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Service and Restorative Justice

Letter from the Middle & Upper School Director, Kaye Jacob maharishi school teacher restorative justice

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Greetings on this week that we commemorate the exemplary life of dedicated public service of Dr. Martin Luther King. I am pleased that one of our core values is Service, in conjunction with Respect, Responsibility, Solutions and, of course, Transcendence.

I had the privilege of chaperoning the Upper School winter formal Saturday night—and I was reminded once again about how amazing our students are: inclusive, friendly, fun-loving and so well-behaved! I do believe that nearly all of the upper school students attended, which is huge validation for their student council representatives who put hours into organizing and decorating for this event.  It is delightful to see how these students shine when they step into fancy gear!

Camaraderie and good will were equally apparent last week during our Founder’s Day festivities. Following an assembly celebrating the life of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, students were organized by “vertical pairs,” with an older student assigned to a younger one, for some creative collaboration—bridge building (literal and figurative) followed by a paper airplane contest.  Once again, the finest of our core values were on display, authentically and thoroughly, in this event.

This is a time (so the news tells us hourly) of unprecedented stress and anxiety for young people, who mirror what is projected by the adult community.   Sometimes anxiety is directed inward, in the form of depression—and sometimes it is literally “acted out” in the form of conflict with parents, teachers and classmates.

It is absolutely imperative that we remember the ultimate goal of all interventions to address or correct misbehavior or misdirected anxiety.

Always and forever, our efforts are intended to help children and adolescents learn and grow. We are committed to the process of Restorative Justice https://www.mindfulschools.org/inspiration/restorative-justice-in-schools-sel-in-action/, a practice that recognizes harm “as a fracturing of relationships, rather than something that demands punishment. A restorative justice process is a way to uncover true needs and heal relationships via meaningful accountability” (David Yusem, Mindful Schools, May 31, 2019).

When new teachers join our staff, we try to be sure they get a copy of Brand Weinstein’s book Hacking School Discipline, which provides practical examples of restorative practices in action. This is what he most recently posted on his Facebook wall:

“Discipline isn’t about making the kid feel bad…it is about helping build empathy and responsibility in the student so that they grow from it. Yes, I said GROW from it.”

Ironically, it is equally likely that good behavior can also come from a place of anxiety and depression, as students struggle to cope by ensuring that they never displease anyone, particularly the adults they love and respect the most.  It is good to keep in mind that these “GOOD BEHAVIORS” can also be signs of anxiety and depression:

 

restorative justice

 

Because we inadvertently reward “perfection” and achievement in this culture rather than genuine effort, we need to help students develop a “growth mindset,” as Carol Dweck has defined it, applied not only to academic achievement but to behavior and social-emotional learning:

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” ( Dweck, 2015).

This is especially relevant as we are approaching the end of the first semester—which means report cards and, for seniors especially, transcripts will be issued soon. Assignments are due for the first semester by tomorrow (Tuesday, January 18) since the new semester begins on Thursday this week. Teachers have been busy contacting students with reminders and updates—and of course special provisions are being made for students who missed school last week due to illness or quarantine.

Balance is warranted for all of us, as we recognize the strains under which students have been working this semester as well as the privileges of being able to attend school in person, with their real teachers (for the most part) throughout most of these past two years.  This is a great time to thank our amazing teachers for all they do on a daily basis to make sure that school is a safe haven, academically, socially and emotionally. 

Kaye Jacob

Academic Director / Head of Middle and Upper Schools

 

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Restorative Justice in Maharishi School

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice refers to a practice that empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own, in small groups that could be called ‘circle time’. Restorative justice is a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, air their grievances, and discuss how to amend or make it right.

How did we find restorative justice for our school?

kaye jacob administrator of maharishi school

Our head of Middle and Upper School, Kaye Jacobs, is responsible for bringing restorative justice to Maharishi School. Kaye says, ” When I started to read Positive Discipline I thought, wow this makes a lot of sense! You actually work on empowering the student, which flips the way you look at their misbehavior, to get to the root of the problem.” The only thing Ms. Jacob’s felt was missing is the model that gave more structure for older children. Positive Discipline works well for younger kids but we needed a more structured model for older students.

postive discipline by Jane Nelson

Kaye realized that we needed the most help with Middle School students as they are at a complex phase where the triggers for defiance/misbehavior are more solidified than they have ever been before.

How can Maharishi School help?

Kaye wanted to give her teachers a method that systematically helps them get out of the pattern of punishment. This is where restorative justice comes in by creating a space to get the kids talking and sharing about a problem within the students in circle time restorative justice outsideclassroom. In this ‘circle time’, the kids talk reflectively about the problem while the conversation is led by the teacher. Kaye says, “the idea is to have these circle times frequently so the kids are adept at reflecting and know how to get into the mode of problem solving. This way when a problem happens they already know what to do. I want parents to understand that this is a work in progress! Parents should use restorative justice practices at home and consistently in order for it to be the most effective. We want the students themselves to feel like this is working for them too, as if to say “if I do this, then it goes better for me as the student.”

Lower and Middle School teachers have been reading a book called Hacking School Discipline by Brad Weinstein. The book makes the case for establishing expectations rather than rules and for holding students intrinsically accountable to the group for their actions and behaviors.

hacking school disciplineExample of restorative justice from Hacking School Discipline:

Suddenly two Middle School girls get into a physical altercation during class. The teacher immediately separates them from the class and sends them to the principal’s office. Then the teacher calls “circle time” with the rest of the class. The teacher will ask the class, “how did that make you feel?” and then the students have an opportunity to speak about how their learning was disrupted, or that they were scared, or upset. The teacher is resetting the classroom culture.

The teacher will go to the girls who fought and talk to them separately, asking “are you ready to talk to each other again?” and bring them back into the classroom. Once the girls are ready, the teacher will create the rules for the restoration process. Some of the rules could include saying “if you get too hot or angry then you can step out of the room, but you have to come back  in when you’re ready.“ Eventually the teacher can talk about what led to the flare up not by saying “why did you do that” but “how were you feeling before you got into a place of fighting?”restorative justice

The last piece of this restorative justice sample is led by the teacher. She turns to the two girls and says “how do you think this fight has affected the rest of the class and myself, your teacher?” This puts the girls who fought into self reflection mode on a broader scale of including the whole environment in the classroom. Then the restoration happens, not just between the two girls but everyone involved. After this, the girls get welcome back into their classroom and that is the goal of restorative justice!

What is the future of restorative justice for our students?

We often understand that the kids who are acting out come from unsettled home environments. Perhaps the parents are separated or going through a divorce. These are what set the context for a child who is misbehaving. They’re not acting out of isolation, they are acting because something else in the broader context of their lives is troubling them. Misbehavior is a default way to deflect those troubles.

If a child feels dis-empowered in one place, then they will deflect that behavior into the school setting, or with friends. Restorative justice is trying to avoid this deflection by empowering students to reflect and make the right choices. Restorative justice practices in school create a pattern of teachers relating to students then getting them to take down their defenses so a conversation can happen. If the action/upset happened in a classroom setting, then the restoration needs to happen there, too.

We don’t have all the answers but we want to be consistent in school and hope that things at home will improve. It’s almost always the case that there’s something in the student’s life that feels out of their control – something they can’t understand. Some trauma that they can’t digest. At school we inevitably get to see their reactions to this and our desire is to help break the cycle. The student may not even be able to articulate how they feel but we believe restorative justice practices empower our students without playing into the victim mentality.restorative justice tree of knowledge

To learn more about our academics or to contact a member of our admissions staff, click here.

To learn more about school events and student life, follow us on Facebook and Instagram.