Learning Restorative Practices
Snow might have delayed them, but couldn’t stop a full house of educators and others from a popular learning opportunity at SERC about restorative practices.
The session was scheduled February 9, postponed by snow, and held February 24 with outdoor temperatures in the 60s. But the crowd packed the room throughout the day. Participants included special education directors, administrators, teachers, school counselors, and various student support services professionals from district and charter schools, as well as those from other settings such as a hospital.
Amanda Pickett and Sarah L. Jones, the SERC consultants who facilitated the session, had recently attended an International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) training outside Orlando January 30-February 2. They worked continually throughout the event and the following days to incorporate their learnings from IIRP into the SERC session.
Restorative practices, inspired by the philosophy of restorative justice, are used to build community and respond to challenging behavior through authentic dialogue, coming to understanding, and making things right [IIRP website, 2013]. Schools that use restorative practices have a flexible approach to school policies and practices when managing challenging behavior.
Schools implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a framework for decision making, can use restorative practices as a tool within that framework, Ms. Pickett says.
Ultimately, participants walked away with a better understanding of restorative practices and methods to try with students and staff members alike. Ms. Pickett and Ms. Jones are also using the content of the IIRP conference to further build the capacity of their SERC colleagues. For the next school year, they are planning a professional learning opportunity for schools on aligning restorative practices within a multi-tiered system of support.
Connecticut’s PBIS work goes international
Connecticut was featured in the 14th International Conference on Positive Behavior Support (APBS), held March 1-4 in Denver and attended by SERC consultants Sarah L. Jones and Eben McKnight.
SERC has partnered with Minnesota State University (MSU), Mankato, on the use of the PBIS Action and Commitment Tool, or ACT. At the conference, MSU’s Kevin J. Filter, Ph.D., presented a 2015-2016 study of the PBIS-ACT at 23 schools in Minnesota and Connecticut. These include three schools under CT’s School Climate Transformation Grant (CT SCTG), for which SERC’s Sarah Jones serves as Project Officer.
Dr. Filter discussed how PBIS-ACT measures “action and commitment” to certain adult behaviors in PBIS schools—for example, how much teachers are praising students, how much they value it, and how much they are willing to do it. He concluded that most staff are committed to implementing PBIS, though less so on the high school level and from general education teachers and non-licensed staff.
From Teachers College to the classroom, with SERC as guide
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, based out of Columbia University, has created a Unit of Study in opinion, information, and narrative writing. SERC’s Literacy Initiative has assisted schools working to implement these units in the classroom.
In Barkhamsted, for example, SERC videotaped demonstration lessons by Kathy Collins, a nationally known author of “Growing Readers” and “Reading for Real” (and past presenter at SERC professional learning sessions). SERC Consultant Janet Zarchen has subsequently provided support on implementing the strategies and scaffolding, so the district can develop this practice more explicitly.
“Learning in the Fast Lane” by Suzy Pepper Rollins (2014) defines scaffolding as “a process used to help learners perform tasks that would be too difficult for them to complete without assistance” (citing Wood, Bruner, and Ross, 1976). It allows students to access rigorous standards by assisting them with areas that continue to stump them, so they can move on to the next level.
Ms. Zarchen is supporting teachers who must scaffold to move all students to independent writing, without, for example, getting stuck on punctuation. She helps them navigate the rubrics in the writer’s workshop so teachers are still following the curriculum, but differentiating for individual student needs.
Assisting with Assistive Technology
SERC’s Technology in Education initiative continues to support districts on technology to meet diverse student needs. Naugatuck, for example, has recognized how education technology benefits not just students with disabilities, but students who need supports of any kind, such as reading on grade level.
Naugatuck is one of several districts where SERC Consultants Smita Worah and Sean Kavanaugh have recently been providing support on assistive technology and accessible educational materials (AEM). They have helped schools discover how and when to use existing technology, from high-tech to no-cost low-tech, to help determine how much to invest. Districts have learned to look at what they have and fill in necessary gaps, Dr. Worah says.
These considerations require a number of players, from general education teachers to administrators in addition to special education teachers. Naugatuck has had all players in the same room, Dr. Worah has observed. SERC also facilitates conversations on documenting assistive technology in individualized education programs (IEPs).