What elements are at the heart of restorative practice? That was the question that guided our recent retreat at Leland & Gray Union, a middle and high school in Townshend, Vermont. Our day began with introductions, and hearing everyone’s answer to the all-important question, “what is your dream breakfast?” 

The team then played a game of “Where the West Wind Blows,” growing more comfortable with each other as we discovered shared likes and dislikes, and laughing together. These seemingly simple icebreaker activities serve an important purpose in restorative practices, as they help to build community. 

We then set the team up for a gallery walk, where the group examined the principles of restorative practices, and answered questions about where they do and do not see them carried out at their school. After the gallery walk, the youth and adults then shared what they see as strengths of their school community, including the genuine love and care expressed by many of the teachers, as well as opportunities for improvement, such as the fact that many sixth graders, the youngest members of the school community, don’t always feel included.

After an energetic couple of rounds of “Kangaroo” (a recently invented UP game!)  the team then divided into three small groups, practicing the elements of circle keeping, such as beginning with a relevant quote, establishing group agreements, and using a talking piece so that there would be an equitable opportunity for everyone to be heard.

At the close of the retreat, we asked if there were youth from the group who wanted to bring the activities to that afternoon’s staff meeting. Three students eagerly volunteered, and we went over the instructions for each of the activities so that they felt comfortable leading them with their teachers. 

The youth did an incredible job leading the faculty through the games and circle dialogues, with many of the staff commenting on how much they enjoyed getting to know the students and each other better through them. They were also impressed with the poise and comfort all of the youth demonstrated as circle keepers during their discussions.

Jessa Harger, Director of the Journey Away program at Leland & Gray, and one of the adult members of our team, remarked, Students that are generally more reserved, or who might have been bullied in the past, facilitated circle groups during our faculty meeting. Because they had experienced circle groups during our daylong retreat, and because the structure was clear and simple, they were confident facilitators. Having students at the faculty meeting was a reminder to teachers why we do this work in the first place.”

We are thrilled with how this first meeting went with these engaged youth and adults, and look forward to our next retreat in November, where we will delve further into the elements of restorative practice, and consider what actions the group might want to take this year.