their homework instead.  As one student argued: "Colleges only look at our core classes, so we have to work on getting our GPA up instead."

When I was in Ohio a few weeks back, I visited four different middle schools that recently started implementing circles. I had been asked to do some modeling, so that teachers and counselors who were expected to run circles with their students could get a sense of what a well facilitated circle process looks like. I wasn't making any promises about what these circles would achieve, because I didn't have a relationship with any of the students and there's only so much that's possible in a first-time circle. 

Morningside Center staff developer Dionne Grayman was asked by her daughter's school to facilitate a post-election circle for parents and staff. Many who came were upset about the election. Here's what happened. 

Dionne Grayman, a Morningside Center staff developer, shares a brief moment in an NYC classroom where she is introducing community-building circles through our Restore 360 Program. One first step for each circle group is to come up with a "community agreement" about how everyone will treat each other.

 
I was in a circle with a group of young men, one of whom was a struggling reader.

The news of the police shootings in Dallas on July 6 was still unfolding Friday morning, as I was getting ready to co-facilitate a restorative circle with colleagues at Morningside Center. The circle was to prepare us for the 5-day professional development training we'd be doing with educators over the summer — a new version of our training that includes material on "celebrating identity" and "standing up to oppression." Extremely relevant, it turned out, in the context of the week's events.

Note:  This is the final post in a 3-part series on Trusting the Process. The series describes a four-day training session on restorative circles with a group of around 20 school staff members, some of whom had reservations about the training and the circle process. We hope it will be useful for circle keepers, especially those who are encountering resistance from circle participants. See Part 1 and Part 2.


The circle process is powerful, transformative at times, but it can also be challenging and time-consuming. For teachers, sharing of themselves in a circle with students can be uncomfortable. Many also worry that the circle process will open up upsetting personal issues students are facing—issues that they as teachers aren't prepared to handle. They aren't trained therapists, after all (nor am I). 
In her recent HuffPost blog, YouthBuild founder and CEO Dorothy Stoneman writes that "social entrepreneurship" has actually been around for a long time: "The idea that individuals create solutions to social problems, raise philanthropic dollars to replicate them, and then ‘take them to scale' with public funds, to solve the big problems across the land, is not really new..."

When I was in college, I practically lived in the painting studio. But I didn't keep it up after I graduated. When I tried to get back into it I discarded canvas after canvas, thinking the next project would surely be easier. After a while, I convinced myself that I had forgotten how to paint. Maybe I just wasn't good at it anymore.  

I've been complimented on my English about as often as I've been asked why I don't speak Spanish.  In high school and college I was frequently labeled "exotic."  My curly hair is mystifying to people everywhere, it seems, as I am constantly asked a stream of questions about it.  Is it really just like that?  How do I control it?  Why don't I straighten it?  

If you are a dreamer, come in
If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
A hoper, a prayer, a magic bean buyer ...
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!"

- The Invitation by Shel Silverstein

Some end-of-year words of encouragement from high school teacher Lauren Fardig-Diop, who received our Courageous Educator Award in 2012.


I know that we are all exhaling a huge sigh of relief because June is within our reach, but I encourage you to press on; keep teaching how you know is right, every day that you have kids sitting in front of you.  

Beth, an Earth Science teacher, talks about the impact of our Restorative Circles Program on her class at Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies this year. "The circle allows people to feel vulnerable, to feel safe in the community.  And because [students] feel safe, they are able to console each other and empathize with each other, and just be kind..."

We encouraged students at our PAZ After-School Program in Brooklyn (grades 2-5) to write poems about their community, their dreams, what they love, what angers them, and other things they are passi

Educators at the Dunbar Learning Complex in Atlanta have built our 4Rs Program into their remarkable center.  For a closer look, take their virtual tour or read about their approach.
A Message from the Executive Director I PLAY THE RECORDER, and I’m part of an amateur ensemble. Rachel is our teacher and coach. From time to time, if we lapse into a moment of sloppy or careless playing, she’ll look around at us, a twinkle in her eye, and ask, “Is that how you want to be remembered?”  She is challenging us to play mindfully, listening to the music we’re making and going for beauty with every note we play.
Several years ago, Morningside Center decided to try out an innovative teacher coaching model called “My Teaching Partner", developed by researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA). When our staff developer Cora Miles asked for teachers who wanted to participate in the project, a third-grade teacher, “Denise,” stepped forward. Denise was in her second year of teaching at a school in the Bronx, and she was open to coaching, even though some parts of the model made her nervous.
A KINDERGARTEN STUDENT in Warren, Ohio, whom we’ll call Mia, was both a leader and a bully in her class. “The other girls would emulate her,” says Morningside Center staff developer Bruce Gill. “If she had a certain color of fingernail polish on, the rest of the girls would get the same color.” But Mia also intimidated her classmates, and over time more and more of them didn’t want to play with her.