East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy (EPAPA) is an urban high school that started in a windowless warehouse. The first public high school in East Palo Alto – an urban community struggling with poverty, high dropout rates, and gentrification – in over thirty years, EPAPA aimed to provide a high-quality, college preparatory education for our students. Without a local public high school, most students in the city were – and still are – bussed to neighboring cities to attend school. From the beginning, EPAPA students and staff were like family as we worked together to achieve our goals.
I taught English at EPAPA for several years before becoming the Dean of Students. When I became the Dean, I worked with the school community – administration, teachers, students, parents – to transform our traditional system of discipline into a system founded on restorative practices.
Why did we need restorative practices?
Although we built the foundation of a strong community, some students struggled with negative perspectives of school. We had a traditional discipline system that seemed to work, though the more we used them, the more detentions and referrals seemed to lose their meaning. Nothing seemed terribly wrong.
But things could always be better.
Despite initial push-back (why fix things that weren’t broken?), we moved forward with professional development, community meetings and changes to our systems and processes. Within the first eight weeks of school, even those who were most resistant to change had jumped on board.
Restorative practices are rooted in the traditions of many indigenous peoples around the world. From Native Americans to the Maori of New Zealand, to Aboriginal peoples of Australia, restorative practices have been used to resolve conflict and heal communities. They are more than a set of conflict resolution strategies; they are a philosophy and way of life.
Traditional systems vs. Restorative Practices
Unlike traditional systems, which are punitive and focus on punishment, restorative practices focus on repairing the harm caused by negative behaviors. Restorative practices require a mindset shift
- FROM a focus on rule-breaking and punishment TO the impact or harm caused by an action
- FROM a focus only on the wrongdoer TO giving voice to both the person(s) harmed and the person who causes harm
- FROM a focus on punishment that often happens in isolation TO involving the community in an authentic healing and learning process
- FROM a process that doesn’t leave room for making amends to a process that requires making amends.
Implementing restorative practices is hard work and it takes time. It is hard to talk about the root causes of your actions. It is hard to learn and process the ways your actions others. It is hard to share the ways you are affected by the actions of others. It is hard to solve conflict together…and this goes for both students and teachers.
But it is worth it.
So, why do we need restorative practices? Within the first year, discipline incidents at our school decreased by over 66 percent, school culture became more positive and interpersonal relationships were strengthened.
The question really is, why haven’t we all started implementing them yet?
Restorative practices lead to real healing and change in individuals and a community. Learn more with our Ready to Run PD Restorative Practices series and begin your own transformation.
Joanna Ho Bradshaw is a former classroom teacher and administrator. She is a strong advocate of equity work and Restorative Practices in education. As the Dean of an urban high school, she transformed the school’s punitive discipline system into a restorative model, resulting in a two-thirds reduction in discipline incidents. She was awarded the San Mateo County Dorothy Boyajian Honored Teacher Award. She then designed a restorative, educational alternative to prison for young men in California. She holds a Master’s in Education from the Principal Leadership Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.