A Week with Walter: Classroom Management Through a Restorative Practices Lens
If healing is to happen and justice for all is to be achieved, we know that our schools and the classroom communities we create will be the cornerstone that we build upon.
– Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Dr. Ellen Bernstein
In January, 2020, just before the world shut down, Dr. Ellen Bernstein, the president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF), and a group of union and school district leaders attended the conference “A Week with Walter: Classroom Management Through a Restorative Practices Lens,” hosted by United Federation of Teachers in New York City. The stand out of this spectacular professional development opportunity was a presentation on using restorative practices (RP) to build just classrooms and school communities by Walter Taylor from the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center. Our team came away buzzing from Walter’s real-world examples of how RP can change school climates. We made grand plans to bring Walter to New Mexico so that he could work with union educators to catapult the introduction of restorative practices into the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). Sadly, our plans were postponed.
Fast forward to June 13-15, 2023. Walter led a packed house of over 50 union members and leaders in an exploration of the applications of RP. His passion for restorative justice was palpable as he guided the group to understand the philosophical underpinnings and Seven Core Assumptions that are the foundation of successfully implementing this innovative program. Our union’s goal was to facilitate transition in our district by providing great educator-led professional development and educator-created curriculum because we know that the best way to move toward a restorative district is with practitioners leading the way. Walter joined us in this endeavor, providing ample sparks for our imaginations.
This workshop helped me fill the gaps in my understanding of restorative practices. It confirmed my own experiences in the power of strong classroom culture and restorative conversations with students. It also opened my eyes to the reality that restorative practices must be a grassroots movement, and educators will have to be the leaders in transforming the district’s culture.
Kelsy Rust, Volcano Vista HS
Educators dived deep into their own biases to examine whether they had used, experienced, or witnessed alienating language or top-down classroom management. Walter emphasized the importance of building RP with students, rather than foisting it upon them. He gave an overview of utilizing restorative circles and building supports in our practice of restorative justice.
The three-day presentation was hands-on. Walter emphasized the importance of implementing RP in ways that value and respect our students’ experiences, traditions, and cultures. Educators are the creative problem-solvers in this equation. He led our group to focus on local needs. At the end of each session, he stuck around as educators debriefed and planned how they would employ their learning at their school sites and throughout APS.
It was a joy to collaborate with colleagues from my site and across the district to deepen our understanding of Restorative Practices. I learned how to use Restorative Practices as a critical tool to address childhood trauma and the Yazzie-Martinez ruling while holding students accountable and creating a vibrant learning community with resilient, empathetic, and engaged learners who can claim the bright future they deserve. I also worked with other educators from my site to develop a plan to include other colleagues in this important work. Thank you Walter for helping us be agents of change!
Rachel Baucom, East San Jose ES
With the jump start this workshop provided, we are optimistic that change will come to our district. It will be educator-driven, student-centered, and fueled by our union.