Addressing Problems with Restorative Practices
Facilitator, Trainer, Consultant: Cordelia Anderson, MA
For 38 years, Cordelia Anderson has worked in a variety of ways to promote well-being and prevent harmful behavior. This work includes efforts to intervene in problematic behaviors and community traumas in ways that are attentive to those harmed, the communities recovery and interventions most likely to help those that perpetrate the harm change their behavior and become students or citizens who make positive contributions and healthy connections. Another aspect of Ms. Anderson’s work with organizations focuses on “self-care” - helping professionals deal with stress, burn-out, negativity, compassion fatigue and secondary trauma and looking at organizational health factors that contribute or detract from individual well-being. Ms. Anderson has an MA in Human Development and has conducted over 1,900 presentations nationwide, including:
- Nationwide presentations on Compassion Fatigue, Organizational Health and Restorative Practices.
- Staff development sessions with educators, human service professionals, attorneys, medical professionals, crisis workers, non-profits, state agencies.
- Restorative Interventions with school staffs (private, public k-12, alternative schools and Adult Basic Education), state & county offices, faith centers, crisis centers, victim services, treatment staffs, attorneys, non-profit agencies and private businesses.
Restorative Practices Basics
Evolving from the field of Restorative Justice, restorative practices are also a way to resolve conflicts or recover from a trauma or crisis in the workplace. Restorative practices take into account the perceptions and ideas of all involved. The focus is on the impact or the harm from behaviors or actions, and also on solutions or possibilities for moving forward in a positive direction.
My experience with staff development and interventions makes it very clear that serious tension and stress usually is not caused by the work itself, but by political/systemic and/or interpersonal issues. In the workplace there can be conflicts, tensions and harms done that make it difficult to have respectful, safe and professional working relationships and can also seriously damage a positive and efficient working environment. Unfortunately, problems are often left to simmer until litigation is threatened, lawyers are called in or valuable professionals leave.
Restorative interventions focus on relationships. Conflicts often arise because people do not feel valued, listened to, treated fairly or equitably, or they feel bullied or harassed. In the workplace people do not need to be friends or like one another, but we do need to recognize how we are all connected, the impact of our behavior on others, and the reality we can be part of any problems or be part of the solutions. While therapy may not always be appropriate for people in the workplace, enhancing communications, staff development, conflict resolution and problem solving certainly is.
One restorative method often used is something called “circle.” Circles are nothing new and indeed are based on customs and values true to indigenous people around the world. When problems occurred, or major decisions needed to be made, the leaders sat in circle to honor and involve everyone’s voice and recognized the impact on the entire community. We use a circle as a process to allow for fair, inclusive and respectful dialogue. We sit in circle to allow everyone to literally see and listen to each other. Circle also represents the reality we are all connected and behaviors/actions have a ripple effect on individuals and on the organization or community.
In The Art of Possibilities authors, and organizational consultants Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander advocate for restorative principals. They ask: “How do we help each staff, each student, be an active participant?” “How much greatness are we willing to grant people?” And they point out, “Leadership involves listening for the passion and commitment of each person.”
When there is conflict in the workplace the tendency is to minimize it or to hope it will just go away. Sometimes people try to ignore it totally, or try to fix it by getting rid of or punishing a particular individual. Any of those actions might work, but as the Zanders point out, “Punishment doesn’t put someone in the mood to give a great performance!” A key concept of restorative practices is for the leaders and decision makers to do “with”, not to do “for”, or “to.”
When business consultant Peter Block was recently in the Twin Cities he challenged participants to consider, “How do I bring myself into the Institution? What is the methodology of transformation? Of moving from a paternalistic structure to one that is fully human?” He also spoke of the Circle as a symbol of community, citizenship and the need to create healthier communities in the institutions. Block said that to do this we need to discuss the “undiscussables” in a respectful, pro-active way.
Possible Steps in Preparation for Circle:
1) Information and preparatory session with key organizational members and/or potential participants.
2) Identify key potential participants (Who is involved? Who has been affected?)
3) Potential participants agree to be involved in the circle.
4) In preparation participants consider:
a. What is their perception of the problem/issues?
b. How have they been affected (directly, indirectly)?
c. What is the organization doing well? What could the organization do better?
d. What do they bring to the table? How have they helped/hurt the process?
e. What are their ideas for positive actions/possibilities?
Examples of Clients Specifically for Restorative Justice Work:
o Minnesota Department of Education
o Minneapolis Public Schools
o St. Paul Public Schools