Restorative Justice and Milwaukee Schools
From 2008-2014, Paul Dedinsky partnered with the late David Lerman, as well as many dedicated educators and school social workers, to introduce and implement restorative justice practices within Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Paul worked hand in hand with other educators and students with the aim of solving problems before any violence breaks out. Their teams engaged youth to become active leaders in preventing crime, promoting restorative approaches to advance peace, and empowering students to make their schools better places.
Of the restorative experiences, Paul wrote:
“One very key element I learned over and over throughout my years of implementing restorative practices in Milwaukee: Students are our greatest champions for adopting restorative practices and developing deeper levels of Restorative Intelligence. Students yearn to make a difference and to advance the ideals of restoration and peace. They want their schools to be the best they can be. They desire to be restoratively intelligent.
When I first embarked on this journey alongside a team of dedicated professionals in Milwaukee, little did any of us expect to be blessed with literally thousands of interested and motivated educators and community members who attended our trainings and implemented restorative practices in classrooms throughout the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area. Nor did we anticipate that even greater numbers of students would receive restorative practices trainings and integrate restorative communication and strategies in their neighborhoods, churches, and families. Never did we expect to develop an entire restorative justice practices course designed for high school students.”
Restorative Teaching Practices
Restorative teaching practices aim to assist educators whose main desire is to embed restorative exercises and practical activities into lesson plans and integrate restorative approaches and strategies into the very essence of their daily curriculum. The programming targeted: (1) Community Building and Circle training; (2) Repairing Harm Circle training; and (3) Academic Curriculum training.
From conducting educational programs and restorative justice trainings for thousands of faculty, administrators, staff, and students, Paul Dedinsky gained a deep admiration for Milwaukee youth and their capacity to become transformational leaders.
Paul’s passion for restorative justice led him to pursue doctoral studies in the School of Education and Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University, here in Milwaukee.
The community is only as strong as the power of its relationships. The wisest educators recognize that the journey towards building a strong and healthy community begins with trust. Trust is the fundamental ingredient undergirding positive, pro-social relationships. Trust also undergirds the ability to effectively resolve conflict. Trust makes it possible to tackle more difficult issues – even emotionally charged problems – throughout a given school year.
Trust may be an invisible substance. But, undeniably, people know when trust is present and when it is not. People know when trust is strong and when it has been fractured or betrayed. In short, trust is the foundation of a healthy community, as well as the mortar between the bricks that form relationships between people.
What ultimately became the defining vision for this work in Milwaukee schools? Repairing Harm and Restoring Relationships defined the vision for instilling restorative practices in Milwaukee schools. But perhaps most significant was the shift to emphasize Community Building: To actively introduce Restorative Practices as a means to improve school climate and to strengthen a healthy sense of community in schools.
Restorative practitioners recognize the connections contained in the above model as well as their impact upon a healthy sense of community. The vision becomes the prism through which the community is viewed. Restorative practitioners presume that nearly all people carry with them some inner wounds, perhaps based upon a traumatic experience. The idea is that nearly everyone can benefit from some inner level of repair. Our relationships with others fluctuate, rarely remaining static. Non-existent is the classroom where complete peace and bliss reign 100% of the time. More often, there will always be a relationship that can benefit from some restoration attention.