An effort to connect with students using restorative practices has transformed classrooms throughout San Diego County Office of Education's Momentum Learning schools.
Restorative practices is a social science that integrates developments from various disciplines and fields to build healthier communities, decrease negative behavior, and encourage positive communication.
"Typically in the past a teacher might come in and start doing classroom instruction right away," said Cynthia Burton, family services supervisor and restorative practices trainer for Momentum Learning. "With restorative practices, teachers might do it differently by creating a classroom culture of learning during a restorative circle by asking students how their day is going and what they are looking forward to learning. They're constantly connecting with students before and during the instructional day."
So far, 235 Momentum Learning teachers and administrators have taken the 16-hour restorative practices training. And it's not just educators. There have also been 90 students, 65 parents, and 47 stakeholders who have taken the training, which encourages the community to connect and communicate.
"Before my restorative practices training I used to scream at my daughter, but now I use the restorative questions from the card with my daughter and my family to communicate better and calmly," said a North County parent who recently took the training. "As a result, my daughter and I have a better relationship."
This effort started in 2015 when Momentum Learning committed to pursue the idea of approaching discipline in a restorative way rather than a punitive one.
Burton went to the International Institute for Restorative Practices in Pennsylvania to become a certified trainer. Impact teacher Inez Martinez and parent family liaison Mary Alvarado have also joined the effort to offer restorative practices training to the Momentum Learning community.
"The work that Cynthia Burton and her team have done to introduce, implement, monitor, and support restorative practices throughout Momentum Learning has had a tremendously positive impact," said Marisol Rerucha, career education and technical education specialist for Momentum Learning. "You walk on any campus, and you will find students, staff members, parents, and community members who have experienced what it means to act and live restoratively."
Burton and Martinez said they expect the impact of the new approach to grow as the practices become more firmly engrained into the culture of Momentum Learning.
"You'd be surprised at the change of behavior that happens in the classroom," Martinez said. "It's just a completely different atmosphere where teachers and students can focus more on the learning because the classroom culture is more positive, accepting, and trusting."
One of the schools that has participated in restorative practices training is La Mesa Blended Community School, where teachers have a restorative practices circle every week to promote a positive culture.
"When it is implemented it fosters a positive, healthy community," said Aimee Trevino, a teacher at the school. "I don't think a school can move forward in academics if there is not a good foundation of culture in the classroom and positive community building among the staff and students together as a team."