Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Beyond the Surface of Restorative Practices: Building a Culture of Equity, Connection, and Healing by Marisol Quevedo Rerucha.
Rerucha, an educator who serves as the Chief of Strategy and Partnerships for the National Parents Union, is an expert in restorative practices in schools. (This excerpt is taken from a chapter by the same title and has been edited for length and web format.)
Rerucha writes and speaks with humility, vulnerability, grace, and power. Though she has written this book specifically for educators, the wisdom it contains extends far beyond the field of education. I highly recommend this book to anyone—whether parents, service professionals, organizers, workshop facilitators, or even ecologists—working to promote healing and strong relationships in community with others. You can find links to purchase a copy of the book from the publisher here and at the end of the excerpt. Enjoy it, share it, support it. —Ed.
IN MY TWENTY-ONE years as an educator, I have witnessed time and time again the power that teachers, staff, and leaders can have on educational systems and, most importantly, on students.
Human beings are social by nature, and we rely heavily on our relationships with others to form who we are in this world. We can all turn to our childhoods and recognize that who we have become is largely a result of our experiences with those who raised us (or were supposed to). When we were adolescents, our friends also had a tremendous influence on us. As adults, we continue to be shaped by our relationships with others. We learn so much from them—how to behave, communicate, and speak. Our values are based on this learning. Just as love, joy, celebration, and achievement are a part of our human experience, so are pain, loss, and fear.
We need restorative practices because of this reality. Many of us walk in this life without having healed from the pain, loss, or fear that we received in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Many of us also carry historical and ancestral trauma that, if unhealed, will be passed down to our future generations, causing continuous pain through a cycle of trauma. Healing and learning from our pain and trauma are possible, but only when we are willing and able to reflect on and own all of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The truth? This is tremendously hard and scary work. But when we don’t do it, we continue to keep ourselves from reaching our true potential for goodness.
Restorative practices provide a framework for being, reflecting, forgiving, and growing. We need this framework because there are so many of us who are carrying trauma that can show itself as fear, hurt, anger, disappointment, blame, distrust, control, self-aggrandizing, insecurity, and so much more. When we don’t face these truths within ourselves, we continue to inflict our pain onto others.
Restorative practices are transformational in that they also offer a way of being through which systems and organizations can heal. Educational systems and those who work in them have a great deal of influence on students—on who they are and who they are becoming. Adults in school systems deserve the opportunity to grow and heal from the personal and professional harm that has occurred in their lives. By engaging and becoming truly restorative, teachers, leaders, and school staff can then offer this transformational way of being to students, parents, and their community. Imagine every person being able to communicate their remorse and acknowledge the suffering they inflicted—and ask for forgiveness and the ability to repair the damage. In order for this to happen, adults in school systems need to have the opportunity to grow and heal from the personal and professional harm that has occurred in their lives.
Let’s begin by sharing what restorative practices are not: They’re not new. They’re not simply a step-by-step process to fix students and staff. They’re not a manual full of topics to get students to share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. They’re not a training that you complete or a book that you read. They’re not just about mediation or forgiveness. Pedro [my colleague and a contributor to this book] and I have each been working in education for over twenty years. We understand the educator’s need to see restorative practices as a framework for designing lessons or learning processes in the classroom to change student behavior. As educators, we have a tendency to try something new with a hard focus on outcomes. We want to know, “How does this work? How will this improve my classroom/teaching? When will I see a change in my students?” But restorative practices are not just an outcome.
Restorative practices are sagrados, sacred. These practices are rooted in indigeneity and offer a way of life that recognizes our responsibility for self, others, our community, our Mother Earth, and all earth’s creatures. Restorative practices provide a way to both build and repair relationships with self, others, and the broader community. We adopt these teachings—this way of being—so that we can improve and build a stronger society for future generations.
Restorative practices are based on the belief that all human beings want and deserve to be heard, seen, and accepted. They are based on the belief that all human beings intrinsically want to do the right thing and embrace growth. People who have a restorative mindset and what we refer to as a heartset are authentic and reflective; they can build trust, listen with their hearts as well as their minds, embrace difficult and awkward situations, seek growth, and provide opportunities for others to grow. They are human-focused to their core.
Having a restorative mindset means that you have the tools and methods to guide restorative practices. It also means that you believe others are capable of wanting to address and repair harm. Having a restorative heartset means that you’re emotionally grounded and you embrace vulnerability and authenticity in yourself and others.
Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehab program, believes that a truly restorative person doesn’t just serve students, staff, and community, but savors life with them. He says, “We don’t go to the margins to rescue but to be rescued.” We recognize that we walk in life alongside students, connect beyond academic learning, and feel impact through our shared human experience. Restorative practices allow us to create a space where we can be heard, seen, and accepted. Through dialogue, we can share who we are, where we come from, what we desire, what our hopes are for ourselves, our families, and our communities. When we listen to the hearts, pain, and dreams of others, we feel truly connected in our shared experiences as human beings. We stop seeing people as the other or as having the potential to be our enemy or the bad guy. This connection is the basis for healing and problem solving.
Restorative practices are about being and doing.
In our society, we have a difficult time being direct with others about what we think or feel for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or of being perceived in a negative way. Talking with someone who you perceive as having hurt or harmed you is uncomfortable and scary. Many of us fear being judged or labeled, and we avoid real conversations. We have a tendency to shy away from conversations that may offend or make someone else uncomfortable, and instead, we live in a state of discomfort. We also have a hard time taking responsibility for our own actions that contribute to conflicts. We are not really taught how to solve conflicts or how to effectively communicate when we’ve been harmed. Because most of us haven’t developed healthy conflict-resolution and communication skills, when conflict happens or harm occurs, many people hold their emotions in, which can result in unresolved pain that leads to pent-up anger and stress. What also happens is that we start to see the person who hurt us as a villain.
We are all walking miracles with the immense power to heal. Just take a dive into researching how our bodies repair and heal themselves. Our bodies, fueled by our will, can be miraculous. When I was teaching, I would show my ninth-grade students a short video about the power of the human brain. This video showed a young girl who had half of her brain removed who had learned again how to walk, talk, and use both sides of her body. A dear friend of mine had an eighty-five-year-old grandmother who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in hospice care. I remember receiving a call telling me that if I wanted to have one last visit with her, I needed to get in my car and make the two-and-a-half-hour drive as soon as possible. That was over eleven years ago. It is my joy to report that she lived to be ninety-six years of age. Healing is a gift. So, if our bodies have these amazing abilities, don’t we also have the ability to heal our inner beings? Our minds and spirits? Of course we do.
In some households, sharing and reflecting on emotions is not part of the family culture. My home was full of love, but there was always something to be done, and emotions were almost a luxury of time that no one could afford. My parents were divorced, and they were both open with my brother and me but only to a certain point. We could ask questions about sex, and the effects of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. We could even talk about depression—but only as it related to other people. What we couldn’t do—as kids or adults—was ask about their divorce or try to discuss any ways that their actions may have harmed us. My parents either weren’t willing or able to go into that space. At some point in my adult life, I realized that I was being held captive by pain from my childhood, which resulted in anger, disappointment, and depression.
I became a mother at nineteen years old. Pretty early on in my adulthood, I decided I wanted to have a healthy relationship with my parents, just as I wanted with my own children. I needed to figure out how to heal from events that happened in my childhood. A gift of realization was bestowed upon me in the process of acceptance and forgiveness. For every choice we make, there is a consequence. I realized that those who hurt me through their words and actions were really acting from their own pain, which had nothing to do with me. In turn, I saw the way my pain caused me to harm others. It was essential that I end this cycle. I made the decision to embrace healing.
As mentioned, restorative practices allow for individual and community healing. Actually, I believe this to be generational work that can transform familial and collective futures. I use the acronym HEAL to describe my foundational beliefs when providing restorative practices training because the training centers on:
Humans. We are all human beings living the same human experience. We deserve respect and love and interpersonal communication, regardless of differences, such as age, sex, ethnicity, and any other forms that our differences take. We have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to understand and acknowledge that we are whole beings with intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social needs. Restorative practices are both a holistic- and human-centered mindset and heartset that put relationships of self and relationships with others at the forefront. This acceptance of self and other is a way of healing that allows us to walk in this world authentically.
Empathy. We are more alike than not, regardless of any noticeable differences. By listening with our hearts, with dignity and respect, we open ourselves up to the experiences of others. We can then begin to see patterns of experience and frequency. Most of us at some point have been targeted for the way we look. Through this, we begin to notice that factors like (but not limited to) poverty, race, abilities, and body size can increase the frequency of negative experiences. When we share our experiences with one another, we begin to connect and build bridges of understanding. This leads to accepting the need for equity and inclusion in our work, schools, and communities.
Agreements. By having agreements that are reviewed and revised regularly, we continuously remind participants that their privacy will be honored (unless someone is abusing them or they are considering serious harm to themselves). This creates a culture of trust that allows individuals and communities to be authentic and vulnerable, leading to reflection and potential healing of emotions and harm. It also allows for the true celebration of joy and love. Agreements should include how you will treat one another, celebrate one another with joy, work out disagreements or harm done, and engage in healing as a community.
Love for self and others. This is what allows us to heal. As long as we are alive, we have the ability to grow and learn. We embrace a growth mindset because we are committed to being the best humans possible. Growth is difficult and uncomfortable. In order to grow, we have to brave discomfort within ourselves and between others. We grow through our experiences and interactions with others. In this work we must encourage, recognize, and celebrate love, joy, and success.
My friend Ginger shared a statement with me from an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass made by Iyanla Vanzant that changed my life: “It’s self-full to be first, to be as good as possible to you. To take care of you, to keep you whole and healthy. That doesn’t mean you disregard everything and everyone. But you want to come with your cup full. You know: ‘My cup runneth over.’ What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine. But I’ve got to keep my cup full.” Of course, I’ve heard and thought I understood the analogies of self-care that described filling our own cups or putting our masks on first in an airplane in case of losing cabin pressure. But I had it wrong. I thought the ultimate goal was to fill my cup so that I could empty it again. It never dawned on me that I was to keep my cup full for myself and allow it to overflow so that then I can give that extra goodness to others.
Keeping my cup full is a new practice for me, one that requires actions that come from a deeply personal and reflective place. I keep my cup full by being patient with myself and being aware of my thoughts, physical sensations in my body, and my emotions. Meditation and prayer allow me the time and space to do these internal investigations about what my needs are. Here are some of the things I do to try and keep my cup full:
By doing the above regularly, I am filling my cup so that I can walk in this world ready to support and give to others, including my family, staff, and strangers. There are other things I need that also fill my soul and inspire me. I am someone who needs to engage with beauty and movement regularly. For this reason, I need to dance, read, write, travel, visit art museums, and engage in creative thinking and activity. This practice of keeping my cup full has allowed me to respond to life’s challenges and blessings in a healthy way.
“If you want to fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Forgiveness allows you to release yourself from being controlled or led by the pain of another. We have all been hurt, harmed, or maybe even destroyed by another person’s actions or words. Those of us who get through the pain do so with the gift of true forgiveness. When someone intentionally hurts you, it can be soul crushing. Being harmed has made me doubt my worth and made me feel ashamed. Forgiveness is essential for those who want to live happy lives. But here’s the catch: to forgive, you have to be willing to accept that you have been hurt, feel that pain, and be willing to release the way that holding on to the harm has served you. This is such a difficult process that in Rising Strong, Brené Brown equates it with the actual process of grieving the loss of someone you love. She writes, “Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief.” In forgiveness, we have to be willing to let our hurt, blame, and victimhood die.
I learned at an early age that forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about me not allowing my anger, hurt, pain, and disappointment to define who I am. As hard as it can be to forgive someone who hurt me, it’s even harder to forgive someone who has hurt my loved ones. The hardest thing has been learning to forgive myself.
Restorative practices provide a process for harm to be examined from all perspectives. This examination opens a pathway to forgiveness that releases us from the chains and weight of harm.
When Pedro [my colleague] and I do the work of restorative practices, we’ve found that the following concepts should be acknowledged. They aren’t conditions that need to exist for restorative practices to be successful in your classroom, school, or district, but they are the solid foundation upon which our collective and individual way of being is built:
In order to do the work, we must have a solid foundation within ourselves, our families, our homes, and our organizations. In [Chapter 2 of the book], we will explore how to build a foundation of trust and collective action.
Watch Marisol Quevedo Rerucha discuss her book in this interview. Video courtesy of the National Parents Union (via YouTube).
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