“You’re a dean.” “You’re the tardy lady.” “You’re security.” “You’re a teacher.” “You’re a counselor.”
All the things the students think I am. Yes, they’re right. I’m present in the hallways during passing period. I sit at a desk at the end of the hallway where the deans sit. I write tardy passes. I have a walkie talkie. I pop into classrooms. I pull students out of class. I talk to students when they get sent out of class.
So, what do you do?
Up until late last semester, that’s how I saw my role. How the students defined my role would be how I defined it. I was struggling with my own role as the coordinator of restorative practices. A role that would consist of peace circles and restorative conversations, both new ideas that I would learn are an alternative to discipline. A role that is centered around dialogue, asking questions, relationship building, repairing harm and restoring relationships.
It was hard to define my role since I was still exploring it. Things have changed from the start of the school year so my role now looks different. It was a challenging and uncomfortable first semester for me. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t feel productive or impactful since I had a lot of time on my hands. I had the flexibility to shape this role into what I wanted out of it but I didn’t know what I wanted. I was open to anything and everything. It was a great opportunity to shadow the occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, paraprofessionals, psychologist and social worker to see which line of work I would be interested in long term. After seeing how their roles interacted with the students, it pushed me even more to want to define my own restorative practices role.
I was looking at it wrong. I shouldn’t have viewed restorative practices as its’ own role because it isn’t one role. It isn’t about utilizing restorative conversations and peace circles once or twice. It’s a mindset and way of being. You can be restorative through everyday conversations and relationships with your students, through the approach and delivery of your message, by listening to understand the student’s perspective, taking ownership of your actions, and acknowledging and mending any harm that has been done. Restorative practices are an approach that the school aims toward every day. Catalyst Maria is a K-12 school whose mission focuses on relationship building and looking at scholars holistically, which makes this placement unique. My role is not a role to act alone, but it is a designated role to support the ongoing approach of being restorative. It is assisting in those conversations in and outside of the classroom.
So, what do I do?
I’m present in the hallways during passing periods to check in on how students are doing that day. I look out for students who are frustrated, sad, angry, or who just need someone to care and ask how they’re doing.
I sit at a desk at the end of the hallway where the deans sit so I’m able to respond to any incidents that occur. If students are outside of class, they’re either roaming the halls, sent out by their teacher, need a minute to regroup or asking for a reset. Resetting is simply just that, a reset. I talk to students who are sent out and am there when someone needs to reset. Sometimes students just need a few minutes to focus on what’s going on in their life and not worry about school. We all come to school with our outside life and what we bring into the space is our experiences, often influencing how we interact with others. So when someone gets into a fight or gets sent out for being disrespectful to a teacher or another student, we try to understand the why behind it. In my experience, most of the time the why is influenced by things that happen outside of the classroom.
I pop into classrooms to see how I can support the teachers. I pay attention to how students’ behaviors may or may not change in each class period. I watch how teachers redirect students and how they also aim toward being restorative.
I pull students out of class for one-on-one check ins. I support students who have a higher number of behavior incidents, tardies/absences and low grades. I support with what some might call “their difficult student.” I support students who carry trauma. I support students with managing their anger and processing their emotions. I work with teenagers. The needs of teenagers are the same needs of adults. They need space to feel their emotions instead of pushing them off to the side. They need an outlet. They need someone to listen. They need validation of their experiences. They just need someone to show up for them.
I’m also a 10th grade college seminar teacher. I chaperone field trips. I visit my little elementary school friends downstairs. I float around and interact with students.
But I also make sure to take care of myself. Being fully present for others can be draining. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they are going through can be a lot. I fall back on those around me—my coworkers, my community members and my family/friends from back home. I am so grateful to live in a community where we understand each other’s needs. Sometimes I come home so drained after work and the idea of sitting at community dinner with five other people sounds even more draining. However, I have realized the value of their presence and the ability to not fully have to explain how my day was in order for them to understand. They value my space when I need to decompress and process. They’re there for me when I’m ready to debrief or talk about how things are going…and things are going pretty great.
Alexis Bustamante is a first-year volunteer serving at the Maria Kaupas Center (which partners with Catalyst Maria) in Chicago, Illinois, where she serves as a restorative practices coordinator. She is a 2019 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, with a degree in psychology.