The Restorative Way at a Waldorf k-8
By: Frances Lewis, Faculty Administrator at Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork (2019)
In the fall of 2016 I found myself stepping into a second term of Faculty Administration and one of my first calls to duty was to carry on the faculty’s efforts to evolve our school’s behavior policy. For several years, the school had endeavored to explore and implement restorative justice and nonviolent communication practices, as these seemed to be inline with the spirit of our work. These explorations felt warm and good to our hearts, however, when it came time to work with accountability, documentation, and process we were falling short.
Our teachers felt our approach was out of alignment, parents struggled to understand or see efficacy in our efforts, and our students did not take it seriously.
This state of affairs set the stage for growing pains in the form of crisis.
In a few short months a series of festering issues related to this weakness came to a head and we were forced to take decisive action. It was time to auger in and commit resources time and energy into creating something new, progressive, truly educational, and structured with clear process and steps of accountability.
As is often the case in such moments, new friendships can become beacons of light in the shadows. We found such a friend in Dr. Will Bledsoe of Restorative Way.
Will had an impressive resume with an extensive and experienced background in Restorative work at the college and judicial level. He had built one of the nation’s first university restorative justice programs. He was the kind of consultant often out of our humble reach. However, he felt a connection to us, recognized our values and seemed to have an innate understanding for our approach to education.
Inspired by the work of each other, we formed a kind of synergy.
We began a yearlong earnest collaborative effort to create a policy and best practices centered on a mission, to serve our community with an approach to miss conduct and conflict that inspired the higher nature of anyone involved in the process.
Working with Will, we continue to accomplish our mission.
As Waldorf educators, we put value in seeking to understand the child through non-judgmental observation. We strive to take a Goethean approach to working with the phenomena of the developing child in an effort to glean insight into the “who” of their unfolding. It is not an easy path and is an art we value. In so doing we have come to appreciate behavior or miss-conduct as a mode of communication; a way of expressing an unmet need, an act of dis-regulation, a call for relationship connection.
We see behavior as separate from the intrinsic “who” of the child. We see that children are more than their behavior and it is our job to see through and beyond into their higher natures and do what we can to call this forth. Even though we valued this perspective, our former policy and practices was more reflective of outdated, punitive, shame based methods that did not foster the degree of reflective learning we wished for our students to experience. Will showed us how to transform this.
It was and is our goal to provide our students with a foundation in relationship building skills that upholds one of the central tenants in the founding of Waldorf Education; to inspire and nurture a sense of brotherhood among human beings. One of the fundamental and practical steps to achieving this goal is it to follow the steps of the Restorative Way process: recognize one’s behavior, own how it impacts others, and strive to make amends for one’s actions and to compassionately support others in the process. It also involves knowing when to draw a line and hold fast to accountability.
The restorative approach can take time and is not always a swift process. Thus we feel it is very important for our families to know we are a school committed to such practices. Like Waldorf education, the practice of working with miss behavior in this way is more like an inner tending akin to the slow growth of a study hardwood that can endure the test of time and grow through fire.