Kelisa Wing is the Assistant Principal of West Point Elementary School in West Point, NY. She is the Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year (2017). Wing is an ASCD Emerging Leader, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, and a speaker and advocate for eliminating the School-to-Prison pipeline. Here are her answers on some questions about her initiatives:
What are some of the best examples of how to implement restorative justice?
In my opinion, the best way to implement restorative justice is to start with a team of individuals in your school. The team should include teachers, administrators, counselor, school psychologist, parents, and student representation. We have to start with the ‘why’ – why is this important? Why do we need to focus on restoration for our students? Because we can focus on the whole child in this manner. With so much attention on school violence and prevention, this approach would address the genesis of what our students need in order for them to be successful in our schools.
How does restorative justice handle issues that cause student behavior but are not serious enough to involve, say, social services?
In my old school, we assigned each student an adult advocate who checked in with them daily to ask questions like: Did you eat this morning? Is everything okay at home? Is there anyway I can help you today? Having an adult advocate helps to identify those behaviors but focuses on them in a positive manner as opposed to punitive. This program would teach students things like: resolving conflict, preparing for change, and getting organized, which are all things that cause stress in students’ lives and may cause disruptive behavior. Restorative justice focuses on the teaching aspect: What are we trying to teach students through discipline? These are questions that every school should ask prior to implementing any kind of discipline program.
Does restorative justice also include providing safe spaces at other times of the day [or suggesting them to school officials]? After school, many students don’t have very safe spaces to go to or hang out in, and that could help them, potentially [and has in some initiatives I’ve seen before].
I truly believe that the idea of safe spaces should be a part of the school community and also a part of restorative justice. Tutoring programs or homework help clubs should be a part of the daily instruction at least once a week for students. One of the things that I do with my students as an administrator is creating a behavior contract with them. As a part of the contract, I ask them who they feel safe with, who is an adult you can talk with when you feel upset or need to talk. Once they let me know who that is, we add that to their contract. We collaborate together to create it and a copy is given to them, myself, parents, and all people who work with the student. I find this to be a very good practice to ensure that the student can identify where they feel safe and who they can go to when they have difficulties during the school day. Whenever other issues arrive, I pull out the contract and we review it and adjust it if necessary, but this places their needs in their hands as well as mine. They become a part of the solution in this process as well.