Dr. Valerie Wood hosts an episode of the podcast that looks at the recent RISE VT project: Restorative approaches Implementation for School Equity in Vermont. Her guests are collaborators on the project: the CDCI’s Amy Wheeler-Sutton, and UP for Learning’s Lindsey Halman.
Together, they explore what they learned through the course of the RISE VT project, and where they hope restorative approaches for Vermont schools go next. For a research summary of the RISE-VT project, visit go.uvm.edu/cdciresearch
A full transcript of the episode appears below.
Valerie Wood: All right. Welcome everyone to this episode of the C D C I Connects podcast. I am your host today, Dr. Valerie Wood, and I am a research assistant professor at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion. And I am so happy to be joined today by Amy Wheeler, Sutton, and Lindsey Halman. so let’s start with you, Amy. Could you introduce yourself?
Amy Wheeler: Yeah. I’m Amy Wheeler-Sutton. I’m the co-director of the Best project, which stands for Building Effective Supports for Teaching. And we are housed at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion at U V M. We’re fully funded by the Agency of Education to do training and coaching and technical assistance for supervisory unions, districts, and schools for them to be able to better support the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs of Vermont students. I used to be a school counselor in a school that was implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or P B I S.
Valerie Wood: So Lindsey, could you introduce yourself?
Lindsey Halman: Yes. Hi. My name is Lindsey Halman. My pronouns are she, her. I am the Executive Director at Up for Learning that stands for Unleashing the Power of Partnership for Learning. We are a nonprofit based here in Vermont, our office in Vermont. We work with schools, elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the state. And we also work with schools throughout the country along with organ organizations that we partner with the our organization really focuses on three things. So what is, or the why is that in order for schools to really change and meet the needs of all young people young people need to be at the table to have a say in their educational journey. and so that is what we call Youth Adult Partnership are what is whatever the schools, we facilitate a process. So it’s whatever the schools or districts are focusing on as their lever for change.
And how we go about that is through Youth Participatory Action Research. So all of our youth-adult teams engage in YPAR, Youth Participatory Action Research to make change in their school communities. and our office is in Montpelier, but we work, like I said, throughout the state and throughout the country. and a lot of our work is focused on the social-emotional components of schools, the climate and culture. And we do a lot of work that is focused on restorative approaches within the school setting, but bringing youth and adults together to understand what that means to transform a school that really is restorative.
Valerie Wood: Thank you both for those introductions to your work and a little bit about who you are as people leading that work. I just wanna take a moment to express appreciation as we’ve had the opportunity to work together. I’ve really learned a lot from both of your teams about thinking about what does youth-adult partnership look like and how we can, we can be infusing more of that in the different efforts that are happening around the state in different areas. And then thinking about what I’ve learned from the best project and the PBIS implementation and thinking about the relationship between what’s the kind of knowledge and skill base that our teaching professionals need to be able to engage in that work with students in the most positive and affirming way possible.
So thank you all for the great work that you’re doing because we are at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion. I did just wanna dive a little bit more deeply into how you see your work touching on issues related to disability, and in what ways does you know, your work help elevate or meet the needs of people or students with disabilities? So, Amy, let’s start with you.
Amy Wheeler: Yeah. So while PBIS is for all students and to help the educators to support all students, the systems and data, and practices that are implemented as part of PBIS particularly support those who have or are at risk of having social-emotional or behavioral challenges or those with disabilities. And so as we are doing all of our work, we’re really thinking about how can we best design environments that are gonna be inclusive for all students, and particularly those who have disabilities. and thinking about our you know, connection with Lindsey’s work and other sort of approaches as we’ve kind of evolved over the past few years, we are really thinking about how we can infuse restorative principles into all of the training and coaching that we do, and really thinking about how student and staff and family voice can be elevated and at the forefront of what we’re doing so that things are being done with others rather than two or for them. We also help schools think about the alignment and integration. like you mentioned, there’s a lot going on in schools right now. Lots of different efforts and projects and work and thinking about how all of those can be aligned.
Valerie Wood: Great, thank you, you shared a lot. There’s a lot to unpack there, and you’re starting to touch on some of the work we did together, but before we dive more deeply into that Lindsey, could you just talk a little bit about UPS role in helping to meet the needs of people and students with disabilities?
Lindsey Halman: Yeah. So at Afro Learning one of our core values is that we believe that educational equity is a basic human right. And so for us, that means ensuring that there is inclusivity and accessibility in every aspect of a school, of, of school life. And as a former educator, I was a middle level educator for 15 years in inclusivity and accessibility and equity were really at the center of everything that I was thinking about. cuz because we know it up, and I knew as an educator that if I center those, those components, then everyone is gonna, you know, be able to access their education and, and it’ll be engaging. and hopefully it will allow for success for all young people. So if we really center inclusivity and accessibility, that means that everyone, everyone benefits ultimately from that experience. When we work with school teams, we really sup work hard to support the adults on the team before we even begin to think about how they can create a representative team that is reflective of their entire school community.
And even once we get going with our work, we ask the question to the youth and adults who’s at the table and who’s not at the table, and how do we ensure that we can make space for those that that maybe have not always been asked about their opinions and ideas regarding their educational journey. And so that is a question that is always on our minds as we are doing this work throughout the entire cycle with teams, is how do we make sure that the voices that have not historically been heard, how do we bring them to the center of this work or to, you know, to really amplify those voices.
Valerie Wood: Great, thank you. And then I’ll just share my role on the projects that we’ve worked on together was as the evaluator and as I’ve had time to reflect on what we learned from the work we did together you know, my lens is really systems improvement and what does it take to create a more inclusive, equitable system that allows all people to thrive and experience positive outcomes. And you know, it, it’s kind of the season where you know, kids in the public school system recently brought home report cards and I was thinking about, you know, the grading system and this kind of idea, like it’s not re if a student is quote, failing, it’s not really a student that’s failing, it’s the system that’s failing. That system has failed to engage that student in appropriate ways that tap into their natural curiosity, their natural motivation for learning. And so, you know, I have so much appreciation for the work you’re doing and thinking about how you are contributing to systems change. So all students are kind of in a supportive educational environment.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, I think, can I just like put an exclamation mark on something you just said? Is the idea that someone’s failing a class or, you know something is a systems issue, it is not about the, the individual, the young person, and yet at the same time our young people are receiving those messages and therefore they are then holding that piece, which is so much bigger, it should be so much bigger than, you know, them feeling that they, you know, either shame or failure or, or frustration or whatever those feelings are, that’s then what we see as a reaction to the system, right? So what we’re trying to do as a team is change that so that those kinds of, you know, that we understand how, what are the things that need to happen in a system in order for young people to not ever feel that they are a failure. Because really that is a mark that is the report card for the system.
Valerie Wood: Thank you. Yeah. And for the viewing and listening audience, I think they’re getting a sense of how our different philosophical approaches are really complimentary and we’re all kind of pushing the system in a similar direction. but let’s kinda bring it specifically to the Rise VT project. so that is an acronym which stands for the Restorative Approaches Implementation for School Equity in Vermont. so the acronym the the approaches was not capitalized, which from a grammatical perspective was maybe not great, but we wanted an acronym that would make sense for us. And let’s do a little jargon busting just to level set for the audience. so Lindsey, I’d love it if you start off like, and I ask this question of both of you, cause you, I think you both have slightly different things to add here. How would you define restorative approaches?
Lindsey Halman:Yeah, that’s a great question. so restorative approaches sometimes people hear restorative justice, restorative practices. I like to think of it under the umbrella of restorative approaches because it is an approach. it’s a paradigm shift, it’s a philosophical shift of the ways in which we go about how I would say our daily life. But when we’re thinking about the educational system, it’s a real shift in how we approach everything from behavior to relationships, to curriculum to policies, to the structures and schedules. So when we kind of take this like new way of looking at a school from a restorative lens where it’s about this concept as Amy shared earlier, this concept of width, instead of doing two and four we, we look at it with a new, kind of a new framework that what would it look like to develop really strong relationships where people feel like they are in community with one another so that they are in a community that cares about them, that knows them, that knows their name, face values and stories.
And then from there, what happens when we have conflict or make mistakes in communities? How do we support young people and adults in, in school communities in thinking about what happened and the impact it has on community, that ripple effect and what they can do to make things right or make things or to move forward. and then it’s also about looking at our, you know, our practices is a way in which we go about teaching. Is that a restorative way? Are we doing it with young people or are we doing it two and four young people are policies? Are they about two and four and kind of punitive and following, you know, being compliant? Or are we asking young people to develop the skills to have agency to feel empowered to understand how they can access an engaging education?
So sometimes I think restorative approaches gets lumped with like restorative justice, but that’s just one element of it is around like, how do we create different systems around what we might call like discipline that are that really center relationships that center a young person repairing relationships with themselves, with others in their community. but it’s so much more than that too. It’s not just about when things go wrong, it’s about really kind of looking at a school through a very different lens and what would happen if every step along the way. It was about seeing each other as full humans and centering relationships and getting to understand what each of us bring as strengths, but what also what are our challenges and opportunities for growth and and supporting one another in that way. I’ll pass it over to Amy to add to that definition cause that was a lot.
Amy Wheeler: <laugh>. Yeah, I don’t know if there’s anything to add. but for us, I really think about, you know a whole school approach that’s really taking a proactive proactive creating the systems for proactive healthy school climates. really slowing things down from the pace that often education is operating within to be able to create space for people to learn about one another, develop strong and deep relationships and then rely on those relationships when things do go wrong so that people are invested in the relationships within the school building to be able to really think about what are others’ needs what can we do to heal and move forward. and to, to have that be the approach rather than thinking about, you know, what rule was broken or how can someone you know be punished or have a consequence for when something goes wrong, but rather think about how can we work together to identify the needs and the harm to be able to, to heal and move forward together.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, I was just gonna pick up on something that Amy said. I think that’s like a key piece for folks is that our schools tend to op, operate from a very reactionary place. And this is really getting folks, you said the proactive how do we build stronger communities? How do we make a climate and culture that when you walk into school, it feels, it feels good, right? And I think we’ve all had experiences where you’ve walked into a place and you can, and it feels really good to be there and, and into in a school where it feels joyful and there’s engaging learning, but we’ve also had the experience where we’ve walked into places and it doesn’t feel that way, that it feels it just, you get kind of that gut feeling or you can feel kind of that the climate and culture doesn’t really feel joyful and connected.
And so we’re really, you know, the goal is to support schools, like Amy said, that whole school approach in building those proactive practices and skillset. And it’s a mindset shift. So our mental models, many of us who are adults, we did not function. We did not grow up in a system that was restorative. And so it takes a lot of time to change those mental models. And so that is the paradigm shift that you really need to take that time, as Amy said, slow down to really start to practice a different way of being.
Amy Wheeler: And I think for me, like when I think about it in my personal life, what really hits home is that idea of when something goes wrong rather than pushing people away. So in a school setting, you know, sending a student out of the classroom or detention or suspension or for my own child, like send her to her room, you know, like rather than pushing people away when things are going wrong, how can we bring people closer and hold people closer to really solve the problem? And I think one of the misconceptions about restorative approaches is that it’s maybe a soft approach or it doesn’t hold people accountable. And I think the biggest aha for me was like, we’re actually, people are actually having to work harder to be held accountable than when they’re simply pushed away and, you know, serving an in-school suspension or an out-of-school suspension, and then they just arrive back and nothing has changed. They haven’t had to do any work to repair what has gone wrong. and so for me, restorative approaches is actually a more active form of accountability than some of those more traditional approaches to discipline.
Lindsey Halman: And I would just add an also another piece to that too. I totally agree. And our, our many ways, our traditional system, the punitive discipline system or our ways of just kind of transitioning from one class to another, you know it creates a cycle for young people. And one thing that is really at the that’s important when you’re learning about a restorative approach is really looking at the neuroscience, the brain-based research around it. We’re, we’re talking about young people whose brains are rapidly developing. And this is a time for us to be, well, first of all, relationships are key to that development, positive relationships and recognizing that we all make mistakes, but particularly when we’re younger because we’re still, our brains are still developing and forming, right? And so it’s an opportunity for us to really then dig into the neuroscience, the understanding of how our brains work and, and how our brains develop. And knowing that when we take a restorative approach, we’re actually helping create really healthy, healthy development in our brains and connections in our brains so that we can be more healthy, productive adults later on in life.
Valerie Wood: Yeah. I appreciate what you both shared, and it makes me think about the idea that as you’re going through school, from an academic standpoint, you’re learning something new and you know, you practice, you practice new math problems, you practice, you know dissecting new pieces of literature, and it’s expected that you make mistakes, right? You’re not gonna get 100% on the test without that practice. And so, you know, when I think about what you both shared, it’s like socially and emotionally restorative approaches has that same frame of reference that young people will make mistakes, they should be allowed to make mistakes, but what is the response to those mistakes? Is it very punitive and kind of saying, okay, well you broke a rule. And sometimes, you know, the rules are very subjective and they’re very like culture-bound. and so some students, you know, that are coming from different cultures may not even be aware of a rule where they may not buy into the value of that rule.
And so I really appreciate that a restorative approaches allows for that dialogue and that conversation to understand the different points of view. And yes, there are times where harm has happened and so that definitely does need to be addressed. But I agree with you, Amy, that it’s actually holding people accountable in a way that’s like because it’s more person-centered, it’s more powerful that it, in a lot of ways it’s easier just to be sent off to the principal’s office and you just sit there and you don’t obs the student does absorb any lesson from that versus to hear from other students, this is the impact your behavior had, and this is how you can make this right. but yeah, it is a paradigm shift, and in a lot of ways, as we learned helping teachers understand what it’s gonna take to do it and do it well is really important.
One of the things that I appreciate about our team is that Amy, you brought a lens, and I know Lindsey, you have this too but I’m gonna pass this question to Amy. But thinking about restorative approaches within an mt s s framework or multi-tiered systems of support, so you’re kind of our resident expert on MTSS at CDCI. Could you tell us a little bit more about what a multi-tiered system of support is, why it’s important, and how it relates to restorative approaches?
Amy Wheeler: Yeah. So in Vermont, we kind of rely on the Vermont MTSS field guide, and that really outlines, you know, that MTSS is a framework it’s adaptable and should be made contextually relevant for each school or district. but it really helps bring together all of the supports that are available for students so that all students do have an equitable access and outcomes from their school experience. And so really thinking about what systems need to be in place what data should schools be looking at to know whether they are seeing success how can they approach things from a perspective of continuous improvement and really thinking about and examining areas that are places for growth within the school.
Thinking about how all of the adults collaborate together, what different roles people play to meet the needs of students, and thinking about how they can best organize their resources effectively and efficiently to meet those needs.
relying on the kind of collective expertise of all of the people that are involved in education from the educators to the students, to the families. And also really thinking about community partnerships and directly, you know, kind of tying Vermont MTSS to restorative approaches. all of those key components need to be in place and developed in order for restorative approaches to really be a school-wide approach.
So we know there are some schools where individual teachers have been trained in kind of implementing the practices side of restorative approaches and that’s great that that teacher’s gonna have a positive impact on the students that they touch. But in order for all students to really experience kind of what Lindsey’s talking about, about this, you know, kind of transformation of education to be coming from a restorative approach, it really has to have this kind of systems-wide framework and perspective to be able to make change in that way.
And then I think the other kind of key piece of MTSS is that every student gets the level of support that they need. So for restorative approaches, we would hope to see that all students are experiencing a restorative approach in all of the ways that Lindsey mentioned, you know, in the design of the schedule and the curriculum in experiencing those proactive community building circles at the universal level and also at the staff level. So having opportunities for staff to slow down and create space and come together to learn more about one another. and then when those you know, challenges do occur and things do go wrong, how can we amplify and intensify the supports that are provided for students to be able to get at what needs to be repaired.
And then in the most extreme cases when, you know, students have needed to leave the building, whether it’s for an alternative placement or an out-of-school suspension or something like that, how can we make sure that they are reintegrated into the school community in a way that is supportive and reflective of all of the needs that are at play.
And I’ll turn it over to Lindsey to add anything I might have missed about that kind of connection between MTSS and restorative approaches.
Lindsey Halman: I really don’t think you missed anything. I would just say that like, it’s I would just say for anyone, our listeners out there that one of the most important components is that like you, you people don’t look at these things as separate, like restorative practices or what restorative approaches, M T S S, you know trauma informed that they all are part of the MTS system, MTSS system that you’re really thinking about, you know, what do all people need in our community? What’s gonna help us be the healthiest, happiest, most engaged learning community? And then from there, you’re looking at then individually what individuals need to, and for them to be successful. But all these things are integrated into that system. So it’s not an, it’s not an add-on or another you know, initiative. It’s a, it’s should be part of that system, that tier one level system or the integration of all the different supports. And I’m not sure if that really was an add-on to what you said, Amy, but just that I don’t you know, we often hear that restorative practices is just another thing that we need to do, but it’s not, it’s really part of that it’s part of the system building and it’s both the engaging all people in learning the same practices and then applying some more personalized support to those that might need it at particular times.
Valerie Wood: I have a question for you, Amy which is, do all schools in Vermont use an MTSS framework?
Amy Wheeler: So it is in legislation that all schools do form a multi-tiered system of support within their buildings and districts, and I think different districts and schools are in different places in terms of their sophistication with MTSS, but that is the kind of design and hope of Vermont education is that all schools are engaged in multi-tiered systems of support.
Valerie Wood: Thank you for sharing that. And it, it sounds like a really valuable framework that they can utilize to help organize their efforts and kind of you know, make sure that there’s collective efficacy that everybody’s kind of working in the same direction towards shared goals. So let’s talk specifically about the RISE T VT project. again, just to repeat that acronym stands for Restorative Approaches Implementation for School Equity in Vermont. this project was funded by the Vermont Agency of Education and this was actually the second time we got to work together as a team on a con a contract from the agency education, looking at implementing restorative approaches in school settings. so how would you describe the Rise b BT project as an elevator pitch? I don’t know if one of you wants to go first, but like, in a nutshell, how would you describe what we did together on this project?
Lindsey Halman: Well, I can, can I do, I’ll try my elevator pitch and then I wanna back up a little bit. Is that okay? Sure. So okay. In my elevator pitch, the goal of this project was to work with schools or school districts that had already that was that, that were already on their journey to implement restorative approaches in schools or to deepen their learning around restorative approaches in schools. So in this particular Rise VT project, we looked at four different sites around the state, geographically diverse. we had an elementary school, we had a K-12, we had a middle high school, and we had a large system and pre-K 12 Burlington School District. And the goal was to take each site where they are partner them with a coach from the restorative approaches collaborative that I’ll get to in a moment.
And then and support them, kind of not taking them back, but kind of assessing where they are, what have we done so far, where are we at, what are our goals? And helping to support them in moving this work forward while also ensuring that young people are engaged in that work as well with their adult partners. there was also, as part of this project we recognize that we were only working very closely with four sites, and that there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of different levels of understanding around restorative approaches in Vermont. So from that understanding, we recognize the importance of creating a learning module, which is really an incredible body of work that takes schools that are maybe newer to the journey on their own learning experience to understand kind of what are restorative approaches in schools and what do we need in order to get our structures and systems in place to support this. And simultaneously we worked with a f filmmaker to create stories of Vermont schools that are doing this work. Yeah,
Amy Wheeler: I think you covered it all. I, I just wanted to point out the kind of reason we selected sites that were already on their journey was recognizing the kind of limited capacity that schools and districts have right now still due to the ongoing impacts of covid and wanting to select sites that were kind of well positioned for success this year, knowing that as we, you know, continue to move on past covid more and more schools and districts will kind of be ready for this work. and so we positioned those modules to be available as schools are, you know, starting to explore and, and look at their own implementation and the prospects in their school to be able to utilize those resources that kind of live beyond the, the timeframe of this grant. and then we also formed a community of practice with the fore sites so that they could come together throughout the year to learn from one another and you know, talk about any challenges and also develop some, you know, shared understanding through, through content delivery of some, you know, maybe new practices they weren’t aware of or new tools to help them grow in their work.
Valerie Wood: Great. Yeah, thank you for adding that. So, just to summarize it, the Rise BT project, we had the four different sites that we’re working with. They had teams that we were working with to engage in this work. We connected them. Many of them already had coaches that they were connected to, to your point, if they didn’t, we connected them to a coach. They were part of a community of practice where we pulled them together to learn from each other. There was the videography and documentation work that was happening that helped them have a story of their school and their journey that can be part of a showcase of this work in Vermont for their own learning, also for the larger community viewing. And we have the modules. So that’s, those are the different components of the project. And so in, you know, now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the work together, what did we learn? What would you wanna highlight for those that are viewing or listening in terms of what we learned from the project together?
Amy Wheeler: You can go first.
Valerie Wood: Go ahead, Amy.
Amy Wheeler: I think the community of practice element was probably the most difficult this time. and I think a, a piece of that was related to having those communities of practice be held virtually. and amidst of time in school where there are a lot of staff shortages you know, shortage of substitutes to be able to cover for staff to be able to attend certain professional learning events and just kind of limited bandwidth to be able to be thinking about this work. And I think there’s a, a like a yearning to connect with other schools who are doing this work, and also that kind of may be put on the back burner when other needs are arising as more pressing. so I think that was a learning for us and something we would, you know, keep in mind moving forward that, you know, in-person connection is really important and staff are pulled in a lot of different directions right now that make both in-person and virtual professional learning challenging which I think cause the schools to really rely on their coach and those coaching supports.
So I’m, I’m glad that we kind of foresaw that and kind of amplified the importance of coaching, and put some more resources toward coaching than we did the last time. so that schools did have the time to engage more deeply with the coach and to be able to utilize that coach, however, made sense for their school. so some of the coaches led in-service training, and some of the coaches facilitated circles with students. and so they were able to kind of design how they were gonna use that coach most effectively.
And then I think the other learning like Lindsey mentioned is really just that value of the restorative approaches collaborative. So we really leaned on different members to be able to provide different knowledge and skills and support throughout this project. And I think it’s a group that people really value and that will continue beyond this project and thinking about, you know, what structures are in place to be able to support that group to continue essentially as a, as a volunteer organization, as a, as existing right now.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, I would add I would agree with everything. I think, you know, learning as well recognizing that people had kind of limited bandwidth going into this project. we really relied in many ways on teams that already had strong youth-adult teams at their site. So Waka Elementary was one, they already had built a culture around youth-adult partnership Proctor Junior, senior high school and Proctor, and then Burlington School District and Twin Burlington School District being the very large district Proctor, like I said, small Rutland County middle high school, and then Twinfield, which is a pre-K 12. they, all the sites already had some level of understanding of what it means to partner with young people in this work. And we’re very open to that. And many of the schools, three, you know, men, many of the sites also had strong youth-adult teams already that were engaged in work.
So they were it just really enhanced the work that they were doing and also allowed them to move to action quicker. And, you know, I think that pairing of Community Justice Center staff with other members of the restorative approaches collaborative was a very powerful model. And what we’ve noticed as a success is that in many of the sites, those relationships continue beyond the funding from the AOE. So now the schools continue to do work, they’re finding creative ways to seek resources to continue that work with their youth-adult teams because they’re recognizing the power of having young people engage in the thinking about planning and implementation of restorative approaches.
Valerie Wood: Thank you for sharing Lindsey and Amy, I’ll just add a reflection that one of the learnings I took away is we really mean it when we say to do this work, well you need to ask people to slow down and focus on the relationship building. And I think about you know, the various different relationships that we’re forming. So some people were forming relatively new relationships with their coaches. Some teams were at different places with their youth-adult partnership. And so were the, if youth adult partnership hadn’t already been established at a site, what was kind of the work that needed to be done with the adults and the youth separately before bringing them together kind of level, setting expectations, and then you know, just the process for the different sites to connect with one another. And, you know, to what you, the point you shared Amy, was the timing of it, while of it all was that schools and the people that were participating it felt like they were more stressed than they ever had been.
And so at the same time that we’re saying, please, like, slow down to focus on this work and focus on the relationship building they’re getting a lot of pressures to multitask to literally try to like be present in a meeting, but also attending to a student crisis and kind of coming in and out of conversations. And so you, there’s no real solution to that. But one of the things we did put in the final report was for school professionals and really their administrators to think about if you have a team that’s eager to engage in this work, and again, I think it does go to that like systems approach what are the supports that can be put in place to really release that team from their day-to-day duties to be present in the activities of the project? Because that’s how, when they can fully attend to the, you know, the activity whether it’s, we frame it as a learning activity or just like a relationship activity, which is still a form of learning that split attention is so hard for anyone to manage. And so that’s how they bring it back to their site.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, I think that’s like, I just wanna like put an exclamation point on this, that idea of time. I always think of like the comparison of like, there, there’s like the slow foods movement where people, I don’t know if it’s still a movement. I’m sure it is, but there is a lot of attention on like, what are we putting in our body? our bodies are what get us up and moving every day. It’s what gets us, you engaged in life and like, what are we putting in to help nourish those bodies? And so if we think about like, the body as a container, well the school is the container, what are we putting into those schools to really nourish and support engaging and joyful learning environments?
And so it’s the relationships, it’s not the math curriculum, it’s not the, you know, the, the really cool science lab. It’s, it’s the relationships. It’s like we need to nourish the relationships. We need to slow down and think about the relationship building those, taking time to really tend to the relationship, getting to know young people and getting to know each other as adults, colleagues too, in order to have a healthier system. So like the body system, you focus on the food going in, slowing down in the, in the school system, you focus on the relationships, slowing that down so that you can put more time into relationships.
Valerie Wood: I love that comparison, Lindsey. Thank you. And I think it leads nicely into our next question, which is, what was the most surprising thing you learned from this project? And it could be a personal reflection or it could be, you know, something related to the outcomes we looked at. So it’s, it’s meant to be a broad question. What’s the most surprising thing you learned?
Amy Wheeler: I don’t know if it’s the most surprising, but something that was kind of an aha moment for me was recognizing that the videography component, the documentation didn’t need to just showcase, you know, exemplars or like when this is really well implemented and kind of what schools are striving for, but that it actually would be more powerful to kind of embrace the, the difficulties and the challenges that schools come across. You know, what have they done to overcome them? What challenges are they still experiencing? and give that kind of full picture rather than kind of presenting a rosy image of, you know, a perfect implementation which doesn’t exist.
And I think that our videographer Ned was really able to get at that and to be able to kind of show both some, some really great successes and also where the kind of pain points are. so that was really helpful for me to kind of reframe, you know, videos don’t need to just be, you know, kind of this clean, polished version of, of what things could look like in schools.
Valerie Wood: So I was wondering what do you both see as some of the wider implications of this work together? What do you see as the, some of the real-world impacts?
Lindsey Halman: I’m hopeful that out of this particular project, that more schools will now have access to these really rich resources, the module, the videos, the report, the directory of practitioners. And so once you can start to see stories and hear stories and you think, okay, yeah, this, I too can do this, or we can do this together as a community. So I’m hoping it’s, you know in many ways like a movement building and that schools are really taking some time to think through. it’s been the, you know, the past couple of years have been incredibly challenging for schools and school systems and how can we continue to support schools in taking that time to focus on relationships and each other and community. Cuz that’s, that’s the only thing that’s gonna build our health as a system, right? And so I’m hopeful that that, you know, kind of like this will like light a spark for others and that they can learn from schools that are right down the road from them or in other parts of the state.
And that will have more and more schools engaging in this level of work. There are a lot of other schools that are already on their restorative journey and so I, it’d be great to just continue to network schools together to continue that like idea of a community of practice so they can learn from one another. Amy and I both served on the Act 35 task force, which was tasked with creating a report with recommendations for ways in which to go about reducing and or eliminating exclusionary discipline in schools. And a couple other things too that said, there was a list of recommendations that were created by a very strong group of young, of, of people professionals and young people from across the state that we hope that people will actually look at and think about how do we change our own policies.
I’m not, you know, even if it’s not state-level policy change, but local policy change and that we are seeing systems, one of our schools districts our sites, Burlington School District, they use the Act 35 report of recommendations to create a restorative code of conduct. And I think that’s a model for other schools to look at. So learning from one another, okay, what is our restorative code of conduct? What would it look like to really reimagine what our code of conduct could be from a restorative place? So I’m hoping that more and more policy change will occur and we’ll see more and more restorative codes of conduct and restorative policies in place so that so it’s not just, you know, practices that are happening in pockets in schools, but that it’s really a systems level approach.
Valerie Wood: Great. Thank you, Lindsey. Amy, any reflections you wanna share?
Amy Wheeler: Yeah, I think it’s gonna be important forward, you know, thinking about how we can help schools think about this in a streamlined approach, like Lindsey was saying, like, you’re not adding on restorative approaches or you’re not doing this instead of doing something else. and in something that keeps coming to mind is the workaround community schools in Vermont and thinking about how we can help amplify that work and think about embedding restorative approaches and practices into the work that those schools that are working on community schools work right now. how they can think that through and then be models for other schools in the state to be moving toward that community schools approach. and so that’s kind of keeps coming to mind about how we can increase our involvement there.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, because one of the pillars that is also unique to Vermont of the community schools model is safe, inclusive, and equitable learning environments. And this is really fundamental to that work. So again, it’s not about like this piece here and this piece there, it’s about looking at it as an integrated systems approach. And I agree with Amy that I think that’s an area that we can really leverage around community schools and the model to create schools that really support all aspects of their community.
Valerie Wood: Thank you both for sharing. And when I think about the real-world implication implications I agree with you both that the need for this kind of work and this kind of approach, it’s only gonna grow. And I’ll share a story that was told to me by a friend of mine who works in the school system. So she’s a kindergarten teacher and she talked about the fact that she has kindergartners entering her class now that were at the beginning of the pandemic. They had all, they had no kind of pre-K education because everything was shut down, right? We had the temporary closing and then we had the more permanent year of learning from home, I guess is the term I wanna use. and so she has students that didn’t have the opportunity to practice those social skills and behavioral regulation skills that they normally would’ve gotten in a pre-K or early childhood education setting.
And she is just wondering like, how does she go about helping to meet the needs of so many students that have kind of escalated needs in terms of learning those skills? And so, you know, if I think about the traditional school model with a punitive disciplinary approach, right? You know, that looks like giving kids time out or sending them to go, I don’t know what they do nowadays, <laugh>, because if my kids haven’t been in kindergarten for a long time, but that kind of exclusionary discipline where they’re somehow being removed from the classroom until they’re kind of like calm again and being regulated again. And we just know, we just know that’s not gonna work and that’s going to be detrimental for so many kids. And so more than ever, I think we need to get the word out about what restorative approaches are.
I do some myth busting as I think you both touched on earlier in the interview it’s not a kind of soft approach, if anything, everybody has to work a little bit harder, but in a positive way that has real implications for relationships and wanting to continue to be in school, wanting to continue to participate in your own education, wanting to continue to be an educator, right? How many educators have left because they’ve gotten burnout, right? But if they could focus on a positive relationship with their students, then you know, that becomes so much more gratifying than the tra what the traditional approach has to offer.
Lindsey Halman: I was just gonna say one thing, and it goes back to what I said earlier about the developmental stage and brain development, is that I think it’s easy sometimes as adults to maybe forget that our, you know, the social-emotional development, you know, that our young people have missed over the past two years is extraordinary. It’s like, you know, multiply it by 10, you know, that’s how much development, you know, they missed. And so again, going back to slowing down and go and, and perhaps really then thinking about, okay, if this was what was missed, we need to teach these skills. These are skills that need to be taught. We don’t just learn how to sit in a circle together and, and pass something around or, or not talk out to, you know, when someone else is talking and to listen deeply to one another.
These are skills that we must practice. They’re lifelong skills. They’re probably the most important valuable skills that if we take time right now to really think about how do we work together, how do we collaborate, how do we build a community that holds each other accountable? And that’s that hard work too. It’s like peer-to-peer accountability. I think that, you know, we, that’s gonna pay off so much more down the road if we can just kind of take a step back and say like, what is missing right now? You know, what have our young people missed in their development, in their development just because of the nature of our, of our, of our world right now? And let’s take some time to really learn and practice those skills so that they can be successful human beings.
Valerie Wood: Yes. I exclamation point on that too, Lindsey. and so if we do a little visioning towards that future that we wanna imagine together, thinking big, what are your hopes and dreams for restorative approaches in our state?
Amy Wheeler: I mean, broadly, I would hope that all schools and districts are moving towards transforming their learning environments to be taking a restorative approach and to be really keeping relationships at the center and understanding what that truly means. and I think, I think what’s going to get us there is a really sustained focus on this work. I think what we’ve struggled with the past few years is kind of, you know fits and spurts, is that the <laugh> phrase? That’s okay. Where we’ve had some momentum and some resources to be able to devote to this work and then some lulls. and I think in order for schools to really make growth and to be able to sustain their focus on it, I do think there needs to be a statewide focus on this work with sustainable funding sources so that this work can continue. And I think what we know about implementation science is that these kind of one-year one-off projects while useful are not gonna lead to the type of outcomes that we’re looking for for our schools. and so thinking about how can we take a statewide approach to this so that all of our students can, can benefit from this transformation.
Lindsey Halman: Yeah, I would, I would just say ditto to that. And I hope and dream would be that like every school is using a restorative approach in, in their schools and is on the journey and some, some aspect you know, in the coming in the next year, 2, 3, 4, 5. But just like Amy said, it’s long. This is long-term work in order to have sustainable systems in place and to change a system that has been operating in a particular way for a hundred-plus years, right? And so to reimagine or transform a system, it takes time. So there needs to be resources in place and time for school communities to really dig into this work. And so that would be my hope too.
Amy Wheeler: I always say like, you don’t want your child or your nephew or whoever to have to be lucky to get like the teacher who has these skills, right? Or the school who is taking this approach. all students in Vermont should, should have equitable access to schools that are safe and inclusive, and equitable.
Valerie Wood: Great. Well, are there any closing thoughts?
Lindsey Halman: Thank you, Valerie, for letting us have this space.
Valerie Wood: Yes. Thank you for being here today, Lindsey. Amy, any closing thoughts?
Amy Wheeler: I don’t think so. It’s just been kind of nice to reflect on the whole process and see where we might be headed.
Valerie Wood: Great. All right. Well, thank you for your time today into our listening audience. We’ll see you next time. All right. Thank you everyone.