Dwanna Nicole is a restorative justice practitioner and trainer with the Restorative Justice Partnership, where she works within school communities throughout the country to assist them with developing strategies to create more positive school climates for students, educators, and families. She provides training and implementation support in restorative justice to all stakeholders within school communities. In addition to training, she works alongside schools and school districts in the creation of individualized short- and long-term plans for restorative justice implementation and provides ongoing support in the form of resources, complimentary professional development, and onsite assistance.
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David (he/him) [00:00:00] Dwanna, welcome to this restorative justice life. Who are you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:00:07] I am a black woman and lead with those identities because they shape all the other things that I am. Who are you? I'm a mother to a. Almost. By the time this airs, she'll be a four year old little girl who is bright and bouncy and energetic and is also teaching me on a daily basis what patience and love looks like in real time, what forgiveness looks like in real time. And really, who is the reason that I am all the things that I am today?
David (he/him) [00:00:46] Who are you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:00:49] I am also a partner to an incredibly supportive man who gives me the space to let me dream my dreams. I'm a sister to my very best friend, a brother who has always had my back, and an auntie to a niece who really showed me how to mother. I think in a way that was loving and supportive. My daughter is the beneficiary of all the things I tried out for my niece. So also thankful to be in the presence of a little girl who knows who she is, who firmly knows who she is at the age of 12. Who are you? I am an introvert, which surprises some people. But so every time I talk to people, every time I sit in a circle, it is a push because it does not come naturally for me. And though I have gotten many benefits from being in spaces and from being with people, I also am recognizing that I still need that time to recharge so I can be at my best.
David (he/him) [00:02:01] Who are you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:02:04] I am an amateur cook. I love to cook, especially when I don't have to cook, which so I don't have those opportunities as much anymore. But one of the happiest places that I'm in are in the grocery store and in my kitchen.
David (he/him) [00:02:23] Who are you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:02:25] I am. And I'm an and I'm an educator, but I'm also a lifelong learner. Learner. Understanding that I. There's so much that I don't know and always wanting to sit at the feet of folks who are wiser and know more so they can pour into me. And then also trying to create spaces where I can pour into others as well.
David (he/him) [00:02:53] Finally, for now, who are you again?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:02:58] For the purposes of this conversation, I am the executive director of the Restorative Justice Partnership, and we work with schools and all the communities that surround and make up a school to implement whole school restorative justice while we do professional learning and training. I think our sweet spot is what comes after the training, where people really struggle to put what they learned to the practice.
David (he/him) [00:03:25] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We're going to get to all those intersections of who you are. Diving deep right after this. Oh, my goodness Dwanna this conversation has been a long time coming, like almost since like the beginning, probably the episode I did the show, which is the first episode of this podcast, she's like, Oh, you should get to want to like. And here we are, 100 some odd episodes later. We made it happen. You're a busy person. I'm so glad that you were able to make the time to the extent that you want to answer the question right now, how are you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:03:59] I'm okay. I had a lot of changes in my personal life over the summer, and so this has been a very busy fall, I think, just kind of falling into a routine. I started pre-K, big girl school, and so like, what does that look like? And this school year, I work with schools a lot. So this school year, up until now has also been particularly busy. I feel like these last few months have been like six months, but everyone's fine and so I feel like there's not really much I can complain about. So I'm good. I'm good. And, like, waiting for a break. Waiting for December. Really? Yeah.
David (he/him) [00:04:46] A lot of resonance with, like, you know, changes in personal life as, like, new period here on the side, like and like you just going through the push of, like, the beginning of the school year, supporting doing stuff and then like now falling into a little bit of a routine. But like I'm winning, the parenting doesn't stop. There's always a new thing, whether it is, you know, you're mobile now and like you're trying to grab all of the phone chargers and eat a few, you know, oh, you can now like pull up and almost escape your crib. Let's like they're just always constantly the things that you're you're navigating in new parent life in addition to balancing this work that like we hold so dear and you know, we call the work restorative justice. But I imagine you've been doing the work longer than you've known those words. So in your own from your own perspective, how did this journey get started for you?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:05:45] Yeah, so I. I didn't have, like, the easiest time in school myself. I had like some difficulties at home through periods of my life. And I was a good student, but also probably not a student who a lot of people pay like a whole lot of attention to. But I was very fortunate in high school in particular to have a number of people who really poured into me, who pushed me to use my voice and who were forgiving when things weren't going well. Who made space for me to grow. Who showed me love and care and concern. And so when I started working in education and the system of education, one of the things that I was surprised about was how often the right thing, like we know what the right thing is, how hard it is to do the right thing. I mean, all the things that God got in the way of doing what I believed were very simple, easy decisions. And so, you know, I've worked both in and out of systems, but always found my way back to education no matter what I was working on. And so at a certain point, I just accepted that this is what I'm doing. And I really found restorative justice through my work at Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, when I was tasked with really having conversations with stakeholders who typically, you know, were not on the side of young people and families around the school to prison pipeline. And so informing people what that was, letting them know the harms of exclusionary discipline and really working with them to kind of undo decades of policies and practices that had had this detrimental effect on the lives of black and brown young people and their families.
David (he/him) [00:07:46] Yeah, the when you were working at the Advancement Project was the time that, you know, our paths intersected where you were doing a lot of work, you know, specifically equipping, helping to equip teachers, educators with these skills. But I want to like go rewind a little bit. You know, you said that, like your experience going through school wasn't like, oh, I quote unquote troubled kid getting in trouble, being pushed out, etc.. But, you know, you saw those things around you. And, you know, we think about like, what is the quote unquote right thing to do? Being something that like. If we think about it, if we if like folks stopped and thought about it like, oh, this is just like the comments and say I'm going to bring in the name of or a his T-shirt. I have the T-shirt from her memorial I'm wearing. She often talked about, you know, restorative justice is like what you would want for your children. Sometimes in my I would call it like spare time, but like I was like motivation, research. I like go into teacher Facebook groups and like see like what people are saying when they're presenting problems and asking like the collective, like, oh, what is the thing to do? And, you know, they I'm remembering a post recently about, you know, a disruptive student who is like constantly engaging in behavior that is disruptive to the class. Nothing like egregious as in like violence or things like that. But just like getting out, talking to people and like after repeated, repeated times, like she was really fed up and in the comments, right? There are all these people who are saying like, yeah, your Adnan's not supportive, I feel you, I'm so sorry that kid needs x, y, z thing. And then there's this one comment that was like, you know, like have you like had a conversation with that kid about, you know, what's going on outside their personal life? And it was like and then like the original posters, it's like, you know, I have it. And I was like, why don't we start there, right? And like the reasons that like the quote unquote right thing or the thing that would like benefit their relationship. Like it is so hard to do those things. And you know, as we were talking about this conversation right before we started recording, you know, we talked about we have all of these, you know, quote unquote trainings that are really just like reminding us of how to be in and right relationship with each other, taking the time to build, strengthen and repair relationships when it occurred. And so this is a long way of asking the question. When you were when you were a student, what were the things that you were seeing that were like, oh, why did that happen this way? Why that happened this way? And like, how did what were the barriers that you identified to making those changes?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:10:39] Yeah, so I'd say the, the people who I felt closest to in terms of my educators when I was in school were the ones who actually did those things right. We noticed that you're off today. Like, what's what's going on? What's happening? Is there something happening at home? Is there something that you want to talk about? I remember when I was in 10th grade, I was in like I was taking this class that typically only juniors took. And the first day of the class, the teacher says to two of us to 10th graders in the class, she says, I don't know why they keep letting sophomores in this class. They never do. Well, just like, you know, you don't even know me. You don't know me. And I remember just feeling just not welcomed in her space. Like she did not want me there. She wouldn't call on me in class. Even when she was going down the row and calling on everyone, she would skip me. And I remember going to my homeroom teacher from my ninth grade year, happened to also be head of her department and going to her and saying like, I do not know what to do. I'm doing well in this class. I'm doing everything she's asking of me. I have no idea what I have done to this woman to make her feel this way. And this is a young person, like feeling the weight of what did I do wrong? Right. And not even thinking that. Is there something more that she could have done? And I just remember my my that teacher saying to me, like, we're going to have a conversation with her together. I'm going to go with you to talk to her. We're going to get this settled. This is not acceptable. And so it was really I'm seeing educators kind of step up and have my back when I needed something. And I think they only knew that because they had created the space for me to be able to go to them and talk to them. I remember having another experience in my senior year of high school when I was going through so much at home and I actually was not going to school, so I was habitually truant in danger of being expelled actually from my school. And the principal was having a meeting and the principal stopping the meeting and looking at me and saying, Don't you know everyone around this table loves you. Right. And. I didn't I don't know if I felt that there were certainly people around that table who I didn't, I think loved me. But in that moment, I knew that my school loved me and cared for me. And so I think it's the I was the beneficiary of grace being shown to children. And so I knew what that looked like. And I think when I was in systems, the thing I couldn't figure out was why weren't we extending that grace to all children? School is a time for young people to learn and make mistakes and grow and child like behavior. Behavior that is normal in young people. Talking and socializing in school is normal for young people. Those things being criminalized instead of really trying to figure out what was wrong, what was going on, what was behind, what was happening, and really adults getting out of the way and not thinking everything was about them. Right. Because young people have very full lives, like outside of the classroom.
David (he/him) [00:14:04] When we talk about like, do you know that your teachers or everyone in this room loves you? Like, I know that not all students feel that right? In classrooms, not all teachers feel that way about their students. And their. And I'm going to venture to say that that's like the minority of teachers. Right. But there are a lot of teachers who, like, feel like we deeply care about their students but aren't making the time to show that love, show that care for any number of reasons. Right. Like I've had conversations I've witnessed conversations with with teachers saying like, well, don't they know that, like I've got their best interests? Like, no. Like like what? Qualify. Like, what have you modeled that shows them that, like, you care about them as a person and not just, like an assignment do or a test taker, you know, a subject to be managed. And like, while you're trying to create a, quote unquote, safe space for learning, right. How much of like what you're actually doing is just about order and quiet in in that classroom setting? And so, of course, like you as a human, if you like, stopped and like we're confronted with like a situation with a young person who was going through something you would you would have the ability to step into empathy. Right? Just as like you would want to do for your own child, the child that like you had a closer relationship cared about. And I'm not saying that every teacher has to be like treating their kids like they were treating their students as if they were their own kids in like a deep and intimate way. But just making the time to exhibit that care is so important from things as simple as like check in practices, not even necessarily circle, but, you know, knowing students names, calling on students. I'm remembering this math teacher I worked with my very first time coaching, quote unquote, coaching restorative practices in a school. And he had this like really acute awareness that as a math teacher. Right. A lot of students really didn't want to be in that space. And he made it his goal to have, you know, like two positive interactions versus to at least at least two positive interactions versus like corrections with each of the students, right? Not just like behavioral correction, but like correction, like with instruction. Right. Like how are we like pouring more into these relationships? So like when it comes time for a correction, like it's not just like, oh, Mr. So-and-so is just always on me. Right? It's it's like, oh, this person has exhibited care for me over the course of. The school year, quarter semester or whatever have you like. Oh, I'm going to listen to them. Right. It's in a lot of ways like. The adage of people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. But like, what did you like as a child, as a as a student? Like, what did you see as barriers to that connection? And I know that there are many other barriers you've seen as an adult, but like did you have an analysis of that as a young person?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:17:24] You know, I don't I don't know if it was. So again, you know, I think I did fine in school. Right. And so it really wasn't until I think teachers really started to take an active interest in me. I will say from the first grade, I had an amazing first grade teacher who I really believed set the course of my education. She saw something in me and like, I'm not knowing this at six, right? But she saw something in me, saw potential and pushed me that in a way that led to like every other experience that I had in school. And so I think from a very early age, I was shown like what could happen when like someone in the school building actually believes in you? And then, you know, for the rest of elementary school, you know, I think I was able to carry, like, what she did with me. Middle school is a blur. And then when I went to high school, I was I was especially in the school that I graduated from, which was a smaller school. So that's the other thing. I think we were able to connect with our teachers in a way that is not afforded always and like, you know, incredibly large classroom sizes. We had a very we had kind of like a college schedule. So we didn't take the same class every day in our class or our classes were longer. And so you actually spent more time with teachers and the teachers at the school. You know, I also hear a lot of teachers, you know, like I know I know these children. I know them. I care about them. And I it's very different to, you know, someone's favorite ice cream flavor. Or like I noticed that your shoes are new today. It is something else. When. Like I'm able to go to a teacher and say, you know, kind of like these are the things that are happening in my life, like outside of school or you're going through a breakup and like a teacher, positive aside, and says, you know, this is not you. Like, let me tell you about this boy that you were dating and all the issues. Like who? Who? I feel genuinely, I believe, loved you and. And I actually don't. I think that sometimes there's this assumption that every because you go into education and you care about young people, you know how to build relationships with young people. And I just don't think that that's true. I don't think that everyone naturally knows how to build relationships. Relationships are something that we all have to work at, and the work is time consuming. And but you have to believe in that part of it before you can get to the academics. Right. And I think there's so many things that have happened just the course of education where people I think educators feel like they don't have the time to do those things. But in my experiences, the best experiences that I had in school were with the teachers who made the time, and those were classes where we weren't behind. It's not like we didn't learn. It's not like we weren't like achieving academically, whatever that means. We were smart, bright children who also had teachers who loved and cared about us in a very deep way to really know all the things that were going on with us as full human beings. I think that that's the thing. We were seen as I was seen as a full human being and not just a name or a seat in a classroom.
David (he/him) [00:21:05] So when you graduate, you start working. Doing work like that is justice, equity focused, ending up in education. You find the words restorative justice. What did it mean to you when you heard them the first time, and how has your understanding of the work of restorative justice, the life way of restorative justice evolved?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:21:31] Yeah. So unfortunately, when I heard about restorative justice, it was the alternative to suspension. Expulsion. Yeah. And that's such a gross, like, inadequate definition of what it is. But this was a period of time when we started to see more attention paid to the school to prison pipeline. We started to see the unions at the national level at least really push back against zero tolerance policies, acknowledge that decades of decades of these policies were not having the effect that we wanted. They wanted them to. And so the thing was, well, what do you do instead of suspend? And so restorative justice was the thing you did instead of suspend. And I say that, you know, looking back now like that's an inadequate definition is because like that's just not the fullness of what the work is like, really rooted in the idea that first we have to be in community with one another. And as a young person told me, you can't restore something that never existed. And so essentially we telling educators to, you know, circles or whatever whenever there's an issue, but we hadn't really talked about like all the work that needed to be done for young people to actually feel safe and supported in the classroom in general. And if they didn't really feel that connection with their classroom teacher or with other adults in the building, then why would they like participate in this process? And how, in some cases like circles, were also being used in a very punitive way? And then so they were seen as another form of punishment. Oh, okay, I'm not suspended. So I got to sit through this thing. Right. And what I've realized, like, over the course of time is that. What we're really talking about is just being in relationship with one another. And then, you know, as you say, like a lot of this stuff is very much like a common sense thing. I was in Hawaii recently and speaking to someone there where they also have, you know, very similar like indigenous practices like circles. And one of the things that she said to me was, you know, we go through all this professional development and training and what it seems like it's taking us away from what we naturally know in our bodies and that like we are supposed to be with one another, like we are supposed to be in community with one another. And I think that's absolutely right. Like all of the things that educators go through around rigor and academics and all that stuff is actually taking away from the very natural process that we're actually now trying to get people to get back to in schools. And so that's kind of where we start now. And it's actually not about the kids because the young people are fine. The young people are responding to the environment that they're in, which is set by the adults. And so the work is actually adult work. We're trying to model what we want for our young people, and if we are not in a relationship with one another as adults, then what are then we can't then go into a classroom and say to children, to students, you need to work on your relationships when we are not even in proper relationship with one another. And so, you know, I've evolved away from that, um, just restorative justice as response to harm and even restorative justice about children and really focus on like what staff need to do to build relationships with one another.
David (he/him) [00:24:57] I too am in a similar place. And you know, the thing that I am currently wrestling with is.
Dwanna (she/her) [00:25:03] I.
David (he/him) [00:25:05] Am long term optimistic about the changes that can be made, but as public school, as public education is currently constructed. Can restorative justice be at the center as a value of the way that a school operates? I'm going to make the statement that it can't. Right. As as restorative justice is currently constructed. So if it can't, then what is the thing that we're actually asking educators to do? And like you can push back on like that it can't part. But if you are asking educators to be a certain way in a system that is not built for them to be a certain way, what is it that we're actually asking them to do?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:25:50] Or asking them to push up against the system? And so I think that so I agree with you. I share the same feelings about systems. And so while I sometimes work with systems, I actually concentrate on a community because I do not I do not trust the systems to do the things, to do the right thing, right to do the thing that is necessary for restorative justice to actually take hold system wide. I also believe that at an individual school level, administrators have a lot of power and that sometimes the system isn't always paying attention to what you're doing. And so if you have a building leader that believes in the work I have seen building leaders and sometimes it's we're taking things away from teachers, like we're not going to allow them to do the thing. We're going to cause them to be reflective with their actions. We're going to ask you a number of questions. We're going to push them in ways that they haven't been pushed before. We're going to have them actually explore who they are in their own education and how that is showing up. Like when they teach their children, I think, especially when, you know, you have, you know, our public school population of young people as majority students of color in our teaching population is like 83% white. Right. So what are the assumptions that you have? Right, as how how you grew up your education and like are you putting those assumptions on like other people are like. And so people needing to explore that. But the justice part of restorative justice to me is also thinking about what do we need to actually transform this space? And what I say to educators all the time is that the work is not about how to fit restorative justice in this broken this or I'm sorry, this is not broken. Right. Of doing what it was designed to do into this. I won't curse messed up systems, but really, how do we actually transform the system? The system needs to change and. We can't wait on the system to change. The system isn't going to save us. So in our own individual community, what do we need to push up against? What are the practices that we need to let go? What are the policies that we no longer need to hold if there is a system policy that is influencing what we're doing? What are the conversations that we're having with central office or whomever around? Like how this is now working? And I think again, holding that. Central office systems don't necessarily pay attention to everything that a school is doing on a day to day basis. And so you need leaders who are brave and bold and who are willing to make those changes. And I think at the individual school level, if you have that, then you can institutionalize a lot of things and leaders change, which I think is why it's really important the involvement of the surrounding community, families and young people and this work that it actually can't be owned by the people who teach in the building, but it really has to be something that the community drives.
David (he/him) [00:29:00] So you just said like a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing about like school leadership and like halogens. And then you drop that and like every 3 to 5 years, right? Leadership turns over, right? So like where I get stuck in, like where I. I'll say lose hope. I don't think that's fully accurate. Where I am critical and wary is I. All right. So like we're going to put in a bunch of work with a school leadership team that has bought into this. And for the next, you know, 2 to 3 years, things are going to incrementally shift at that schools because, you know, in my experience, right, this is not an overnight change process. Right. There is not a school that I've experienced that is saying, like, we're going to stop everything for like three or four weeks to just work with our staff on revamping everything in all of our approaches. And we're going to continue to dedicate TIME weekly, daily to like making sure that we are in alignment with the values of restorative justice. I haven't seen a school that done that. And so if anybody is listening, has a school that has made a drastic change like that and stuck to it in like a month's time holler because I want to interview them here on this podcast. Schools have lots of different competing priorities, right? And when schools have a bunch of competing priorities, the change happens slower. That's just true. Like when I'm talking to school, as I'm sure when you're talking to school leaders, you're talking about like, all right, so what is the time that you're dedicating? Like, we talk about financial resources and that's important, but I think so what's so much more important is what is the time that you're going to dedicate to allow people to continue to one learn but not just like learn the information, but like to practice, mess up and like continue to grow in community and like be supported in that growth. You have to take time away from other things because you know, they're only certain to number hours in the day. And when that time isn't as abundant as we would like, it's just going to take longer. So there's this 2 to 3 year, like 1 to 3 year change process that, you know, a school goes to implement some practices and then school leadership changes. And new school leadership may or may not be like a fully aligned budget above an individual school might change. It's like that's why like with schools as currently constructed, I am like very skeptical, wary of like the way that this is implemented. Well, you brought in this layer of like, okay, parents and community actually caregivers and other stakeholders like owning this work and like demanding that this be a part of how things are done at the school. Is this is the culture of the school. Where have you seen that work? Well.
Dwanna (she/her) [00:32:03] Yeah. So I will say that I have been there have been additional resources. I have been lucky over like the last like handful of years, five years or so, to have to had the opportunity to kind of work alongside an administrator who fundamentally believed in the work and believe that this work needed to drive all other work. And so that was dedicating entire staff meetings for learning. If that was taking away the ability for staff to write office referrals like who but and who. I think also knew that it was a process that we weren't going to get everyone, we weren't ever going to get everyone and that we would identify like the people as we were growing and building and learning who were ready to kind of move with us. And as a leader who also believe that, you know, she also didn't know everything. Right. And so was also in a space of like constant learning. And so, I mean, the approach that we often take is like the principle has to be has to want to do it, that it can't be a mandate. It can't be like we want RJ everywhere in every school, like the principal. It has to actually ask for it and say, like, I want to do it. And then we got to explore like the reasons why. Like what is the vision that we're, we're working on? Because sometimes people say they want to do things and they really don't want to do them. But like, if you want to do this work, it's hard. This is what it means. It's like completely another job and running a school. And I think that your question around like involving families, the community, young people, this is a thing that schools struggle with. You know, in my experience, even when we've been intentional about knowing your community, involving your community, this work can't be done without the community. And we you know, we train young people, we train families and keep in circle keeping. We've had them as part of professional learning, the school itself or the individuals in the school. They still struggle with maintaining those relationships. And it's just not a thing the schools do well. They do not do family engagement well. And and so that is hard, right? Because the work itself is hard and it's like but this is part of the work. Like, you can't say I'm implementing restorative justice and never talk to family. If you can't say I'm implementing restorative justice and just working with the staff and never allowing families to kind of come in, you can't say I'm implementing restorative justice and not doing more to make your space inviting. If families are going to families because they don't want to come into the school building because of past harms. And I think that that is the work for me like this year that I'm really trying to lean into. Like let's I mean, we had to focus on staff because staff has always growing and ever changing, but we also have to be intentional about the work that we do with families, and that could be our goal for the year. And if I'm not like if I'm not doing my job or like checking in on like a regular basis with where things are, I know it is the first thing that will drop because it's always been it will always be the first thing dropped.
David (he/him) [00:35:29] And like as executive director of like restorative justice partnership, right? Like the work. Quote unquote, ownership of restorative justice work at X, Y, Z school can't and shouldn't begin and end with you. Right. Right. And so when. And that's where I'm like. Yeah, this this isn't going to work. And so, like, I like on my on my less optimistic days, on my less hopeful days, I'm like. Harm reduction, harm reduction, harm reduction. Like, we're equipping adults in the building to be in relationship in a different way with each other and with students. And that has a positive effect. But when it comes to, like, changing the system. Right. Like I haven't seen a sustained. Effort at a at a public school? I'll say a public school, because I can think of like very small independent schools who like are dedicated to this. Folks can check out the episode I did with Stephanie Sarandos talking a little bit about what that structure at their Sudbury model school looks like. But. I get to this point of harm reduction and yet, yes, that's helpful. And like in the big scheme of things, what is it that we're actually doing? I'm curious. You know, before you were executive director of Restorative Justice Partnerships, you did work with the Advancement Project, right? And we're working nationally. What were some of the things that you saw work? Well, I mean, I think like. I'd rather highlight the things that went well versus like the things that went wrong for a lot of people because like we can imagine lots of the things that like didn't like go as well. So. Right. If there are any things that are particularly egregious or you think that would be helpful for people to hear, like you can have those, but like what went well, what worked? What was a common pattern among schools or school leaders that really helped this work like take root? You know, some extent.
Dwanna (she/her) [00:37:37] Yeah. So I think it was at advanced our project where I think we tested things right. Yeah, we collected, we had me and some of the trainers who I was working with like had ideas around, like what school could be like, what could be possible. We weren't necessarily seeing it everywhere. So bits and pieces. And so, you know, I think, you know, having like an administrator who really believed like, you know, we're never going to send we're not going to send children home and really holding that belief. Right. And I you know, I know that there's and that's, of course, tying restorative justice to discipline. However, I think it is important it is an important belief to say we are not going to send young people home, because that what that also means is that you have to figure it out. I saw staff ask that question What happens when you try ten things and the student still isn't behaving? I'm using air quotes. You can't see me because I do not believe in that. But and the response was, Oh, it just means we haven't figured it out yet and we have to keep trying. Right. And so I saw a staff that was invested in the child. I saw staff that was committed. You spoke at the beginning around, like, what can we do to just make people feel welcome? And, you know, this is not a good thing. But like, there is some schools where I've been in when the principal just said something like Stand outside your door and greet our young people. It's met with loads and I rolls like it's a hardship to say good morning to like a student. And I was in schools where the staff were like, I'm going to learn every student's name in this entire school. Right? And so I was fortunate to there were a lot of hard conversations, right? There were a lot of. Days where, you know, I'm in tears, crying because of things that I've heard. But I was also really fortunate to learn from people who were trying things, who were going into the community, meeting people who were saying, you know, we held our PTA meetings or not PTA, but like parent teacher conferences at midnight because we know in our community people work second shift and we can never we will never get families in at six. We will never get it. And so we're going we know our community. So we're going to adapt to our community principals. We're like, we're going to go into the neighborhood and hold parent teacher conferences there because it's easier to just park ourselves in an apartment complex and have families come to us instead of asking them to come to a school. And so I was I was I took little pieces that, like, I would hear, like, innovative things again. It wasn't my own experience when I was at school and didn't seem to be the experience that, like most schools were doing and just kept stock of those and they really informed kind of the work that I do now, because then it became, okay, so if we have all these ideas around what people have done, what if we just start there, start from a place where we need the leadership on board and then what that means? You know, we're going to make you talk about race and racism. We're going to have those conversations when you say and do something that is not kind to a child or to your colleague. I'm going to do more than just like think, oh, my gosh, I can't believe they're talking to that person like that. But I'm actually going to interrupt harm when I see it happen and I'm going to do it on an individual level. And then I'm going to use that as an example of how we have to talk to the rest of the staff around this thing that happen. And so but that's a true commitment. And I think that that that's why I think finding the leaders who you really do have to you can't I don't want to say you can't care, but you can't be focused on the things that the system tells you that are the most important things, because the system, while they will communicate their relationships are important. There is nothing about the system that actually shows that. And so you really have to be the type of leader who is saying, I'm just going to do what I think is in the best interest of children. And what someone rightly pointed out to me the other day is that you also have to explore what is the best interest of children, because there are people who believe they're doing the best thing for children that are harming children. And so. You. I know you said earlier, like we don't we're not necessarily asking educators to love. Children as they live their own child. But I think that's what I'm asking. I want to send my child to school. And I want her to. Feel the same love she feels at home. And I think that that's what that. A little deeper level. What that means is that the values that we have at home in terms of being inquisitive and curious and learning and asking questions which are very much punished sometimes in school, especially when it comes to little black girls. I want that teacher to look at my daughter and. Love her as if she were. They were teaching their own daughter. And I know teachers who are like, I love all the children. Like I love my own because I'm sending my child into someone else's classroom. And I want it. I want them to be cared for in the same way. And, you know, that doesn't mean you have to give hugs or whatever. But like the way I see my daughter in all that, she is right. I think that, you know, parents, families are not. They see their children fully. Right. So I know I'm going to get calls about my derby cherry and I know I'm going to get calls about my daughter asking questions. But when I get those calls, I want them to come from a place of love and understanding. And my daughter, before she was in school, she was in daycare all day daycare. And I remember our first message I was talking to. Her point was, I know how we got our first message. Something's happened. And they're like, you know, Bailey didn't sleep. She didn't take a nap today. And when we asked her, why wasn't she sleeping, she says, Well, because I'm a big girl and I don't need naps. And they were like, We thought that was so funny. And we're just calling to let you know that she might be tired later. So it wasn't all your child is being defiant or who does she think she can grow? Right. It was just that she's funny. And we're just telling you because she may be sleepy later. And that's the type of. Right. You know, my daughter, that is how she is. And that is the type of experience that I want every parent, every family members to have with their child. My partner, it says a lot that, you know, families are sending schools the absolute best that they have. Like my child is the best of me. And what are we doing with that? Best, the best that they've got. Like, how are we treating that? Right. And I think that that is a that is such an important question to hold on to, like, you know, are we stripping the dignity of little children? Are we making schools like not fun or not a place that little children want to be because we're not loving them like fully as they should be loved. Yeah.
David (he/him) [00:45:22] And I want to differentiate. I don't expect somebody to care for my kid the way that I care for them. But like this collective care for children and the collective love for children and like acknowledgment of interconnection. What is good for me when I do harm to you, I'm harming myself. When I am loving and supporting you, I'm loving and supporting myself is like that ethic of care that, you know, we want all adults, not just teachers, to have in the world. You know, we often reference like, you know, the quote unquote, seven core assumptions of restorative justice that care. Carol Boyce What I think parents developed in Circle Forward in the Heart of Hope, I believe, and they talk about, you know, everyone has a need to be in a good relationship. Right. It doesn't say like everyone needs to be in like great relationship with everyone at all times. And there are different people who have different capacity to connect with different people based off of lots of things. Personality primarily. Right. But like this collective kids ethic of care for the young people who are coming into your space is really important. What that can't look like. Right. You mentioned like. The principle is like, okay, you have to stand outside your room and greet everyone. Like, it can't be limited to, like, just the behavior, right? Because, like, someone standing outside and greeting children doesn't mean that they have that ethic of care. Right. Someone sitting down in a circle, passing a talking piece doesn't mean that that person has the the heart, the life way of, like, holding space for people. Just because someone has restorative questions of what happened, who was impacted, and how and how do we make things right or as right as possible instead of what rule is broken, who did it and what punishment do they deserve? Like, just because someone has, like, those behaviors doesn't mean that they're being this way. And I'm. I wrestle with this often and I'm curious how you're thinking about it, right? We're asking people not just to change their behavior, but like change in a lot of ways, like who they are. Like fundamentally their orientation towards the world. I don't and I don't know that like that is something that we can expect. In systems that are currently constructed. We're like, you know, shout out to teachers, right? Where people are like doing way more work than they probably signed up for, for way less money than they thought they were going to be compensated. And, you know, we talk about, you know, students being people who are. Marginalized and oppressed, like teaching as a profession. Education as a profession is often on those margins as well. Right. You talked about, you know, how you got the phone call home. Like, you know, Bailey did this funny thing today. Like, that's that's beautiful. Like, it's not that she's in trouble. Like, how much our school leaders, school administrators pouring into their staff that same way. Not just like, oh, I didn't see you outside of your classroom waving to kids. Get Oh, I didn't get your grade reported like oh, I didn't see these lesson plans like, like what are the way that like school leaders are actively pouring and building relational equity so teachers are then more incentivized. And so like you can give people like the, the, the information, you can give people the skills and like if the situation, the conditions, the school building is not conducive to you like this thing, like how are we expecting people to actually make these changes in conditions that are not like and like that seems super pessimistic. But like, I'm asking you like at this point of curiosity because to me, like, again, at the end of the day, on my worst days, it's like harm reduction. On my more hopeful days, it's like, Oh no, we can change. Like, how do you like wrestle with all of that? Because I know that these are thoughts that you've had.
Dwanna (she/her) [00:49:23] Yeah. I mean, I think that there's a constant wrestling of am I making a difference? I think am I part of the problem by working with systems? Am I actually part of the problem? And so that's so, you know, I think the approach of starting with staff, right? And so before we asked, so we get this question of like, well, there's no time to do anything else. Hmm. I agree. And I think, you know, our answer is like, we're not asking you to do anything. We are asking you to be possibly something else. We are asking you to be more reflective about your own thoughts and feelings. It is not my belief that everyone should be keeping a circle, right? It's not that everyone should be trained and circle keeping. I think everyone if a if a building leader, if this is work that they want to do, then I do think it's a responsibility for everyone to know what it is, to give everyone the opportunity to learn about it. But whether or not people want to absorb that information is also like their right. But I think when the focus is on staff first, and I think in a lot of schools it is about the children because the children are easier. As hard as you know, sometimes it can be their children are easier than the adults. Right. Because now what you are asking is for someone who's had a sometimes a very full life to like reflect on their own practices, their their path, their present. And have I been in situations where I have caused more harm than I've created? And I think, like, so our my approach our approach is really identifying a leader who and again, it can't just be, hey, hear me, I'm raising my hand. I want to do this work. It really has to be. You understand the commitment, you understand what is necessary. And, you know, and you communicate that it's a long road and you have a vision for where you want your school to be. And I think that that's the whole part. There's a vision that we're working toward. We're not going to get there tomorrow or even next year. But there is a vision that we're walking this path together and we're going to get there. And if you start with the adults and you identify, they're going to be adults in the building who are like, This is what I've been waiting for. This like being able to actually stop my class, sometimes being able to actually have conversations with students, being able to know my colleagues. This is why I came into teaching. You're going to have some of those staff members and you want to grab them immediately, right? All the training, all the things, send them to everything so they can learn more. You're going to have some people in the middle who are I don't know what this is. What is this thing they're asking us to do? Things come and go in education all the time. How long is this going to be around? They're not resistant. They're just waiting it out. Right. But the more they see their friends and colleagues kind of engaging in behavior or showing up to school happy or the culture of the building starts to change. Like you walk into the building and people are talking to you. They're talking to you as an adult and smiling and asking you how your day was, how your evening was, what you did over the weekend, asking you about your own family. The culture changes starts to change. You see bits and pieces, and then those people in the middle may get on board, right? Because they're like, okay, like, I get it. I see it in practice. I just needed to see it. And they're going to be some staff members who just may be tired. Right. May. Maybe they don't. They can't do it right. There may be some that don't want to do it and maybe some really just can't because, you know, self reflection is hard work. It's not easy really to hold that mirror to yourself and really ask those tough questions and be reflective with all of your thoughts. And for some folks are just not enough space or maybe they're not in the right space to be able to do that. And what I've seen eventually is sometimes, you know, they were resistant, but as the culture shifts, you can still resist, but you're quietly resisting because now you're an outlier. Or sometimes they find a space that is more in line with their own values. Right. Because, you know, the values of the community have shifted to something else. Or sometimes they just, you know, kind of push through. Sometimes they come around, right? They're like, I want to be a part of this, too. But it really you really do need someone who. It's got to who I think is, you know, has those beliefs that it's it's not just that you're doing this thing, because I think there are a lot of things done in school that are very surface level, that don't really evoke the type of relationship building that we're talking about that we want people to have. And I think that for adults, I think, you know, Sheryl always used to say that people need to experience that themselves before we ask them to do it for someone else. And so I do think, like part of the work of a building leader is really about what spaces are you creating for your staff? How are you modeling self-reflection for your staff? How are you modeling? You know, oh, I messed up and admitting your mistakes to your staff. Like, how are you building community with your staff? Are you allowing your staff to take time away from the day and be in relationship with one another? The same thing we want for young people because the work really does have to start there. And I think when it's done that way, there's a possibility. But I'm speaking like in an individual school community because I do think then that there's that next layer of how the system sometimes gets in the way. And so again, that one of the reasons why this work is so difficult is because the system is not built for this work. And so we have to in some ways create these little mini systems inside schools that are operating differently.
David (he/him) [00:55:33] There are two things. One is like the second one's escaping me. So we're just going to go with the one. You know, you talked at the. Oh, I remember what the second part was. And it's kind of related. You talked about, you know, the commitment that a school leader has to make and we've talked around it. But how would you quantify what that commitment is like? You talked about, you know, being able to model that kind of self-reflection we've talked about, like needing to commit time. We've also talked about committing to losing people, both families and staff who are not in line with values. What are the other things that school leaders need to commit to? Because like my hope is right. Like there are people who are listening to this podcast, right? Who are either teachers, parents, community stakeholders, maybe even school leaders who like, hey, if I really want my community, my school community or my child's school community to be about this, like this is what it costs and we need to know that. How would you quantify the commitment that a school leader needs to make?
Dwanna (she/her) [00:56:34] Yeah, so I'd say the first is you have to be able to look at yourself. Right. And I mean, you can't ask anyone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself. And so any type of self-reflection, any type of exploration about your own experiences with education, those are the things that you have to explore. You have to, I think, be willing to push up against the system. Like you have to be willing to say, you know, if someone comes into this building and they're doing some evaluation and they walk through and people are sitting in circle and not looking at the chalkboard, that's you're going to back up the staff, right. And that you're not going to fold. I think administrators have to have a vision. Right. As when I say like, I think I would stay in a hopeful space oftentimes because I am working towards a thing, I'm helping someone work towards a thing. And so it's not enough to say I want my school to be like a restorative justice school. Right. You have to. What does that mean to you? Like as a as a building leader? Like, what does that actually look like? What does that sound like? It's one of the very first questions that we ask administrators like, you know, telling me you want to implement restorative justice is not really saying anything like what does this actually mean? And I think it is hard for some people to think about what school could be because school's only been one way. And so I think this is where the dreaming part comes in. Like there are dreams that we're able to make reality, but we have to actually be willing to dream. And so a dreamer, really, right? Who's willing to adjust schedules, to adjust workloads, to adjust meeting times, to be able to make the space. Like if if there's an issue and we need to come together and talk about it like, you know, you're willing to devote the hours sometimes that is necessary in the day to be able to do that. And that may mean subs, right and so on. But I think you have to be willing to talk about race and racism like you can't I know you cannot do this work and not be honest about those things. Right. You have to be able to be willing to listen and center the experiences of those who are most pushed to the margins. So whoever that is in your community, when you close your eyes and think about what you're doing and if school is working, school needs to work for those folks, if that's your staff, because, you know, as you were saying, there are a staff who are pushed to the margins as well. If that's your students, if that's your families like. And you need to hold them because this. School is working well for them. It'll work well for everyone else. Like we know that. Like research says that. And so. But if you can talk to your staff about race and racism and all the other isms in the role that they play in education, then you can't do this work right, because you're not doing the work fully. And I think that that's it is a lot that's a lot to ask. And and I think where systems kind of make the mistake is that the expectation that everyone is ready to do it and they're not right and so I think you can get people ready. Um, but the same thing for systems. If you start with the administrators who are ready, who have done that work and start with them, then the hope is sometimes what I've seen is that other principals start to pay attention. The school was a different school six years ago. What happened in the course of time where now you have people wanting to be in the school like you want staff who are leaving the school now, want to be in that school. Like what? What has happened? And you I think you also have to value something more than test scores, because, Amy, I think I mean, this is my own personal, you know, thinking like test scores are such an arbitrary way to measure anything. And so if you are driven by performance data and so you're you're worried that because you're stopping like the test scores are going to go down, like you really, you really can't be focused on those things like and I think part of it is also you have to be willing to listen to what the community wants and what the community needs and listen to young people. They will tell you what school should be and how it should be and, you know, holding families and in a good way. And so if you're not if you're not someone who believes in sharing power with other people, especially people who are younger than you, then this work can also be challenging because it really is acknowledging that the wisdom really resides within the people who you're serving.
David (he/him) [01:01:17] I'm thinking, yes, to all of the above. I'm thinking about, you know, being true to these values in the face of, you know, those who have power over you, whether that is people from the district or if you're in an independent or charter school situation, board members or parents. Right. Who say, I wanted my kid to come here for test scores. Right. To get ahead in these ways. Right. Those are the those are the hard things I do. A lot of the work amplifier AJ does is with independent schools and charter schools, just because there is more agility, more flexibility in the way that we work. And oftentimes what I hear from school leaders is we are wanting to make these shifts and using that language right. The entitled parents, right, who paid X, Y, Z for their parents, for their kids to have like this kind of quality, top notch, high performance, whatever, education, like, aren't on board. And you think about who those parents are demographically parents who are affluent, right? Parents who are white parents who are trying to help their kids climb the same ladders that they climb, get the test scores, go to the same schools that require the same. And as a school leader who wants to do this work in the face of that kind of opposition. You've got to really value that and be willing to lose the support, lose the tuition and lose the endowment of money that comes with that. And that's a really hard thing. You know, like every every context has different barriers. And, you know, as you were saying, like as you were listing like all of those commitments, like the manifestation of that is going to look different in every situation. But like this is this is not like a, oh, yeah, we're going to do this peer conferencing program so the students can work out their, like, bullying issue. Right? Like this is like the underlying. Way that your school functions. How does restorative justice partnerships work with schools and supporting supporting this kind of growth?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:03:42] Yeah. And so we help with a lot of those things. Yeah. I think, you know, we can we start with an administrators vision and then, you know, really then our role is to assist in implementing that vision. And to your point, it is not going to be the same thing everywhere. Right? Because every vision is different, I think, when it comes to those questions around like folks who are entitled or that's also part of the conversation that you're having with the community. Right. This is a community. Right. And I think that moving away from that, like my individual needs and goals for my child and. Should those be above, like what is actually happening to other children, like in real time in this community? If I feel like I'm a part of this community, then what does that actually mean? So it is sometimes, you know, this was a lot of the conversation when, you know, we started conversations around like discipline and, you know, push out. There could be families who were like, no, I want that child gone. And the work is really like, how do we how do we like have that conversation with the family in a way where it's how do we hold all children equally in the same way and not prioritize one over the other? And so I think this is part of the work of the community. And so we starting with that vision, then it really is like, what are the things, where is your staff? Like, what does your staff need? What do we need to put in place? I think keeping the focus on the staff right, because it's very easy to staff will want to do things with like the young people and like, nope, the focus is still on the staff. We have to we are trying to shift the culture and climate of the school building. And the research shows that the culture and climate at the school building is built by the adults, right? The young people are responding to the environment that they are in. And so and it's constant work, right? Because I think that when things are stressful, when the year goes on, like this point of the year, when people are feeling like all the stress, it is very easy to revert back to what you have always done. And so I think this work is also incredibly precious, right? You can put in years of work and it could be undone and no time. Right. And it's that constant support, I think, you know, when we think about professional development, a lot of professional development that educators typically get is very much a sit and get. We're going to talk to you this one time for 2 hours and then we're not going to see you ever again. And sometimes we're going to talk to you for 2 hours and then we want you to teach someone else like this. Isn't that right? It is ongoing professional development and even for the staff who are all the way and in the very beginning, they also still need ongoing professional development. It's the care and concern that we must hold for each other in this phase. Are there opportunities for me to, as a team member, as a staff member, to come into this space and really talk about my life outside of work? We ask our administrators to kind of put together like a yearly implementation plan so they can monitor, like what their goals were for the year and tell them that that plan should change. Because what you thought you were going to do in August is not the thing that you actually should be doing in February, like you were learning as you're going. But if you don't have a plan to start the year, this is kind of like one of my first schools that I worked with did not have a plan and something happened, something personal, that something happened in the personal lives of one of the administrators and we didn't have anything written down. And so it was like, Oh, where's the work going? What's happening with the work? And just how important having something on paper that people can follow and then communicating that to staff. This is where we want to go. This is what we want to do. This is what we've done. Celebrating small victories, right? So staff feels like they're a part of the work and are informed along. The journey to the journey is long. And you if you say we're going to implement restorative justice and then staff don't really hear about it for another year, they think that it's not there anymore. Right. And so like the constant kind of reminders, but it is very individualized because each community is different. Each community has different needs. What are the needs of this community? What are what are the vision of the people in this community? How are we capturing that? And then we base the work that we do then on those on those things. Yeah. Yeah.
David (he/him) [01:08:22] We, like, dumped a lot. Well, there was a lot of information, right. And a lot to do. And look at the tall task. And like I, I don't want to leave people in this place of feeling like, oh, my gosh, this is so overwhelming. How will we do any of it? Right. You know, the the proverb of like, how do you eat an elephant? Right. One bite at a time is so is so important. And like, you've got to decide that, like, now we're going to eat this elephant.
Dwanna (she/her) [01:08:55] Right. Right.
David (he/him) [01:08:56] Right. And, you know, if you as a school leader or somebody who's working in the school or the parent of a child who's in a school or a, you know, concerned community member of a community that has a school like, you know. Wherever you live. There's a school within a mile of you. Right. Are hearing this and saying like, oh like this would be beneficial. What is your message of hope and encouragement to someone who just you're like, Oh, there's so many things, but yet we can do this. What's your message of hope and encouragement?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:09:32] Yeah, it's possible. And I think that when we think about time, I mean, that seems to be like the most precious resource, right? The time is there. I think it's. How are we using the time? So if you are, you know, spending if you're a classroom teacher and you're spending your classroom period, telling young people to sit down and not talk and be still like the time is being spent, like what would that look like if you asking young people when they first arrived, what is it that you need today? And I think that we I think there's so much information and data that shows that if we focus on like the wellbeing of people, we actually get to all the results that we are supposed to get, too. And school systems say that. And then in practice, that's actually not what happens. I think we have to hold on to this idea that the time is there. We're not getting any actual time. So it's a how are we making use of our time? And that it is it is a slow process. But I think if you know it's a slow process, then you're okay with it because there are beautiful things that happen along the way. And I think that that's really the the celebrating the small wins, right. Making sure you're actually taking the time to do that because there's so much growth that happens. And when you look back, I guess I've seen schools transform and, you know, the staff think, you know, we can't even imagine that the school used to be something else. We can't even imagine going back there. And what if you're a staff person thinking about like what it feels like to walk into a building, what it feels like to want to go to work every day, to want to walk into that building and be there every day. If you're like a family member, like the pride that you have of sending your your child to that school every day, if you're a student and you're thinking about you're going into a school building where you want to be. Right. Because you're cared for. You know, it can happen. It can happen. And. But there is like there is like a level of commitment that is necessary. Like all good things in life. Right? Like, you know, I want a loving family and a good relationship. And I think thinking about your own personal relationships, they're also work like they're not easy. They don't come naturally. I want my child to feel love and support it. And I have to work on myself every day to make sure I'm showing up. As a good mother, I want my partner to feel love and support, and I have to work every day to make sure I'm showing up in a good way. Like and I know what the benefits of that will be. And it's work that I'm committed to because I care so much and I know I want this to happen. And so I'm hope, you know, this is my dream, this is what I want. And so I know I have to work for it. I think the work of implementing restorative justice is no different, right? You put in the work and you reap all the amazing benefits. And it is it is possible, you know, not if people do not want to do it. And I think that that's where the. Well, you know, sometimes the issues lie. Is that. I don't know of everyone. Some people are, I think, being told that they have to write and then it becomes like a very much a checkbox. And people find the way if this is something that they want to do it, they have managed to find a way to make things a reality. I think like.
David (he/him) [01:13:11] There's a way that that can be interpreted where it's like personal responsibility for implementing this work. And on some level that's true, like a personal responsibility message. That can be a barrier for some people because like yeah, but like this systemic thing. The systemic thing. The systemic thing. The systemic thing actually prevents me from doing that. And if it's important enough to you, you're going to find a way to do it. Maybe not, like get it perfectly and, like, do everything. But like, what are the step one you can take, right? One bite at a time. What is the vision that you have? How can you share that vision? Who are the people in your community who are aligned with you on that? And like, how can you make steps together who so much good? Anything else that you want to share with folks before I transitioned into the questions that everybody insists when they come on the podcast?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:14:02] No, I mean, I appreciate the that the conversation and the questions about hope. Mariam Carver, you know, like famous quote, like hope is a discipline. It is also something that I work on. You know, I don't think I think I was at one point in my life was like a natural optimist. I think I'm more of a realist at this point. But I do believe you do have to believe that schools can be different, not just better, but different. And there are enough people who work in systems who believe that schools need to be different. I think how do we identify those folks? How do we support those folks? Because I think sometimes those folks feel like they're the only one and there are lots of them out there. Right. And so, like, how do you identify those people so it doesn't become like this, this thing that you're doing all by yourself, that you're you're also building a community of people around you. I know I wouldn't be able to do this work if I didn't have a community of people who were around me, who are nurturing me, who are telling me that I could do it, who believed in the work, who are encouraging me on my on the hard days, who are like picking me up. We can't do this work alone. And so I also would encourage everyone out there to also think about like, who in your community may also be aligned with this work? Who can you partner with? Who can you work with? Like when you have conversations with your friends, you know, how is school talked about? Like do people feel like that change is necessary? And I think there's so many examples in the history of our country of change happening, and that change was typically led by families and young people. And so I also I mean, the message is really to them around it, like if you want schools to be better, different, and you actually hold that power to change, you're really the only people who always held that power like no system has ever changed because it was the right thing to do. They were forced to change. And so I think that that's just for me is always like a good memory that there are so many examples of change like, you know, and really I think, you know, change by like black and brown communities. Right, too. And we just need to lean into that.
David (he/him) [01:16:30] And trying to debate whether it's worth getting in trouble for saying this. But, you know, when you're talking about change being demanded by people of marginalized identities. Yes, that's true. And that change some of that change is like self-determined, but on a systemic level is right. That change is made by people in power, often white people. Right. Who like it's inconvenient to not make this change. So we're going to do it. So a challenge to white folks, right? Like, if you're in this position of power, don't wait till it don't wait till it comes to that. Right. We can make those changes. Oh, man. Yeah, we'll leave that. And I think that was I believe everything that I said come and get me haters of. We've talked around it in so many different ways, but in your own words, define restorative justice.
Dwanna (she/her) [01:17:28] So restorative justice is an indigenous philosophy that emphasizes building relationships. It is the ability to recognize the inherent wisdom that exists in all members of our community when there is harm to the community. And this isn't the absence of harm, because whenever human beings are involved, there will be harm, often unintentional. Restorative justice actually allows us to come together and repair that harm as a community, not relying on others to repair things for us. But we have everything that we need within our community. Mm hmm.
David (he/him) [01:18:09] You've been doing this work for a minute. What has been an oh shit moment? And what did you learn from it?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:18:18] There were lots. So I could curse. Okay, I forgot about that. Oh, yeah, I. I think probably the moments that are sticking with me the most are when I was asked to do something, you know, something. A training is this law, and it's like, oh, can you fit it into this shorter amount of time? And I know in my heart that that is never the thing to do. And I know that because I've done it and it was a disaster. And so I think that, you know, having like a set of kind of non-negotiable values every time I've stayed away from those is when I have gotten into trouble. And so I use those as lessons. It's just a lesson that, you know, we often, like, know what to do and how how. I also have to not be like Lord into kind of, again, trying to fit restorative justice into something and instead saying like, this is the work that you want to do. Then how do we adapt what you're doing to fit this? Yeah.
David (he/him) [01:19:30] That resonates so hard. I'm not going to tell the story. I'll tell that story off air. No, no, it's worth it. What you learn from that. Right. And what I've learned from similar situations is like you articulate that boundary, right? Like, this is what I will do. And so I'm leaving specifics out. Right. But like. I cannot do the training the way that you're asking me to do this. This is what I can do. This is why. And if people aren't willing to conform to that. They weren't ready for the work with you at that time, and that's okay. As much as I would have loved that, it's thousands of dollars. Right. And that's that's the thing, right? Like as and this is a conversation I had as we've been having this conversation, the wheels are turning about like, you know, the the business of doing restorative justice work is like another conversation that, like, needs to be had. I don't know if it's like the form of like this podcast, but like I'm thinking about lots of different people who I am in relationship with over the years, both through this podcast and just, you know, this is actually like a hundreds of people small community. Yeah. We're not always in line with each other on like, how we're doing these things. And that's a whole nother conversation for a whole different time.
Dwanna (she/her) [01:20:58] I mean, I learned from Cheryl and Laura that not all money is good money. Mhm. And you they were I think the first examples of like people who I've met who said no to these said no, they said no with a lot of things because it didn't feel right, because it wasn't right, because it wasn't aligned with their own values the way that they did the work. And it was such an important lesson for me to learn very early to witness people who I hold in such high regard, like walk away from things because it was just like this is no longer in line with the way we do work. And there was a years ago, like a group of us kind of got together collectively and were like, what are our collective values that we are going to hold as like this smaller community of practitioners that are larger community? And it has been so that has been so helpful for me because I always go back to that. And when I'm in situations where I'm being asked to do something, I just remind people because I'm like, There's a whole document like this, these are my values. And I see your point like, I cannot do this. And there are also sadly lots of other people who will do it. And I think that that but it was important for me and my own kind of learning to be around people who modeled that for me. And again, like I am not perfect, right? Because I have done that like I have was like, oh, well, I don't think that we can do it, but let's try. And, you know, I learned a lesson that I needed to learn. And so you're absolutely right. It is a it is a conversation that I think like. You know, people have really wrestled with like, what does this mean for the for the larger restorative justice community? Yeah. Yeah.
David (he/him) [01:22:45] Difficult question in a different way. You get the sense circle of four people dead or alive. Who are they? And what is the one question you ask the circle?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:22:57] Yes, I know you're going to ask this, so I'm going to cheat, if I may, because I lost my parents 20 years ago. So I would sit in circle with them. I have a brother. And so I could not sit and circle with my parents and my brother there. And we both have one daughter. And so I could not leave one out and so there'd be five of us. And I think selfishly, I would want to know, like, if he and I are operating operating in a way that makes them proud because that is very important to us. But I also recognize that that's a selfish question. So I think what I would do instead is I would just play games and activities because like our children have never had the pleasure of meeting them. And you know, while I do want my art, my niece and my daughter to also be proud of us, I think it would be more important for them to be able to actually have time with their grandparents who would have poured so much love into them and just allowing them to laugh and have fun. Yeah, yeah. Shout out, shout out to the.
David (he/him) [01:24:12] Family, to grandparents, shout out to games. Because play is such an underrated part of doing all of this work of. Do you have a piece? We've we've dropped like lots of different gems over the course of our conversation. But for folks who are like facilitating either the learning of this work or facilitating processes. Is there a practical application tip that you have on the tip of your tongue that's important for folks to know or be reminded of?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:24:48] I am facilitating processes like circles or just like implementation in general either. Um hmm. I don't know how practical it is, but I think making sure that you are also taking the time that you need, like holding a space is really difficult. I think if you're holding spaces in terms of like circle spaces or if you're holding the work and helping other people do the work, and so making sure that you as an individual also have spaces where you are held. I think that's one of the one of the other mistakes that I have made that I actually continue to make is that I'm saying this and I'm also admitting that it's very hard for me to live this because it is hard and tiring to hold everything for everyone else and then not have a space where you can pour into. And so making sure that you are taking care of yourself. And I know that that's kind of like a buzzword these days, but I think in this work in particular, those spaces are necessary.
David (he/him) [01:25:53] 100%. Last two questions. He's the one person I should have on the podcast, and you have taught me at the mine.
Dwanna (she/her) [01:26:03] So the the second part of that would be difficult. I think Rita Richard of Alfred is definitely someone who is amazing and she hates stuff like this.
David (he/him) [01:26:15] But she said no multiple times.
Dwanna (she/her) [01:26:19] Yeah. So I mean, we talked a lot about like administrators today, there is an administrator. She also like things like this, but I could actually help her. She's now working in central office, but her name is Laurel Porter and she is one of the best, you know, someone who really believed in it and then, you know, saw things through. And I think if you if, you know, part of the audience is other administrators. She's like, she's someone I continue to use to talk to other administrators. And what I've also heard from staff members is that listening to her had also helped them have conversations with their administrators because they they saw what was what was possible, what an administrator actually could do. And they were able to advocate for those things in their spaces, too.
David (he/him) [01:27:09] Yeah, absolutely. So looking forward to that introductory email and like if you want a text, read it. Be like, yo, like you should really I would appreciate that as well. And finally, how can people support you in your work, however you want to define that in the ways that you want to be supported?
Dwanna (she/her) [01:27:28] Yeah. You know, we have a website, a RJ partnership dot org. We have a lot of free resources on the website. And so it's really our way of supporting other people. We're also developing resources all the time. And so if people have ideas about things, we have something that never made it to our website that we have. But also, if there's a chance that you need it, if you need it, there's a chance that someone else needs it too. And so if people have ideas about things that they would like to see developed, um, you know, also letting us know and all of our contact information is on the website as well so people can feel free to reach out.
David (he/him) [01:28:12] Beautiful. Well, we'll make you the link to that. RJ Partnership Dawg is in the show notes for folks to check out, but I do want to thank you for finally making the time to have this conversation. There's going to be a more fun conversation that's going to go on in just a couple seconds, but y'all don't get to hear that. We'll be back with another episode of this Restorative Justice Life next week with someone who is actively building, strengthening, repairing relationships and their professional and personal lives. So until then, take care.