The Oakland Unified School District, one of California’s largest school districts, is at the forefront of a new approach to school discipline. Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, its restorative Justice program seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking in group interactions called “circling up.”
According to a recent NPR story the district’s as-yet unpublished research shows the percentage of students suspended at schools that have fully adopted the program has dropped by half, from 34 percent in 2011-12 to just 14 percent in the following two years. Data also show that chronic absence is down dramatically and graduation rates are up at restorative justice schools. The program’s success has inspired several other urban districts—including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver—to try some version of the approach.
Ta-Biti Gibson, one of the Oakland schools’ restorative justice co-directors, says, "Instead of throwing a punch, [kids are] asking for a circle. They're backing off and asking to mediate…peacefully with words. And that's a great thing." We agree! We heartily endorse having a protocol in place for talking out conflicts in schools—and anywhere else where differences typically have led to unproductive behavior.
We want to hear. What do you think of the circle up approach in schools? Is there another environment where you think this approach would be beneficial? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
3/31/2015 04:15:11 am
This seems like a fantastic idea to me. After taking your Mastery of Leadership course, I used the Model for Collaborative Problem Solving in a classroom setting. The effect was none sort of miraculous in terms of getting most people to join in the conversation and focusing on process as well as message. Lots of positive feedback concerning how powerful a model it was. (I hope the Oakland school district works with you! )
3/31/2015 04:27:54 am
Thanks for this Ann. So great to hear that you were able to take our Mastery of Leadership Communication course learning back to your classroom. Keep us posted. It's really cool what the Oakland school district is doing around this work.
4/6/2015 07:15:00 am
Restorative Practices are being implemented in many places across the nation, primarily in schools and to a lesser extent in justice systems. It's a phenomenally successful approach, and one I've been studying and now am advocating for (with other youth workers). Resolutions Northwest is the leading facilitator of learning in this area in Oregon, and Dignity in Schools Campaign is active at the national level. In Canada these practices have been used with incredible success in indigenous communities.
4/6/2015 07:52:29 am
Thanks for these insights, Darcy -- and for the important work you are doing. Please keep our Community of Practice updated on accomplishments in this area. So very important.
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