Khan brings Restorative Practice program to MD

Claire Goldberg, Staff Writer

Middle Division (MD) faculty members have started to adopt Restorative Practices (RP) 2.0, a program that aims to foster a healthy learning environment and build relationships between members of a community, Dean of Class of 2025 Michelle Amilicia said. The program began last June, and there will be two more faculty training sessions throughout the school year.

Head of MD Javaid Khan, who introduced the program to the school, said RP is much more than a disciplinary program. Khan first used RP at The Bank Street School for Children, where he was the Head of the Upper School (Grades 5-8). He was acutely aware of punitive practices that were occurring at public schools that disproportionately affected students of color, he said. 

“We know that the rate of suspension and expulsion in kindergarten for black and brown children is larger than any other population,” he said. “Why are you seeing a five or a six year old as a threat that has to be removed from a classroom? It’s almost like the school is giving up on a four or five year old.” Khan realized something was needed to build that kid up — and RP does just that, he said. After seeing its efficacy in practice, Khan decided to incorporate it into the MD when he became the head of the division. 

The program does not require abandoning the current way in which teachers interact with students, but rather growing in a new direction towards more healthy relationships, MD Dean of Faculty Eva Abbamonte said. “Restorative Practice is a way of reimagining how we interact with each other as a community,” she said. “It’s important for all members of our community, grown-ups and students alike, to be able to speak effectively and listen to each other deeply.”

To capture the essence of RP, Khan offered an example of a student demonstrating problematic behavior: first, the student is disrupting their class, so the teacher moves the student’s seat. The student continues to cause trouble, so the teacher then decides to call home. Finally, the student gets so frustrated that they “slug” the teacher in the head, and now the problem has escalated, he said. 

“If you think about the problem in terms of discipline, then you’re only thinking about what to do when the kid slugs the teacher in the head,” he said. “But the reality of RP is figuring out what to do to make sure that child does not slug the teacher in the first place.”

While the school most likely will not have problems with students “slugging a teacher in the head,” malicious behavior on a chat, exclusion at the lunch tables, and isolating friends from a friend group are more common, Khan said. If teachers begin to teach their students RP behavior in practice, then it will hopefully build the foundation of a community where students can address these issues amongst each other, identifying the harm and repairing it so that the conflict does not escalate to the point where teachers have to call home, he said.

On October 20, all MD teachers attended a RP training session over Zoom for an hour and a half. The session was taught by Dr. Ryan Fenderson, an instructor and Coach at International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), who specializes in “establishing positive culture and climate,” according to the IIRP website.

The training aimed to teach faculty members about how they can use RP in their classrooms, advisories, and when they interact with their colleagues, Abbamonte said. “It was a good opportunity to revisit some of the core principles of RP, like effective statements where you speak from the ‘I’ perspective,” she said. 

At the session, faculty members learned about different tools they can use to deal with conflict resolution, Spanish teacher Arni Álvarez said. For example, faculty members learned what vocabulary they should use to confront an issue with students or other colleagues in a productive and caring way, he said. 

A particular phrase that is key to conflict resolution is “for you,” Khan said. RP teaches that to enable people to articulate what they are experiencing, you need to know what questions to ask. Khan combined this takeaway from his Stanley King Institute training with his experience with RP in prompting teachers to ask, “What was that experience like for you?” which creates space for others to share their feelings and experiences.

At the session, Fenderson talked about the power of circles in creating healthy relationships between faculty and students, Amilicia said. Teachers learned about the “Circle Technique,” which is a method of engaging in restorative practices, she said. “When you sit in a circle, one is more vulnerable,” she said. Vulnerability is the key to breaking down walls between teachers and students, and repairing relationships, she said.

Many teachers are already using restorative practices but do not know it, Amilicia said. However, this program will only reinforce these practices and help teachers strengthen their skills, she said. Teachers will not be told to abandon methods that they are already practicing, but they will be prompted to incorporate new ones, Álvarez said.

The Upper Division has also expressed interest in incorporating RP, Khan said. “We’re in contact as a school about what this could look like on each grade level of each division,” he said. “So we’re going to try to incorporate [RP] so that everyone gets the same beautiful learning.”